Disney has changed over the past few decades. To many fans, this company, once lauded for its quality and artistic innovation, has become a shadow of its former self.
There can still be a lot to love with modern original Disney films… and a lot that leave something to be desired.
Due to unforeseen scheduling issues, we’re finishing up the highs, lows, and mehs of modern Disney over the next two weeks. Welcome to Disney…vember!
On the eve of her fairytale wedding with the prince, a would-be princess finds herself thrown into a terrifying land full of brusque people “where there are no ‘happily ever afters.’”1 Will Giselle fail to find her happily ever after, or can she melt the heart of cynical single father Robert—before they both fall prey to the dangers of a wicked witch and a world that doesn’t seem to care about the magic of true love?
Today I’m raving about Disney’s Enchanted.
In Enchanted, Giselle is transported to our world, where she finds her outlook being challenged constantly by the harsh realities of real life. However, through that struggle, she gains a newfound appreciation for love while maintaining her optimism and faith in the world.
Enchanted is a combination parody of and tribute to Disney films,2 but it wasn’t always this way. According to director Kevin Lima (A Goofy Movie, 102 Dalmations, and Disney’s 1999 Tarzan), Enchanted was originally written as “‘a racier R-rated movie’ inspired by the adult-risque comedy movies in the 1980s and 1990s.”3 This was the early 2000’s, after all: Jeffrey Katzenburg’s Shrek had just come out in 2001, topping the box office on its opening weekend.4, 5 Audiences clearly adored this edgy, modernized fairytale that poked fun at Disney tropes. Perhaps Disney needed to get with the times and produce something similar.
However, this edgy script didn’t sit right with Lima, as it missed the heart of the story he saw within.6
“With a movie like this, that’s all based on tone, I think the studio was just having difficulty with it… They just couldn’t grab a hold of the film and just couldn’t see it…” Lima said. “[S]o I also had a little bit of a different idea… I said ‘Let’s do it differently. Let’s… not take Disney down at its knees. Let’s do it in a way that feels like a love letter.’”7
After five years of relentless lobbying, Disney finally gave Lima the chance to make the film according to his vision.8 Beginning in 2005, Lima worked on alongside the original screenplay’s writer, Bill Kelly, “to combine the main plot of Enchanted with the idea of a ‘loving homage’ to Disney’s heritage.”9
So while the movie may tease Disney tropes, the creators insisted it’s all in good fun. “Shrek has a tendency to beat up on Disney. This is just the opposite. We lovingly embrace Disney,” Lima insisted,10 a point that Disney chairman Richard Cook—the man who ultimately gave Lima the green light on the film—also stood behind when he insisted to the New York Times that Enchanted was “not a parody and it’s not making fun of anything…”11
Indeed, the alleged “thousands” of Disney references Kevin Lima pointed out to blogger Peter Sciretta only seem to prove the extent to which the filmmakers adore Disney: Enchanted contains almost countless easter eggs, from hair shaped like Mickey Mouse’s ears to television caster’s names referencing Disney princess actresses to apartment numbers with the same area code as Disneyland California.12
If not for Lima’s loving appreciation for what had made Disney special in the first place, Enchanted never would have become the film it is… nor would it have meant so much to me.
Many critics spurn Disney films as outdated and unrealistic. Online articles are saturated with desire for Disney to move into something new, edgy, and scandalous—from intimate bloggers like Quint:
I like that there’s a nice grown up layer to [Enchanted] too, where there are a lot of more [crass] jokes and lot’s [sic] of innuendo and stuff… so it’s not like it’s a [sic] happy go lucky for happy go lucky’s sake…13
…to writers from The New York Times such as Brooks Barnes:
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Pinocchio” were landmark films, but next to the computer-generated behemoths of today, they start to look a little geriatric. (Relax. I said a little.)
Projects like “Enchanted” indicate that Mr. Iger’s team is trying to take a route down the middle: resisting adding modern touches but referencing them in fresh settings and winking at their old-fashioned charismas…
Well, nobody expected Disney to change completely overnight. As Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother cautioned, “Even miracles take a little time.”14
While I understand the authors’ arguments for improvement of media and for stories that speak to a modern audience, I don’t believe those require introducing the cynical or scandalous to Disney’s branding. And I think people who seek these qualities in Disney films largely miss the point of why Disney became so popular in the first place.
Much like Disney animator legend Glen Keane (the man responsible for Ariel, Beast, Tarzan, and Pocahontas’s animation),15 I think the charm of Disney films always has been and always will be in sincerity: that is, in storytellers who genuinely believe in what their stories are about.16
While Disney has proven lacking in professional sincerity due to questionable business practices, I don’t think anyone can argue that its classics were made by people with genuine love for what they created. And that’s not to mention the lessons about life we can learn through these stories; Walt Disney himself was a man who believed in the power of the fairytale to display the truths of life.
Creating satirical Disney films not only greatly misses these points but also ends up demeaning what makes those stories so timeless and cherished in the first place.
I’m glad Enchanted ended up being the product not of cynics who believed Disney’s brand of princesses and fairytales was old-hat but by people who cherished what had come before and wanted to do it justice. Enchanted truly is a love-letter to Disney, and I appreciate that—moreso now, I think, than ever before.
So, this is my love letter to Enchanted.
Perhaps it was because I was raised on Disney films or the fact I’d never had a boyfriend for so long, but I was (and still am) a fervent Romantic in every sense of the word. Like traditional Romanticism, I idolize innocence and treasure beauty and art. And it likely comes as no surprise that I’ve been searching for my “true love” since I was four years old. My world revolved around the desire for romance. And, in some small part, it still does.
And then I came across Enchanted, which released during the Disney princess/animation drought that had left my soul thirsting for more of the magic I’d grown up with. The movie came out in 2007, no less—the very year I entered adulthood, and with my first (and so far only) relationship still another year away.
There went Giselle, parading around as a Disney princess in “real life,” living out my life’s dream. She could get away with being silly and over-the-top and bubbly and perfectly innocent and adorable as only a Disney princess could17—and how I wished I could. And she so desperately yearned for true love, a man she could spend the rest of her life with.
Looking back, in so many ways, I was Giselle—as wide-eyed, innocent, and naive as she starts the film.
Like the moment a few years later, when my then-boyfriend confessed that until he’d met me, he hadn’t truly believed in love. It shocked me.
I’d always taken the concept for granted. Not only had I grown up in a loving family with two parents in a healthy marriage who were each other’s best friends, but I grew up drinking in stories about romance—about bonds of love that couldn’t be broken by wicked spells, insurmountable obstacles, or even death.
I’d had no idea some people had been through so much pain that it had challenged the idea that love, at least in the pure and innocent sense as Disney portrays it, could exist in the real world at all.
Much like how Giselle simply can’t fathom Robert’s cynical views on love and the world when she first meets him.
For my then-boyfriend and I both, when we found ourselves in the “real world,” we met people and circumstances that challenged our way of thinking, especially in each other.
I appreciate Enchanted’s innocence and its maturity—not a maturity of content, but of message. Neither Robert nor Giselle is completely wrong in their way of thinking. Robert is a pragmatist. Giselle is an optimist. Robert knows how painful and hard life can be, that it’s not always sugar and rainbows and that sometimes there are unhappy endings. Giselle believes in the power of love and that one should always be gentle and kind to others, even if they aren’t kind to you. The problem is, of course, that both of them take their beliefs to the extremes; they need each other to find balance.
My relationship helped grow me in much the same way Giselle’s relationship with Robert shaped her: maturing her while still enabling her to hold onto the truth she always knew all along.
And this was my truth: that there is nothing wrong with cherishing love, magic, song and dance, and all those things that make the Disney classics so classic. In fact, I’d argue that holding onto these things—especially in a day and age when many so-called intellects scoff at them—takes some amount of guts, strength—and, yes, maturity. As C. S. Lewis so aptly put it in his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”:
Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence… a mark of really arrested development: When I was ten I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up…18
And Lima seems to have much the same sort of mindset. “I’m not embarrassed by what most people consider juvenile entertainment,” he said,19 and this is what emboldened him to make a film that, while some consider parody, is still a clear love letter to Disney films and all the magic within them: the kind of beauty that we so often miss in our everyday hum-drum.
While more recent Disney films have certainly embraced a self-aware philosophy of poking fun at Disney tales while still telling a good story of their own (Think Moana’s insistence that Moana is not, in fact, a Disney princess stereotype; or Kristoff scolding Anna in Frozen for falling in love with a man at first sight), I think it’s people like Lima or Keane or C. S. Lewis who create the stories that mean the most to me. I can feel the sincerity they put into their work. It’s tangible. And it speaks worlds to people like me who, when going through something dark, need a sliver of light and hope that yes, love truly is real.
As an example, one scene from Enchanted that has always stood out to me is a scene set at a lovely ball, in which Giselle feels she must let go of Robert. Giselle knows now that she has fallen in love with him, but she cares too much about him to stand in the way of his relationship with his fiancée, Nancy. Despite the obvious love Robert and Giselle have for one another, they both feel they cannot pursue the relationship any longer, and they share a bittersweet dance to the tune of Jon McLaughlin’s “So Close.”
While that song held bittersweet significance upon my first viewing of the film, it gained so much more meaning once I lost my fairytale ending when my own Robert and I parted ways. It took years before I could bear to listen to “So Close” again, as it served as a constant reminder of a scene that had once just been part of a fairytale… but had come uncomfortably to life for me. It hurt because that scene, and the movie as a whole, was so real to me. And because Enchanted was so real, so tangible, so relatable, the film meant so very much to me.
But Enchanted didn’t only leave me with painful memories from a broken past; it brought me light and hope as well. For just as pain and hurt don’t break Giselle, neither did the pain I’ve undergone change who I am at my core. Giselle still hopes for and ultimately finds a happy ending. And if she can, then I too can conquer my dragons and find a “happily ever after” of my own, even if it doesn’t quite look like what I’d imagined, once upon a time.
In my book, any movie that tells that kind of story is a treasure to cherish indeed.
Whew, that one got a bit heavy! Interested in some lighter reading about under-appreciated Disney films? Check out my thoughts on Meet the Robinsons here!
Notes and References:
- “Enchanted (film),” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, October 27, 2019, accessed October 31, 2019.
- Quint, “Quint dreams about Disney princesses with ENCHANTED director Kevin Lima!!!” [sic], Ain’t It Cool News (blog), December 14, 2007, accessed October 31, 2019.
- “Shrek,” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, October 23, 2019, accessed October 31, 2019.
- Susan Wloszczyna, “‘Enchanted’ Amy Adams falls under Disney spell” [sic], USA TODAY, May 2, 2007, accessed October 31, 2019.
- Quint, Ain’t It Cool News.
- “Enchanted (film),” Wikipedia.
- Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY.
- Brooks Barnes, “The Line Between Homage and Parody,” NY Times, November 25, 2007, accessed October 31, 2019.
- Peter Sciretta, “The Enchanted Visual Guide,” /Film (blog), March 14, 2008, accessed October 31, 2019.
- Quint, Ain’t It Cool News.
- Brooks Barnes, NY Times.
- Jeff Kurtti, The Art of Tangled (San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books LLC, 2010), 12.
- Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY.
- C. S. Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966), digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org, accessed October 31, 2019.
- Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Unless otherwise specified, all photos from Disney’s Enchanted Official Website.
Enchanted and all related terms are the property of Walt Disney Studios. Shrek and all related terms property of DreamWorks Animation. And I am not affiliated with them.
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