Sunday, November 25, 2007

15 Kislew 5768: National Parfait Day


Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird thing is a guest commentary, included below. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Movie Review: Enchanted versus Shrek

WARNING: We got spoilers here. This could get ugly.

Over a decade ago we were treated to Scream, a horror movie about people obsessed with the rules of horror movies. Though the film itself was something of a fluke as far as the writing was concerned (compare it with anything else Kevin Williamson has written; I suggest The Faculty), it spawned umpteen different variations, genre-conscious movies with characters aware of the rules. Many of these descendants have been awful, but a few have been gems, such as GalaxyQuest and Hot Fuzz. They also include a very popular children's movie, Shrek.

Shrek not only takes on children's movies and fairy tales in general, but makes a number of very specific digs at Disney. (Then-current Dreamworks bigwig, Jeffery Katzenberg, was a former Disney bigwig who left after the bad blood between him and supervillian Michael Eisner. In fact, bad guy Lord Farquaad is modeled after Eisner.) In an antiseptic, good-goody world where the bad guys are supposed to be marked like Cain with ugliness, the story plunks in the middle of it all a creature who is angry, antisocial, and disgusting, makes him the hero, and then validates him in classic Disney style by marrying him off to a princess. As with any popular movie, variants and rip-offs have followed: Hoodwinked, Happily N'ever After, and so forth.

Disney, ever following the money, has now coughed out its own take in Enchanted. In this movie, they plunk Disney characters in the middle of New York City, where they encounter harsh realities they have never experienced. Can true love survive in the real world?

It's actually not that much of the real world. Princess Giselle (Amy Adams), who is sent to New York City (played by itself) by her evil stepmother over a potential threat to the latter's throne (I'm not sure the logic holds), crawls out of a manhole in Times Square and for maybe five minutes is in a version of New York that is nasty and dirty before Rudy Giuliani started cleaning it up. Given where she was going, she was lucky just to have her tiara stolen; the unrealistic part was that she never mugged, became the object of socially inappropriate affections, or asked who her pusher is based on how she's acting high as a kite. From that point on New York is totally out of character, capable of totally flicking into acting like the Disney universe with skyscrapers whenever the plot demands it, which it does most of the time. And as additional cartoons make the crossing, it just gets farther and farther from anything like reality.

It's not long before divorced divorce lawyer Rob Philip (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey) find Giselle trying to gain admittance to a billboard (you don't want to know). Rather than calling the guys with white coats and butterfly nets, they instead take her home. And then the plot gets really silly. I don't want to spoil the whole thing, but once you are see Prince Edward (James Marsden) and Rob's main squeeze Nancy (Idina Menzel), if you don't know who eventually pairs up with whom and what fate the evil stepmother (Susan Sarandon) has in the end, you probably got rocks in your head.

I'm not going to argue about some things you know can't happen, like characters knowing things they shouldn't or being able to get goods and services in New York without any money. That I can suspend, but the problems with the characters, especially Giselle, I cannot. Yeah, there are a few concessions to changing times. Giselle thinks she's in love forever and ever at first sight but it turns out she's wrong. (If she wasn't, the plot would fall apart, so instead she falls in love with someone else by the end of the first date.) She does do a little climbing and throws a sword to save her (second) true love, though in the end he has to help save both of them from sliding off a roof. And at one point she finds herself angry for the first time ever, a difficult emotion for Disney "heroines" and still for her so difficult that she never does it again.

But for the most part the moviemakers are unwilling to stretch the character any further from her roots. While they have Rob learn how to open himself to true love after a bitter divorce has scarred him, nothing seems to have any permanent effect on her. In fact, despite being set in the present, the movie seems to be rather backwards in how it treats women. Successful women like Marie Curie (the chemist who was the first person to win two Nobel prizes) and Rosa Parks (civil-rights advocate) are innuendoed to be personally deficient, as if success outside of "womanly" pursuits had to come at a personal cost. (Actually both of them were married, and one of Curie's daughters ended up winning a Nobel prize of her own.) Nancy ends up giving up her job and life to run away with some guy she just met in a far-away land. And then Giselle, who faced a dragon, turns her back on the productive examples of Parks and Curie (pursuing knowledge and making the world a better place) to go do something "womanly" (make clothing, with the help of her slave armies of vermin). And to top it off they had to have to make her totally immodest. I kid you not, they show Rob walking in on Giselle in the shower, and it is only two birds carrying a towel that keeps him and the audience from seeing her A-cups full on. As it is, this shot alone will get the movie listed by Mr. Skin. And what is it with Disney and small breasts anyway? Don't believe me? Check out the various women in Beauty and the Beast (Belle is smaller than the women Gaston is not pursuing), or the flat-as-a-pancake Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Then again, Disney isn't too culturally sensitive either and still doesn't get it. Minorities are ghettofied in supporting roles and pretty lame and often stereotyped ones at that, like the only time you see Mexicans is in a mariachi band. One character goes around wearing lame ethnic disguises that were lame back in the early twentieth century when they
were old and lame then. Since when did you see an Italian-American with a handlebar mustache and an accent that sounds like "Mama mia, that's a spicy meatball!"? This is the twenty-first century people!

Shrek at least grappled the Disney rules, and even when it fell back into them sideways (as when Shrek paired up with Fiona as an ogre, apparently because an interspecies human-ogre pairing is too controversial), it came out of trying to challenge them. That and the animus towards Eisner lead to contradictions, such as Shrek griping about people hating him for how he looks and then making fun of Farquaad for being a little pipsqueak. Can he help that any more than Shrek can help being an ogre? Enchanted, however, dings against the rules but ultimately seeks to reaffirm them. And that is sad because they could have done so much more with Giselle. Why couldn't she have found she's good for something nontraditional? Would it have killed them to have her grow as a person? For that matter, what if she ended up both single and happy? It's not that Disney is totally incapable of such directions (look at Herbie: Fully Loaded, even with Lindsay Lohan's digitally reduced breasts), but they shouldn't need an animatronic car around to make the "heroine" dream a little bigger than bagging a husband who she's known for a day.

--Malcom NC-17
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