True Love's Kiss...of Death (or, A Conversation About Problematic Elements in the Disney movie "Enchanted")
The story, for those of you who haven't seen it (if you haven't, well then this review will be chock full of spoilers for you, won't it,) follows Giselle, a sweet and naive princess who falls through a wishing well and ends up in New York City. I remember loving this movie as a young teen - catchy songs, fun costumes, and don't even lie, everyone was a little bit in love with Patrick Dempsey. But re-watching this movie many years later has exposed a truck load of issues that we're here today to discuss, so let's get to it, children.
Now, being Disney in the early 2000s, Enchanted was unlikely to actually include any canonically queer major characters, but seriously, did every single couple in the wedding dancer lineup during the "How Do You Know" number need to be a heterosexual one? I mean, we're in New York City, for crying out loud - statistically speaking, at least one of you is gay.
And as if that weren't enough, give Enchanted a nice, big round of applause for going to the trouble of making not just one, but two gay jokes over the course of the movie. First, there's the character of Nathaniel - even though he's depicted in canon as being in love with the witch Narissa, he's meant to come across as effeminate - which is supposed to be funny. He emerges from the manhole (pun intended) in New York, and one of the nearby construction workers says, "Let me guess - you're looking for a beautiful girl too," to which Nathaniel responds, "No - I'm looking for a prince, actually." The construction workers make a face at him, saying "...right" in that hint-hint-nudge-nudge kind of way. This was a completely unnecessary exchange except to make a joke out of Nathaniel being less-than-super-manly (and let's be real - he dresses only as flamboyantly as Edward the prince does, and since when does liking soap operas have anything to do with someone's supposed sexuality?)
We also have a scene with Edward running through the apartment building looking for Giselle. He tries door after door, and one of them is answered by a burly man in a biker jacket who checks Edward out and smiles invitingly at him. Edward grimaces and runs away. OKAY SO LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT - we're going to include one presumably gay character in this movie, but let's make him predatory and have Edward flee from his presence like the superior, heterosexual man he is. I mean, you could've easily and tastefully played this moment off with Edward reacting calmly, maybe even returning the smile or a thoughtful expression before moving on, showing that there's no reason to panic if a guy checks you out (regardless if you reciprocate or not.) But no, the moment makes the gay man a joke, and HA HA ISN'T IT SO FUNNY TO THINK THAT EDWARD, A MAN IN A CAPE AND TIGHTS, COULD EVER DO SOMETHING AS RIDICULOUS AS BE...(GASP) GAY?
Next on the Representation docket - racial minorities. This movie is white as heck, and the inclusions of minorities are stereotypes to say the least. Jamaicans and Mexicans? Literally only appear in one scene as musical accessories to Giselle's song.
And hold your horses for all of TWO black minor characters: one fulfills the angry/sassy black woman stereotype in a scene where she is menaced by a chipmunk for comedy.
Kinda Weird Main Romance, Let's Be Honest
And of course, let's not forget the daddy issues inherent in Giselle's attraction to Robert - he does, in fact, serve as a father figure to her (a presumed orphan) as he teaches her the ways of our world. She's attracted to his worldly knowledge and maturity, and he's attracted to her innocent and child-like nature. I'll just wait here for that one to settle.
Women, Know Your Place
Flash forward to the end of the film - Giselle and Robert have officially gotten their "happily ever after" on, and as if as an afterthought, Nancy is paired off with Edward (a la glass slipper soulmate logic,) and pretty much says fuck it to her career and everything she's ever worked for, running off with a guy she just met (a move that is made fun of and looked down upon earlier in this very movie in regards to Giselle). Not only does this essentially discount everything that we were told to respect about Nancy, but it delivers a very obvious message about how strong, career-driven women really just want a handsome prince to show up and sweep them off their feet.
On that note - Giselle's character development (or somewhat lack thereof) at the end of the movie needs to be discussed because this is where Disney really drops the ball. Visually speaking, Giselle's newfound maturity is presented in her very plain and simple purple ball gown, which juxtaposes her extravagant dress from the beginning (the likes of which are now being worn by Nancy, because symbolism.) In the final battle, the movie tries to do a role reversal with Giselle (the woman) rescuing Robert (the man.) But here's the kicker - she really doesn't. She grabs a sword and climbs up the side of the building after him, but it's ultimately Pip the chipmunk who instigates the dragon's ultimate demise. It would've been so easy to follow through with Giselle slaying the dragon, but no - she winds up in Robert's arms as they just barely avoid falling off the building, and that's that.
We end the movie with Giselle officially part of the Robert and Morgan family in the role of mother (even if her worldly ignorance and general immaturity would make her a better sister than a mother.) Little Morgan begins dressing in frilly gowns and waving pink fairy wands in princess make-believe, a sharp contrast to the beginning when Robert said he didn't want his daughter brought up believing in magic so that she could be properly prepared for the Real World. The movie explains this logic away with the whole "yes but magic DOES exist" thing, but it doesn't change the fact that Morgan's book of influential women is never mentioned again, and Giselle presumably takes over Nancy's job of designing professional clothing in order to instead design dresses for other little girls to live out their fantasies of being princesses.
Let me be clear - I have no problem with little girls wearing princess dresses or wanting to be girly or anything of the sort. Girls should wear and behave however they want - the problem is that this movie takes a very clear stance on a woman's "happy ending" involving either a family unit/motherhood, or leaving their career for a handsome prince (this is also reinforced by a miserable single mother who answers the door to Edward, surrounded by her multiple children, and tells him, "you're too late." Because obviously she's a woman who got tired of sitting around waiting for her Prince Charming and was decidedly unhappy without him.)
I hear you saying, "yes, but Giselle got to have true love and a career - she got the best of both worlds and didn't have to choose a binary!" You would be half right. Yes, she did wind up with both a family and a job, BUT her only priority from the very beginning was always just finding true love, whereas Nancy worked towards a career first before a relationship, and both characters were treated incredibly differently in the end because of this. And therein lies the problem.
Does any of this change the fact that I still enjoy this movie and find it fun and charming? No. Because it's perfectly fine to enjoy problematic things (after all, everything has issues in different ways, and if you dislike everything on those grounds you will never like anything ever) as long as you are open to discussion and can acknowledge when your fave is being problematic, as well as what we as a culture could be doing to change it. So yeah, it's easy to see what Enchanted was going for in the way of revolutionizing the typical fairytale story, but they fell into every single one of the traps they were trying to avoid.
And That's How We Know that Disney still has a bit of a long way to go.