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Happily Ever After, In The Real World

Dec
2
2007

As the father of two young women, let me go on the record: Not a fan of princesses. But I am crazy for a new Disney movie about a fairytale princess because it illuminates what’s so wrong with the enduringly popular Princess mythology.

Enchanted is a new film that builds on the popularity of Princess movies, but it also subtly undermines their foundation, suggesting that real life is preferable to living in a myth. I’m sure there are fans of the hit movie that don’t see that subtext, but I found it a delightful antidote to the Princess Myth, a mythology filled with True Love, but based on simplistic notions of relationships.

Now, my problem isn’t with actual princesses, although I’m not convinced of the symbolic worth of a monarchy to a democratic nation. I also don’t have a problem with the original fairytales from which the classic princesses come from – such as those of the Brothers Grimm – since those stories are very much rooted in their time and are filled with historical details. My beef is with the modern Princess Myth as it’s exemplified by those princesses and princess-wannabes found in American film, including such Disney classics as Cinderella and The Little Mermaid and the plucky characters found in movies like Pretty Woman and The Prince and Me.


“The Diana
Chronicles”

There are two halves to the appeal of the Princess Myth, one classic and one contemporary. The older half is the image despaired by feminists for years: Our young heroine sits around, looking pretty and doing little more than longing for happiness until Prince Charming swoops in and saves her, presumably then taking her off to a castle where she will spend the rest of her days doing little more than looking pretty and being happy. While the notion that a man “saves” a woman is still around, there’s also the more material modern half to the myth: Oh My God, wouldn’t it be cool to have all those clothes and live in a fancy house and have butlers and stuff?

In this version of the myth, women can have their cake and eat it too. You can be free-thinking and independent and all that good stuff, but still benefit from having a Prince who supplies that American Express Black Card (annual spending required: $250,000) you need to complete your life.


The
Princess
Bride

I’m convinced this is an essential part of the huge appeal of Princess Diana, a fandom that approached hysteria upon her death. There is an element to Diana’s celebrity that relies on her fans believing an inaccurate but basic message: “She was one of us and she made it. She achieved the dream.” Yes, the dream every woman has of being in line to ascend the throne, having your husband cheat on you and dying in a fiery crash in Paris. The stuff of the Brothers Grimm. And, of course, Diane was part of a line of distinguished English aristocrats, the Spencers, who can trace their lineage (and land holdings) back to the 17th century. She was hardly starting life with little more than the rags on her back.

In Enchanted, Amy Adams plays Giselle, a classic Princess type. In the initial animated sequence, which perfectly nails both the classic Disney films of the Forties, as well as those of the Nineties, Giselle sings and plays with her animal friends, while waiting for her Prince to come along, whereupon the pair will instantly fall in love and live happily ever after. The happy couple is split asunder when the evil Queen throws Giselle into the real world of Manhattan, where she must try to make her way in a world of diminished expectations.

But it’s interesting how things wind up (here come the blessed spoilers). At some point, Giselle begins to prefer the real world. While she’s dismayed to discover the concept of divorce – she hooks up with a divorce attorney, played by Patrick Dempsey – there’s also a delightful scene where she discovers the emotion of anger, a completely foreign concept to her.

Even though she finally is rescued by her handsome Prince, who follows her to the real world, Giselle finds she is unsatisfied. Her Prince loves her utterly and without reservation, but Giselle has also discovered the concept of the “date,” of going out to talk and getting to know the other person. Why is it those animated heroines always seemed to love their dashing Princes at first sight, almost never knowing much about them?

Giselle battles the wicked Queen and saves her love. She chooses to stay in New York and open a business. She becomes a step-mother to a young girl. She elects to live in the real world, a place where things don’t always work out. Another New Yorker in the film, a rival female character, does choose the fairy tale and heads off for her happily-ever-after with the Prince. But which of these two women has found real happiness?

Editor’s note: P.J. Rodriguez isn’t the only Spot-on writer who’s not a fan of the princess phenomenon. Deborah Klosky’s taken a look at the “real” life version of this story in this post “Princesses are Us.”

Share  Posted by P.J. Rodriguez at 4:53 PM | Permalink

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