Happily ever after is hard to come by. At least around here.
Sure, Giselle—the young maiden from the magical fairy-tale land of Andalasia—thought she found her happily ever after in the not-so-fairy-tale city of New York (as chronicled in Disney’s 2007 Enchanted). But while dreams-come-true are easy to find in Andalasia, they’re a stitch harder to nail down in Manhattan. And while life was just fine in New York, it wasn’t, well, it wasn’t happily ever after.
So Giselle suggested that she, her prince charming (a lawyer named Robert), her stepdaughter, Morgan, and her new baby, Sofia, all move to the suburbs. Why, there she might find deer to talk to and songbirds to sing. She might even hear herself whistle while she works—instead of just hear the whistle of the subway and the honk of the traffic. Wouldn’t that be nice?
And indeed, Monroeville does seem closer to Andalasia than Fifth Avenue ever did. Even their house looks a bit like a castle. A run-down castle with some serious electrical problems, to be sure, but still. There’s a nice tower on the side and a fake well in the yard that soon becomes a glittering portal to Giselle’s homeland. Edward and Nancy—Andalasia’s reigning king and queen—even give Giselle a nice housewarming gift for her new home sweet home: a magic wishing wand, usable by only true sons or daughters of Andalasia.
But if Giselle feels her real-estate situation inching closer to happily ever after, her relationship with teen Morgan is turning a bit frosty. The grass may be literally greener in Monroeville, but Morgan doesn’t have a friend in the place. And her stepmother’s efforts to help seem to make everything worse.
Naturally, Giselle knows that there’s only thing to do: Help harder.
So one night, Morganville’s most optimistic resident picks up the wishing wand and uses it. “I wish we had a fairy-tale life,” she says.
The next morning, she discovers that all her kitchen appliances are singing. Robert’s ready to dive into another day of sword-swinging do-gooding. Morgan just can’t help but sing as she considers her daily chores.
Giselle sighs and smiles. Yes, here’s her happily-ever-after—just as she always imagined it.
But the wand takes this fairy-tale wish quite seriously. And as you might recall, stepmothers are never good in fairy tales.
Those familiar with the original movie Enchanted know that Giselle’s character is as good as they come. And much of the time, she still is the delightfully innocent character we met in 2007—especially pre-wish. She’s very sweet and kind and really, truly wants the best for her stepdaughter, even if Morgan (being a typical teen) doesn’t always see it. In fact, the wish Giselle makes isn’t really about her own happiness at all, but her relationship with Morgan. Her stepdaughter is clearly not happy in the ‘burbs, and Giselle’s determined to make it better. (And, in so doing, patch up their own slightly frayed relationship.)
The wish twists Monroeville into a land called Monrolasia—a fantasy world of dragons and giants and, naturally, evil queens. And it twists Giselle’s nature, too. But even as the wish takes hold, part of the old Giselle remains. She eventually sends Morgan off to save her, Monroeville and (as it turns out) Andalasia itself.
That makes Morgan the real hero of Disenchanted. She’s helped along the way by both her father and a new, handsome prince named Tyson. But it’s Morgan who must find some way to counteract this pesky wish before it permanently takes hold at, of course, midnight.
[Spoiler Warning] But what could be more powerful than that of this wishing wand? Turns out it’s a magic we all have: memory. The power we have is pinned on the love we have for each other and the moments we share. Hokey? Absolutely. True? Undoubtedly.
And before the story ends, the “step” part of “stepmother” and “stepdaughter” are all but wiped away. Giselle and Morgan are truly mother and daughter, bound not by blood or DNA, but by fierce affection. I’d imagine that’s a nice message for many a blended family to hear.
Naturally, Disenchanted is awash in magic. Giselle’s wand is magic. The portals to Andalasia are magic. Malvina, Monrolasia’s current evil queen, uses nasty magic at times and talks to a magic mirror. We see fairies and giants and dragons—all staples of fairy tales, of course. All of this magic is of a very Disney type—familiar to anyone who’s seen Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty—filled with sparkles and wand-waving but no dark incantations.
We hear a few vaguely spiritual terms bandied about. Giselle, for instance, mentions how “blessed” she is, and later says that life itself is a “miracle.”
Giselle and Robert gently kiss on occasion, and we see them lie in bed together. Morgan is clearly attracted to Tyson (a popular high schooler in Monroeville and an actual prince in Monrolasia), though he’s typically surrounded by other female attention-seekers. Some dresses sport cleavage, and Giselle herself expresses surprise at how low the front part of one of her gowns dips.
We see many couples dance and walk together in the background of some scenes, including two women who seem to be dancing with each other. Their relationship could be completely platonic: The sort of dance they’re engaged in doesn’t necessarily point to any deeper relationship. But given the age in which we live, I thought I’d mention it.
Malvina’s magic tends to literally backfire a bit—sending her flying backwards and tumbling over a reliably-placed chair. A magical battle features a great deal of noise and chaos and (oddly) butterflies, but no one seems to be particularly hurt. (It’s possible that some of the butterflies injured their wings in the fracas, but I can’t confirm that.) A magical blast tosses a couple of people around.
Robert’s heroic derring-do pits him against a dragon, whose breath sends him flying and sets him on fire (but just a bit). He also tangles with a giant, and Robert’s dragged through the streets as a consequence. He saves a little girl nearly struck by a falling pergola. We hear that King Edward’s sword has “slain many a beast.”
[Spoiler Warning] We learn that Giselle’s wish is unintentionally draining Andalasia of its own magic—and if it succeeds, it’ll kill every living thing that lives in or comes from that fairy-tale world, including Giselle herself. We see several Andalasian people and critters look pretty terrible toward the end, swooning as the magic drains from them.
One use of the word “h—.” Outside that, the worst language we hear is crudities such as “sucked,” or insults such as “idiots,” or exclamations such as “jumpin’ jellysticks.”
Robert pours wine at a picnic.
Morgan treats Giselle disrespectfully on occasion, and Giselle—once she turns into a real evil stepmother—can treat Morgan quite poorly, too. Her animal companion, Pip (normally a talking chipmunk, but who turns into an evil cat here), retches on a hairball. A pigeon flies overhead and deposits some mustard on a professional mover. A wand is stolen.
In Andalasia, the concept of happily ever after is indeed a real, achievable, thing. As one of its furry residents tells us, “You get married, and nothing ever happens to you again.”
We know better. If we get married, that’s really just the beginning of our stories. We have kids. We get jobs. We deal with new challenges every day, every week, every decade. The people we love the most drive us the most crazy.
Disney—corporate author of the great American fairy-tale—has showed incredible dexterity in deconstructing that very fairy tale in some pretty delightful ways. Enchanted was one of the first and, given its powerhouse cast, one of the best. And if Disenchanted doesn’t quite measure up to that lofty standard, it’s not for lack of trying.
Disenchanted reminds us that our lives are no fairy tales—but they can be pretty great anyway, especially if we have people we love and who love us right back. It manages to be subversive and funny without ever being crass. It pokes fun at itself while still, sometimes, prodding more sincere truths. And every now and then, if you squint a little, the movie can be downright (wait for it) magical.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.