My cousins are in town for Thanksgiving, and after lunch today, we went to look at movies. “Enchanted” was convenient, so we saw it.
Enchanted is an interesting balancing act. The cartoon universe is a perfect amalgam of Disney’s Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, with a dash of Bambi and Beauty and the Beast. It is a highly effective parody by magnification. Cinderella had a coterie of animals who helped her, so Giselle (our curiously named, presumably German heroine) has an entire regiment, too many to fit in her treehouse apartment. Everyone is happy all the time, and everyone sings, even the ogre, who doesn’t particularly seem to mind having been caught by the prince during the ogre hunt. The dialogue is aggressively silly. It’s very funny.
The rest of the movie is an exploration of the collision between Disney-fairytale logic and “reality” (or at least, Hollywood reality). The magical powers retained by the fairytale characters are retained, in comically modified form, in modern day New York. The results are genuinely funny. I was very pleased to see a complete answer to the question: “what if Disney’s animated musical numbers actually happened in real life?”. The production value is generally extremely high.
The movie’s basic problems are generated by audience-targeting. The movie’s basic focus is on the emotional dishonesty (in fact, lunacy) of the stories we tell to our children. And yet, this is a Disney movie, marketed to children, and is itself constrained by those same social constructs. The plot, which could have been genuinely interesting, is instead so predictable that it is essentially irrelevant, a backdrop for the various collision scenarios. The children’s appeal also limits the subtlety of the film; references that should be nothing more than a passing shot are instead given 30 seconds of screen time, to ensure recognition.
The other problem is the strength of the satire. Enchanted could easily have become a complete deconstruction of the Disney format, in which parents show their children shallow, unoriginal animated spectacles in order to delay their realization that the world is basically a crappy place, full of suffering and death. That would have been great. But Enchanted is a Disney film, and they are not willing to make a movie too critical of their own work. So instead it is light satire, and ultimately comes down in favor of fairytale endings. It feels a little dishonest.
The reason I am so focused on this movie is in part that Enchanted is very nearly science fiction. Much of science fiction is structured as an exploration of a universe where people’s capabilities differ from our own in a few very specific ways. In sci-fi terms, in Enchanted, there is a parallel universe in which the laws of logic and physics are more flexible, and people from this universe can occasionally transit into our own by mean of a sort of wormhole. Once here, these people experience a mix of their universe and ours. From our perspective, they have extraordinary powers; from theirs, our universe is incredibly difficult to mold, and unforgiving.