Disney’s Enchanted, released in 2007, introduces a new female into the line famous Disney Princesses. Giselle, played by Amy Adams, becomes the modern day princess as she is pushed from the cartoon fantasy world of Andalasia to the harsh reality of Manhattan. When I first saw the trailer for Disney’s new princess movie, I assumed it was just another Disney movie so young girls would have more princess merchandise to beg for. The trailer makes it seem as though the focus of the movie is on the rescue of Giselle, a seemingly helpless woman, by Prince Edward, played by James Marsden, and Robert, played by Patrick Demsey, to return her to her happy ending in the fairytale land. While watching the movie, I quickly realized it was a love story as Giselle realizes her fairytale prince may not be the perfect match for her. This paper argues that although Disney provides a step away from the stereotypical princess, from a feminist viewpoint the characters still remain in the expected gender roles seen within society. I first examine how Disney classically presents gender roles within princess movies, and then examine how the main characters do and do not fit stereotypical gender roles. I chose to focus on the female characters for analytical purposes, but it is important to note how the male characters work within the movie.
Before diving into analysis of the roles found within Enchanted, I want to step back and describe how classic Disney movies present gender roles. Many stereotypical gender representations appear in popular Disney movies through feminine and masculine characters, such as Cinderella in Cinderella and Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. Sam Abel described how much influence Disney has on culture in his article, “The Rabbit in Drag: Camp and Gender Construction in the American Animated Cartoon,” saying “The work of the Disney studios defines the gender norm for the rest of the cartoon world, both because of the dominance of Disney in the cartoon market and in the popular imagination, and because of the proximity of Disney’s gender norm to that of society at large” (Abel 3). Because Disney has this amount of control in an entertainment industry focused on young children, the effects of Disney’s stereotypical gender roles through their popular movies should be examined. The classical princesses are pretty, sweet, gentle, great housekeepers, and are waiting to fall in love with a prince to be rescued from her unfortunate condition. None are interested in their education or any sort of career, because their life is going to rely on the status of a man. The men are all presented in masculine roles as they search for a woman to complete their expected role in society. Most princes spend their time hunting and rescuing damsels in distress, and lower class men are seen doing manual labor and jobs women are too dainty to do themselves. In the case of Gaston, he is a very rowdy character as he drinks and brags about himself. Gaston describes his manliness while singing a song in the film, “Well, there’s no one as burly and brawny. As you see I’ve got biceps to spare. Not a bit of him scraggly or scrawny. That’s right. And every last inch of me’s covered with hair!” Enchanted does not have roles so strictly defined, but they can still be seen in overt and subtle ways.
Giselle comes to realize that she can chose a life outside of her fairytale romance, but she remains in the expected feminine role as she cleans, sews, and becomes a mother figure to Robert’s daughter. The other main female, Nancy, is presented as a successful working woman with realistic views on marriage and love, but she jumps at the chance to become a princess, as most young, Disney-loving girls would do. Edward is the fairytale prince searching for his true love, and is presented as an unintelligent man with the stereotypical qualities expected of masculinity. Robert, a successful divorce lawyer, is a father teaching his young daughter that true love does not exist, but Giselle quickly changes his opinion. The movie provides mixed messages about love and gender roles, but leaves the audiences with a happy, commercial Disney ending.
Enchanted’s Giselle embodies the qualities of a Disney princess while in Andalasia as she and the forest animals sing a happy love song while piecing together a manikin of Giselle’s ideal prince charming. As expected, Prince Edward comes along to save Giselle from a troll, and they ride off together to be married the next morning. This speedy love would be criticized in the real world, but as a Disney princess, this is what Giselle expects from her life. As Giselle rushes to her wedding, Edward’s evil mother, Narissa, disguises as a stereotypical old hag to push Giselle down a well to a world where there are no happy endings. The naïve princess finds herself wandering around the streets of Manhattan in her large wedding dress, and repeatedly asks men for help. This is strange and new world to her, so as humorous as her mishaps are, it is interesting to note that she is still rescued by Robert as she falls off of a castle billboard. Even outside of fantasy land, a man falls into the role of rescuing the damsel in distress. Alison Broverman points out that Enchanted plays on the “tropes of Disney princess films, while still unnervingly embracing all that Disney princess films stand for” (Broverman 1). The movie is seemingly mocking the classics, but at a closer look the stereotypes remain.
Another example of Giselle’s stereotypic role as a woman is seen as she awakes in Robert’s apartment and decides it needs to be cleaned. So, as any princess would, she sings for the animals to come clean the apartment with her. New York’s mice, pigeons, and cockroaches are quick to come to Giselle’s side as she takes the stereotypical role of a woman cleaning for the man who is too messy to clean the apartment himself. Robert’s motherless daughter, Morgan, helps to demonstrate Giselle’s role as stereotypical. Morgan loves fairy tale princesses, but her father tries showing her strong, important women in society through books. She quickly is captivated by Giselle’s princess qualities, and the two become close. By the end of the movie, Giselle has seemingly stepped into the place of Morgan’s mother. Another prominent feminine stereotype is that of women shopping, and Morgan shows this to Giselle by going on a shopping spree with Robert’s credit card to be used in emergencies. They bond through the shopping spree and makeovers. Morgan even gives her advice, telling her not to wear too much because boys are only after one thing, but neither knows what exactly it is that boys want. This demonstrates how naïve Giselle is in the world, but her optimistic innocence still attracts her new prince, the successful Manhattan lawyer. This motherly role is important, because historically Disney does not give much importance to mothers. Most of the princesses’ birth mothers are never mentioned, and the stepmothers are constantly presented as evil. Rebecca-Anne C Do Rozario discusses how Disney movies present mother-daughter relationships “with the mature adversary acting as a wicked maternal substitute, simultaneously erasing the mother and replacing her with a negative image” (Do Rozario 41). Giselle becomes Morgan’s new motherly figure, but is in no way an evil stepmother. This illustrates how Disney is presenting a modern twist on the classical stereotype of mothers found in the original princess movies.
In an article for the New York Times, Peggy Orenstein discusses the princess craze in depth and questions that maybe the argument is “still surfing a washed-out second wave of feminism in a third-wave world. Maybe princesses are in fact a sign of progress, an indication that girls can embrace their predilection for pink without compromising strength or ambition; that, at long last, they can ‘have it all’ ” (Orenstein 2). Giselle seems to embody Orenstein’s theory as she chooses to abandon her fairytale ending for a life with Robert to become a mother figure while opening a business selling princess dresses for young girls. On the other hand, there is the character of Nancy to oppose the progress made by Giselle. Nancy falls in love with Prince Edward as soon as he slips Giselle’s glass slipper on her own foot. Throughout the movie, Nancy presents a successful business woman supporting herself without the help of a husband. Her relationship with Robert is based on realistic values, not passion and romance, so when the opportunity to jump into a fairytale wedding is presented, Nancy jumps. She abandons her successful career and entire life to become a princess, and I feel as if this point distracts from the strides made by Giselle to step out of the role of stereotypical princess. Giselle shows young girls that they don’t need a fairytale romance, but Nancy is there to show that it is still acceptable to want to be a princess supported by a prince. This mixed message further proves how females are stereotyped throughout Disney movies.
Disney’s Enchanted presents a modern twist on the classic princess tale. While arguably feminist by the way Giselle refuses to remain in her fairytale love, Giselle never truly steps out of the stereotypical gender role created by society and the media, including Disney. The gender roles presented are seen through the characters of Giselle and Nancy, but it appears that the women switch roles in a way. As Giselle steps out of the fairytale princess stereotype to enter a more traditional gender role of females in society, Nancy chooses to leave her life and successful career to marry a Prince Charming. It is possible that both of the women have found happiness in their lives, but the implications suggest that the gender roles are still enforced. I decided to include a clip of the ending scene of the movie in which the women’s new lives are displayed. The clip begins after Giselle saves Robert from Narissa as an evil beast. This is the major point in which Giselle is no longer the damsel in distress, and gives hope that future movies will continue on this path of stepping away from classic stereotypes to present stories of women making their own choices about love and life.