Disney's princess tales all attempt to answer one question: What do girls/women want? According to Disney's traditional message to little girls, what women want is to be saved by a prince, fall instantly in love and live happily ever after.
As a woman, and a parent, I've been waiting for Disney to come into the new millennium with a more up-to-date, girl-friendly, version of it's own princess drama. Shrek was great, but it lacked the Disney Magic that makes little girls drool.
Enchanted does question the Disney Princess Culture, kinda. Sorta. Maybe.
The evil stepmother still finds the princess threatening and attempts to do away with her by sending her to New York City "where dreams never come true."
The Princess Giselle, meets a single father, about to become engaged to the exact opposite of a Disney Princess archetype, Nancy. Nancy is a professional single woman, who acknowledges that she's never had much use for Prince Charming, but she is holding out for a decent guy. She's accused of being a secret hopeless romantic underneath her practical exterior by a coworker. The accusation proves true when she gets exhilarated by an uncharacteristic invitation to a ball and nearly swoons over a gift of real flowers instead of the usual e-card.
Our single father, Robert, is a divorce lawyer, who was left by the mother of his child, a daughter for whom, he buys books like Great Women in History instead of the princess book she really wants. Disney pokes a little fun at parents, like myself, who take issue with the Princess Save Me Culture and wish to present our daughters with a more realistic expectation for their futures. They highlight Madam Curie and point out that she died of radiation poisoning - which isn't as much fun or as magical a story as living happily ever after. Touche' Disney. My daughter wholeheartedly agrees. But, is it really more romantic to give up your voice to get a man? Or to fall in love with and change your kidnapper?
"Oh, you can try to withhold Princess Culture all you like," Disney seems to challenge, as they have the six-year-old girl jump out of a taxi and chase down our Princes Giselle as she mistakenly tries to enter a billboard in the shape of a castle. She falls right into the arms of our unprincely hero, Robert. He, of course, agrees to help her, but not to save her, much too his daughter's chagrin. Very much like the disappointment I'm sure my own daughter feels when I tell her to pick a movie other than Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty at the video store.
Princess Giselle behaves as a caricature of her own princess self. Basically, she is full of larger than life false hand movements and emotional twittering and says unbelievably ridiculous things about being saved and the power of true love's kiss. She's incapable of any emotion aside from happiness and joy and goodness. She's naive to the point of being deranged. To its credit Disney dares to poke as much fun as it's own history and creation of the idiotic lunacy of Princess Culture as it pokes at me for being less than charmed by it.
A shift in Princes Giselle occurs when she and her non-prince savior, Robert, set against the backdrop of street theater in Central Park, begin to discuss dating versus falling-in-love-at-first-sight and what happens after happily ever after. Seems our Princess was previously unaware that she might have job after marriage and that might be part of what makes her happy. Or that she might express her thoughts, dreams and desires to her love-at-first sight Prince fiance should he show up to save her.
For his part our non-princess-saving man realizes that it certainly won't kill him to offer up a little romance to show his practical modern-day woman Nancy that he loves her. (No, I think, it certainly won't kill you to go to a little effort. Maybe I'll send this particular YouTube Video to my own modern-day practical man. Hint, hint.)
Giselle experiences anger for the first time when Robert confronts her with the reality that her Prince probably isn't coming and it's time for Plan B. Plan B, in Princess Culture lingo is, I believe, a job or a sense of purpose. Our naive Princess Giselle is seen flipping through Great Women of History with a new interest.
Of course, this is a Disney film so our Prince, like many Princes of Romance Past, does arrive to save our Princess. And our Prince, like many Princes of Romance Past is a completely self-absorbed dope. Cute, but lacking substance. (Who doesn't remember that guy? Luckily, ladies, we skirted that future - by going on a date - before it was too late.)
In light of her own personal awakening our Princess Giselle demands a date before they return to never, never land where she realizes maybe her love-at-first-sight Prince and she don't really have all that much in common. Maybe, she's making a terrible mistake? Maybe she loves the man who doesn't want to save her, but who took the time to ask her what she wanted to be when she grows up? Maybe?
The film takes a detour worth looking at. Giselle decides she needs a ball gown and our six-year-old girl snags Daddy's emergency credit card, with a quip about this being an emergency and the two are seen jaunting around New York on a spending spree. The little girl precociously fills our naive princess in on today's beauty culture. It seems Disney might be juxtaposing the innocence of their own interpretation of girlness with the current hyper-sexualized, appearance-oriented one. Perhaps they are asking, "how is this better?" The answer: "It's not."
Like Disney Princess Films of generations past we end up at . . . A Ball. Where else?
The evil queen comes to do away with our princess to prevent her from taking over her kingdom and Giselle takes a bite of her poisoned apple (Oh, Eve, will you ever learn?).
Of course she's not awakened to our simple-minded self-absorbed pretty boy Prince. She is awakened to our single father divorce lawyer Prince. His date Nancy, who he intended to marry 5 minutes ago, gives him permission to kiss Giselle and she does awaken with the words, "I knew it was you." They make a new modern-day family, the father, nice step-mother and daughter (who got a world full of romance and princessness making her deliriously happy).
Giselle, in a modern-day twist, saves her True Love. Thanks Disney, I've been waiting a long time for that. That is some gender progress.
Which leaves our professional Nancy who realizes she does want to be saved after all and jumps down the rabbit hole/manhole with Prince Charming and Lives Happily Ever After in Andalasia.
In light of yesterday's So Sioux Me story, Princess Culture Examined I had to wonder. Who's interpretation of what women want is this? To answer that I watched the special features on how the magic was made and listened to the interviews with the director, writers, choreographers, sound people, production people etc. I went to the IBMD database and checked the credits of the entire cast and crew.
It was written by a man, directed by a man and produced by men.
Out of 9 listed producers only one, Jill Morris, is a woman. The music is by a man, as is the cinematography, film editing, art direction, production design and special effects. Out of five, two women are given credit for production management. Costume design was done by a woman and one of the two casting credits goes to a woman.
Disney's new updated version of "what women want" is really "men's new interpretation of what women want."
I just have a few questions for Disney: Why is it that you think women aren't capable of telling our own story in your magical universe? Don't you think women might be better witnesses about our own experience and desires than men?
I would love to see the FEMALE interpretation of what women want. I want to see Jane! interpreted by JANE.
Disney, aren't you at all curious to see if you're right?