Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Once upon a time in reality, there lived a cynical viewer

Because I miscalculated when the books on my reading list would arrive at the library, I decided to watch Enchanted to see what all the fuss was about. Friends raved about it; three of the songs were nominated for Oscars...


Amy Adams was the best thing about the movie. She was brilliant as Giselle, the Pollyanna-ish fairy tale princess who is transported to New York City. Her voice is clear and crisp and perfect for a Disney fairy tale heroine, and she managed to actually behave consistently like a Disney cartoon character throughout the film. Genius. Other than the lead actress, though, the film was pretty sadly mediocre. The songs weren't that great, the plot had gaping holes, and the whole thing was predictable.

My biggest problem with modern takes on fairy tales is that they still reinforce strict gender roles, so perhaps for this reason I'm always extra-critical. Enchanted was pretty bad. Even though it tried to reverse some of the traditional roles (she saves the prince in the end, though not very convincingly), it never actually attempted to break down the myth that marriage brings the ultimate happiness for all people.

Then there were the weird moments of randomly throwing in people of color. There was the black couple trying to get a divorce, and in one scene Giselle goes up to the woman, touches her hair, and comments on how pretty it is. I know it was supposed to illustrate how charming and friendly Giselle was (she reminded them that marriage is a commitment and that everybody has problems, and that divorce is a cop-out and everyone just needs to be happy and work things out!) But seriously. How many groups have I been in where black or half-black people have hours' worth of stories about random white strangers coming up and touching their hair and making comments ("exotic/different/pretty/interesting/fascinating"), and how it is not charming and friendly? I was really, really, really disturbed by that scene. In another bizarre attempt to somehow break away from the Euro-centric roots of the fairy tale genre, one of the song sequences featured African drummers and Mexican trumpet players (and German maypole dancers, to be fair). NYC is a diverse city, of course, so this is supposed to be normal. (As long as both fairy tale characters and "ethnic" people are running around the Big Apple dressed in their "traditional" garb, all is well with the world. But wait, no drag queens? They run around the streets of big cities in "costume" too... Oh, wait. They don't fit so nicely into the fairy tale story arc.... hmmm, why was that, again? Something about boxes...)

Oops, this rant turned out longer than I planned. Suffice to say I disliked Enchanted pretty intensely. But two good fairy tale films I absolutely loved are Ever After and Shrek (the first one). The small quibbles in those two are definitely outweighed by the overall positive tone of the movies, which Enchanted lacked.

And now, off to a benefit for an organization that has been the target of a lot of classist and xenophobic attacks lately.

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