I went to a Disney movie last night, and I enjoyed it. It was, as all the reviewers have noted, new territory for Disney, spoofing its own star brand, The Princess. Creating Giselle, a Cinderella- Snow White - Briar Rose – Ariel- Belle amalgam, the makers have thrust their cherished meme into the (sort-of) real world of New York City, where she must find her way, at least until her True Prince finds her. They manage to make you laugh at all the truly laughable qualities of the Princess while still letting you care about her enough that, in the end, you don’t resent the storybook ending one bit.
Well, maybe a little bit. At first, the movie seems like a wink at moviegoers my age, who have figured out that the princess dreams we grew up with were not necessarily our allies in facing the realities of modern love and marriage. OK, Enchanted admits, love at first sight is not the wisest basis for a lifelong relationship. The Princess is even allowed to get angry – in fact, this anger is the pivotal moment in the movie. They even let her rescue her guy, sort of.
I would be a scrooge to begrudge the ending, in which Princess simultaneously gets her guy and grows to appreciate some of the contours of real life relationship. At least they don’t kill off the mature, assertive, rival girlfriend. But the lapse into fantasy that most irritated me was when Giselle steps into a maternal role. What, you may ask, seals the deal with her potential stepdaughter? A high end shopping spree capped by a mother-daughter pedicure. “Is this what it’s like?” the little girl asks. “What?” Giselle says. “When your Mom takes you shopping.” Yes, there it is, the real thing that binds us to one another in families: shared self-indulgence. That’s the scene I don’t want my little girl to see.
The moment that most encapsulates the Disney mythology is near the beginning, when the realist father gives his six-year-old a book of heroines: Rosa Parks, Marie Curie. He wants her to have it instead of the fairytale book she wants, he explains, because these are real life women. “See? Madame Curie,” he points, “she devoted her life to science and research, and .. uh . . . died of radiation poisoning.” Every man’s dream for his little girl.
There’s the rub. Fairytales never end with the heroine actually dying. Actually, some of them do, just not Disney’s Americanized versions of them. Despite a Disney ban at our house, we still have lots of princess fantasies going on, and I’ve made my peace with them by reading – reading the original tales by Hans Christian Anderson or even the Brothers Grimm, as harsh as they may be. There is some very deep archetypal stuff going on with the good and evil in these tales – they have survived for a reason. Yes, mature and good women are often lacking in these stories, but I’m secure enough in my motherhood to believe that this alone won’t warp our mother-daughter relationship. And if I’m reading to her instead of popping in a video, I am neither the Absent Mother nor the Evil Stepmother. And maybe she’ll be less likely to assume that a true princess has to have a microwaist and a $70 manicure.