ANOTHER PG FILM? What do you want me to say? Nothing really all that bad happens? Okay, like with most kids movies, especially the live action ones, there's a little bit of peril. Because the world of Enchanted is one based on the fantasy worlds of Disney, there's going to evil magic that makes good people do bad things. There's also a moral component that really needs to be unpacked. But, still...PG. Very, truly, honestly PG.
DIRECTOR: Adam Shankman
What I want: to be productive and knock out these family films on my blog. Will it happen? Eventually. I don't really have the time to write this blog start-to-finish, but I'll do my best. I don't know why the following is true, but it is. I've never been a huge Enchantment nut. Some people love that movie. I couldn't give you their names, mostly because I haven't been caffienated yet, but I know that they exist. But for some reason, I was super jazzed to find out that Disney was making a sequel to a movie I was meh about. Not so jazzed that I was telling people. But enough to watch trailers and speculate on how Giselle was going to to turn evil.
Maybe that was my button. I love the notion that the hero from the first movie was going to be the villain in the second. I know that a movie like Enchantment wasn't going to go hard into that premise. I mean, it would have been the coup of a lifetime. But I can't have those high expectations. But then, something happened. When Disenchantment came out, I didn't watch it the day it came out. Then I didn't watch it for the weekend it came out. Then the month, etc. until I was finally bored enough post-Christmas to find a family movie and there was Disenchantment. Literally, I'm defining "disenchantment" using an anecdote, so I'm aware of the irony. I don't know what it was. Maybe it was that there was going to be some disappointment when it cam e to this movie. But, guys? The movie isn't great. It has things that I like in it and I really wanted to like it. But I think by the end, I was the only one paying attention and that's only because I try to pay attention to every movie. (It's painfully hard to write this blog passively watching something.)
I'm going to be unfair at first and put some of this on Adam Shankman. This is a messy film that really requires the viewer to do a lot of heavy lifting or a lot of brain-shutting-off. Maybe that isn't Shankman's fault. Maybe it's the writers. But the bigger problem is the moral implications of the film. I knew from watching the trailers that Giselle was going to become the villain of the piece. But there had to be some line that they had to toe. I knew that Giselle would be restored to moral righteousness by the end because I knew that Disney didn't have the guts to really villainize a Disney princess who sang to talking squirrels. Sure enough, I'm right. Giselle is basically mind-controlled into becoming an evil stepmother. She does it to herself, but without knowing that would be a consequence. So the movie treats Giselle like a victim who is paralized into doing evil acts.
But that's not what the problem with Giselle is. The problem is that Giselle is let off the hook for the crime she actually commits. It's a really big mistake that made me leave the movie more than a little disappointed. Giselle is trying to be the best she can be. In a detail I actually like from this film, it gives the message that parenting is hard. (Is this movie aimed at people my age? Possibly.) But to alleviate her issues, she wishes her problems away. This is a morally gray act. We get it. It's pushing our problems onto something else and people do that. I refuse to list the real world allegory going on here because it feels like an insert-your-personal-story here moment. But just do that. Okay, Giselle has a storyline from this moment. She has something to atone for that has a degree of moral culpability, but ultimately leaves her as the protagonist. But it is the unforseen consequence of her choice that makes her a monster. When the fairy tale wish comes true, everyone is straight up brainwashed. She basically becomes the Scarlet Witch and is cool with people lacking any sense of autonomy. People act weird. Morgan, who may have had a problem with her mother, is no longer Morgan. She's a character from a book. Morgan has a right to be angry as a human being.
I think the movie wants to say that. But the movie is also terrified to do anything permanent or damning with Giselle. The movie had two points to damn Giselle and it ignores both. The first moment is Giselle acknowledging that, despite the fact that the Morgan she loves is conceptually dead, she is happy. The second is at the end where everyone's returned to normal. If anyone called her out on her nonsense, there'd be a story here that I could get behind. Instead, Giselle is painted as a hero. It's that whole Age of Ultron thing. When Tony solves the problem he caused, we're all a little mad at him at the end. But Giselle keeps getting lauded as the best hero that ever existed. When she, as the Evil Stepmother, pushes Morgan down a well, Prince Edward and Princess Nancy know that she did it to save everyone from the magic leaving the kingdom. At no point did people say, "Wait, Giselle caused this?" When my kids hurt my other kids, even if it was an accident, there needs to be a sense of genuine remorse. I know, that makes me sound like a monster. But not saying sorry or not having a discussion in that moment is a problem.
I just gave two moments where culpability was asked for and I kind of flew over the first example. I want to talk about how much Giselle enjoys fairy land. This is the part that makes her awful. The second is more of a band-aid. The first, however, should be the thing of serial killers. The entire first movie was her learning that our world was a challenging, but beautiful place. Sure, it wasn't home. But New York offered things that Andalasia didn't. There's something psychotic about wiping reality clean and starting again, especially with people outside yourself. Let's give Giselle a way more morally acceptable answer. Imagine Giselle, in her frustation with Morgan and her feelings of helplessness, ran away to Andalasia. Fewer people would have been affected. Morgan and Robert would be appropriately sad because they have been abandoned. We would be booing her pretty hard for being an absentee parent, especially considering that Giselle is the mother that chose Morgan. But Giselle took it a hundred steps further and chose to rewrite Robert and Morgan. That's bananas.
And, no, it wasn't her intention. But she also was thrilled when that was the world she picked. It's me choosing an alternate universe version of my family over my actual family. What both Enchanted and Disenchanted get so close to understanding, but ultimately fail to nail it, is that these are movies about the choice to love someone. In the first movie, Morgan is so enamored with the notion that Giselle loves her that she feels whole. It doesn't matter that Giselle isn't biologically her mother. She is the daughter out of choice. Now, Disenchantment wisely comments on the archetype of the evil stepmother in Disney fantasy movies. But it never actually spells out why it's silly that Giselle becomes evil. While stepmothers in film tend to be evil, Giselle is a hero because she chooses to love and see the good in things. The term "stepmother" (she should realize) is someone who goes into a marriage knowing that they are going to be a mother and chooses to accept both parents and children. It's this noble use of the same word and the movie gets right up to that line without ever fully accepting that idea.
It's just so clunky, guys. Like Frozen II, when you add too much mythology and plot to the story, it loses what made it special to begin with. (I actually enjoy Frozen II, but you get what I'm saying.) It tries doing so much and accomplishes so little.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.