Enchanted at 10: How it stacks up in a sea of Cinderella reboots

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Nov 21, 2017

Once upon a time ... the line so many of us grew up hearing. The story of princesses and true love and talking animals. Fairy tales are some of the most frequently mined stories for reboots. There are TV shows (Once Upon A Time) and musicals (Into the Woods). There are also films. Oh, so many films. From literal retellings of classics (how many Cinderella stories have we seen?) to familiar-feeling tales of transformation to win the man (Pretty Woman), fairy-tale reboots are all around us.

But 10 years ago a reimagining of the classic Disney princess stories came in a new package -- the mashup. An animated story of a princess meeting her prince that turned quickly into a gritty story about whether true love even exists. In a sea of reboots, Enchanted remains a standout and still feels relevant a decade later.

Image courtesy of Disney

Released on November 21, 2007, Enchanted seeks to combine everything we love about princesses (like helpful singing animals) while still acknowledging the fairy-tale flaws. A mix of animated beauty and gritty real life, Enchanted follows Giselle (Amy Adams) after she is banished from her land by an evil queen named Narissa (Susan Sarandon). She ends up in New York City, a far cry from her home and not as rosy a locale as she's accustomed to. Found in the rain and saved by cynical divorce attorney Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his delightful daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey), Giselle spends the majority of Enchanted searching for how to return to Prince Charming -- only to realize he's not the prince she wanted. Been there, amirite?

Since the 1950s, we've seen numerous retellings of rags-to-riches Cinderella stories and women transforming into princesses through magic in order to gain the attention of their prince, but Enchanted addresses the tired tropes head-on, drawing attention to those moments we like to wish never happened. It's like when you rewatch a TV show you loved as a teenager and can't help but acknowledge the cringeworthy moments that are no longer acceptable. Or even that movie that wouldn't exist in the days of cell phones.

Plenty of Cinderella stories take the more traditional routes. For example, A Cinderella Story is a fun Cinderella reboot from 2004 starring Hillary Duff and Chad Michael Murray. Sam (Duff) is simply a modern Cinderella -- evil stepmom and all.

Image courtesy Warner Brothers

Trade her chores for a coffee shop and the ball for a school dance. She is transformed to meet the expectations of her beau. In the 1998 reboot Ever After, starring Drew Barrymore, the transformation reason is slightly different (a noble cause), but still, Barrymore's Cinderella is forced to hide her true identity in order to meet society's expectations of who is worthy of a prince. Even The Princess Diaries requires a woman's physical transformation in order to meet expectations. 

Image courtesy FOX

In Enchanted, the one who goes through the transformation isn't Giselle -- it's Robert. Giselle is brought into a world completely different from her own (like, an actual world rather than animated) and doesn't change to conform to what Robert wants. Instead, she transforms him from a cynic to someone who believes in true love. She changes him to fit her needs. Even Idina Menzel's Nancy doesn't conform to what is expected of her. She has goals. She has ambition. So does Queen Narissa (Sarandon) -- who spends the entire film manipulating Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) into doing exactly what she wants. 

Sure, the film takes place over the course of just a few days and is still totally unrealistic. But these unrealistic moments are addressed -- shining a spotlight on the ridiculousness of the tropes and assumptions perpetuated for thousands of years. Enchanted is not a Cinderella story where Giselle is forced to pretend to be someone other than herself. The women in the film aren't fighting over the affections of a prince or changing themselves in order to appeal to him. And that feels refreshing.

Another standout aspect of Enchanted is the music. Cinderella had been performed as

Image courtesy Disney

a musical on stage and screen many times -- but most newer movie reboots chose to keep the general story without the music. One notable exception is Disney's musical Cinderella remake starring Brandy Norwood and Whitney Houston (which turned 20 this year and is still amazing). 

Enchanted isn't simply a remake using music from other Disney films to draw comparisons. Enchanted uses music to comment on both the reality and fantasy of tales like Cinderella. Notably, Giselle sings happily as rats and pigeons (the animals of New York City) help her do chores. You could read this as another way Giselle shows her positive attitude despite her situation, or you could read the song as the expectation of happily cleaning up the home while waiting for your prince to arrive. The comedy comes from the juxtaposition of the words and actions. Yes, it seems ridiculous now.

Enchanted subverts the ideas of the typical princess film while still actually being one in itself. Like Cinderella, the prince goes searching for his fair maiden, everyone seems to know the words to every song, there is an evil stepmother, and preparation for a ball where the main characters fall in love while dancing.

Since Enchanted was released 10 years ago, there have been many more reboots and reimaginings of fairy tales. And while plenty have merit (make sure you see 2014's Into the Woods), the ability to make these stories we've heard an untold number of times interesting, relevant, and still critical is a difficult task. That's where Enchanted continues to shine a decade later and likely for many decades to come.