Friday, November 1, 2019

Disneyvember: An Unabashed Love Letter to Enchanted


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!

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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.

Disney 2007

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 fiancĂ©e, 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.

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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!

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Notes and References:
  1. Enchanted (film),” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, October 27, 2019, accessed October 31, 2019.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. 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.
  5. Shrek,” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, October 23, 2019, accessed October 31, 2019.
  6. Susan Wloszczyna, “‘Enchanted’ Amy Adams falls under Disney spell” [sic], USA TODAY, May 2, 2007, accessed October 31, 2019.
  7. Quint, Ain’t It Cool News.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Enchanted (film),” Wikipedia.
  10. Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY.
  11. Brooks Barnes, “The Line Between Homage and Parody,” NY Times, November 25, 2007, accessed October 31, 2019.
  12. Peter Sciretta, “The Enchanted Visual Guide,” /Film (blog), March 14, 2008, accessed October 31, 2019.
  13. Quint, Ain’t It Cool News.
  14. Brooks Barnes, NY Times.
  15. Jeff Kurtti, The Art of Tangled (San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books LLC, 2010), 12.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.

From Him, To Him

5 comments:

  1. I didn't expect this love letter to involve an Enchanted review, but that was a nice twist. While I've been way too jaded and spurned to appreciate Disney whether it came to their business practices or not, I do appreciate your honesty on the matter. I wish I could be that forgiving to a media company.

    I wondered what your thoughts were when it came to that movie. There are plans for an analog character. Just saying. Hahaha! Since you bring up Shrek and that trend of bashing Disney tropes (I don't think those movies go that hard with the exception of Escape From Tomorrow), do you think someone like me is way too harsh like with certain books or characters?

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  2. I think I'm less forgiving of the company as an abstract entity as I am to the creators who actually make the films. It's not necessarily a director's fault, let alone the other artists who are hard at work making assets or designing for a film, if the people in charge are making poor decisions. Though, to be fair, with films such as The Lion King, the jury's still out as to where the fault lies exactly (Unfortunately, I'm not certain we'll ever really know).

    Ohhh, an Enchanted analog, eh? That could be fascinating depending on whom you choose, as the Andalasian characters are so--pardon the pun--animated compared to their New York counterparts!

    I agree that I don't think either Moana or Frozen go very far in critiquing Disney--I'd say it's poking fun more than outright bashing. However, I do still stand by the idea that at least in some small way, it weakens the brand. It encourages cynical feelings toward Disney as a whole, turning people's attention away from some of the good things Disney fairytales have to offer.

    That being said, I'd judge your work on a very different level than the films Disney themselves puts out. It's one thing for Disney to poke fun at themselves; it's very different when another artist does so. To outright berate oneself through one's art seems to imply apologizing for what you've made before, which I don't think artists should often do (occasionally, yes, when errors have been made, but this is not required often). By contrast, just because another artist points out weaknesses or flaws in a piece doesn't automatically undermine the good aspects of the other's work.

    As for whether you're too harsh or not, that's purely a matter of opinion and context, I think, so that's a question I think needs to be answered on the individual level. As for me personally? I know you feel very passionately and that our opinions don't always perfectly align, and I'm perfectly happy to agree to disagree when that happens! I don't think our disagreeing should mean you need to "tone things down." Not everyone has to feel the same way I do about a piece of art. Wouldn't the art world be boring if we did? :D

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    1. Gotcha. This reminds me of a post I did on the Ospreyshire blog on whether people should separate the art from the artists or not. You do have a point with the directors and other artists not being the ones in charge of Disney unless you count the old-school stuff where Walt directed movies. Funny enough, I wasn't even thinking about The Lion King, but I do know Roy E. Disney, Roger Allers, and Rob Minkoff certainly deserve part of the blame since Walt's nephew literally called Simba "Kimba" in that transcript and I know Roger Allers briefly lived in Japan before animating TLK, so there's no way he could've avoided Tezuka and his works over there. Even though he wasn't the main person in charge, Matthew Broderick did admit to watching Kimba as a kid and thought he was going to play the American version of that character's adult form. I even heard a few months ago that some of the writers knew and have watched Kimba before. I'm just letting you know what I know from my research when it comes to that example.

      Yes, that's going to happen. I won't say who it is on this comment though. Hahaha!

      I wasn't referring to Disney bashing themselves and I agree that it would be counterproductive on their part to do so. They've certainly become more self-aware in certain respects. I meant movies made by other companies bashing Disney like Shrek or you can make a case for later Jungle Emperor Leo works like how a not-Pumbaa warthog gets shot in the 1997 movie, Claw attempting to kill another character by throwing them off a cliff (which also references Belladonna doing the same thing to Kimba) in Hon-O-Ji, or in the 2009 remake where the lead villain tells his kid "Son, one day Neo-Jungle will be yours."

      Is that so? I do have moments of self-deprecating humor and commentary, but I do my best not to overdo it and most of it is subtle.

      I see. I'm sure some people will think I'm too harsh or some people will think I'm using a healthy balance. I also don't want the bashing to overshadow my stories and characters. We certainly have our differences in that regard, but I'm glad you still support my work.

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    2. Oh, yes, I'd heard at least some of those stories about the Kimba fiasco and, in situations like that where we have solid evidence, I do believe we should indeed call those individuals out, just to clarify! When I said "I'm not sure we'll ever know who's responsible," I meant we'll never know the full extent of how many people working on it or in charge were plagiarizing. Thank you for sharing more of your research on the topic though! I don't know many others who are more learned on Kimba than you.

      Sorry for my misunderstanding about the Disney-bashing! Shrek isn't one of my particular favorite films, not so much for the Disney-bashing but more because of the adult humor. I'm just not a big fan! Naturally, I don't see anything wrong with someone expressing their personal distaste for Disney into their work, as long as it's done in a way that doesn't distract from the piece. I'd say the same for self-deprecating commentary as well; there's a way to do it tastefully that doesn't distract from the narrative.

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    3. Gotcha. I didn't know if you knew about some of those things before. Even this year when that remake was coming out, I learned more things like the Hakuna Matata trademark and various screenwriters knowing about Kimba when they made The Lion King. Thanks for clarifying. I really dug deep in researching as many aspects of the Kimba/TLK plagiarism controversy for years now. Some elements speak for themselves like Claw or the famous scene of Caesar's spirit consoling Kimba in the night sky, but other aspects had to be found, too. No problem. I think that might be the case which can either be good or it shows how nerdy I can be when it comes to film plagiarism controversies. The Lion King became forever tainted to me and psychologically affected me once I started watching Kimba.

      Sure thing. I'm not a Shrek fan either and they went overboard with the adult humor and potty humor in that series. It obviously shows up in some books, but I don't want those elements to dominate the stories. I agree with self-deprecating humor, too.

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