Fairy godmothering isn’t all just bibbiting your bobbities, you know.
It takes more than just the right sort of temperament and the right-sized wand. It takes training: years and decades and perhaps even centuries of rigorous schooling at Motherland’s prestigious, exclusive and, let’s face it, only institution for becoming a licensed fairy godmother. After all, you can’t just have any ol’ godmother wannabe turning stray mice into horses, can you? Just imagine the damage to certain mouse-infested homes!
But, alas, fairy godmothers are about as in-demand as daguerreotype printers these days.
Certainly, the godmothering profession has been caught up in cultural currents that it could hardly do much about. The world is a more cynical place these days than it used to be. Eligible bachelor princes are located in precious few locales, and glass slippers have long ceased to be sensible footwear for anyone.
That said, Motherland’s very own godmothering academy also failed to adjust with the times.
For centuries, Moira—the godmother of godmothers, you might say—has taught her pupils three basic rules. One, conjure a fabulous gown. Two, trigger an incurable case of true love. And three—well, go on to the happily ever after, of course. Never mind that Moira’s teaching techniques feel about as sequential as a Little League coach saying, “First you buy your glove, then participate in your World Series parade!”
It was, admittedly, quite a successful program for a while: “The cornerstone of fairy godmothering since it began!” Moira reminds her pupils. But despite its past success, the school has fallen on hard times. Moira privately admits that it will probably have to close its doors and transfer all its aged students to the tooth-fairy division.
But Eleanor, the school’s youngest and most recent student, is determined to keep the place alive and the career of godmothering thriving. She just needs to complete one successful godmothering job and usher one little girl—just one—into the realm of happily ever after. And when she goes through the school’s old files, she finds a perfect candidate: a 10-year-old named Mackenzie.
Too bad the school’s postal service is about as timely as its teaching. When Eleanor finally makes it to Mackenzie’s hometown of Boston, she discovers the 10-year-old is … significantly older.
Mackenzie has children of her own now, a job she doesn’t much like and more responsibilities than she knows what to do with. “My heart’s desire now is maybe a clean house and the eyebrows I had before I started stress plucking,” she says. For Mackenzie, the idea of happily ever after is heartily ever over.
Clearly, Eleanor will have to put her wand into overdrive to save her school.
Eleanor means well, even if her neophyte godmothering skills aren’t always up to snuff. She wants to make Mackenzie’s life better, and she tries very hard to make it so—from giving Mackenzie’s house a royal makeover to transforming her dress into a Marie Antoinette-like gown for a work party.
Those “gifts” are met with, shall we say, mixed results. But the influence Eleanor has on Mackenzie’s children—teenage Jane and precocious Mia—is much more positive. Jane, a budding musician, has terrible stage fright that is unintentionally exacerbated by Mackenzie herself. Eleanor’s “You can do it!” positivity proves to be just what Jane’s doctor would’ve ordered (had Jane’s doctor been in the habit of diagnosing correctives for stage fright). And the kids come to see Eleanor as a real sort of godmother—and a definite help for single-mother Mackenzie.
And even if some of Eleanor’s intended gifts go awry, Mackenzie is slowly won over by the godmother’s inherent goodness. The struggling single mom’s cynicism slowly slips away; and while the pressures of her life don’t magically vanish, Mackenzie not only learns how to deal with those pressures better, but to be a better person in the midst of them.
“You reminded me how to live happily,” Mackenzie says to Eleanor. The ever after part of the phrase is dropped, and with reason. Godmothered reminds us that it’s unrealistic to be happy all the time. It also teaches us that we don’t need magic in order to, in Mackenzie’s words, live happily.
Obviously, magic is kind of a deal here. Animals are transformed into different animals (and sometimes turned into hairy housemaids, too). Fruits and vegetables experience a great many unnatural contortions. Workaday clothes become outlandish bits of eveningwear. People and things fly.
But Eleanor’s imperfect grasp of magic illustrates, in part, that magic doesn’t really make life better. That, the movie suggests, is up to us. When someone requests a spell from Eleanor to calm her nerves, Eleanor tells her that magic just doesn’t work that way. “You don’t need a spell because you’re already magical,” she says.
A field full of exploded pumpkins is given a sensationalized twist in the local news media, with someone suggesting it might’ve been the work of witches.
Mackenzie’s a single mom who suggests, at first, that her husband ran off with a younger, thinner Pilates instructor. (That turns out not to be the case.) She’s not particularly interested in romance at first. But for aspiring godmother Eleanor, true love is an integral part of happily ever after. Soon, Eleanor’s trying to get Mackenzie together with (of course) Hugh Prince, a reporter who works at the same local television station as she does. The two clearly have some chemistry, but they never even do so much as kiss.
But the movie does expand the definition of what true love looks like. Mostly, it suggests that kids and parents, family and friends can be our “true love,” but it does include a scene where two men—both raising, presumably, the baby in their arms—declare their love for their son.
We briefly see a picture, on a computer screen, of a woman (from the back) wearing a thong-style bikini. Mackenzie admits to wearing a push-up bra and Spanks to a party. A teen wears a shoulder-baring dress. An anchorwoman tells the story of an unfortunate white-blouse, spray-tan incident that made her look like a “zebra in a wet t-shirt contest.”
Someone tells Mackenzie that she looks “hot.” When Mackenzie protests, the guy says, “I mean your face is red and sweaty.” When Eleanor tells a stranger that she might become a tooth fairy, the stranger tells her that she “lost my heart to a tooth fairy at Burning Man in 2004.”
Before Eleanor leaves the confines of Motherland for Boston, a friend of hers says, “Knock ’em dead, kid.”
“Oh, Agnes,” Eleanor says. “If everything goes right, no one’s going to die.”
No one does—but not for lack of trying.
Several characters fall down for various comedic reasons. And on a snowy afternoon, one accidentally sleds straight into another. Someone’s pegged in the head with a snowball. There’s a reference to a time when someone tried to put candles on a tree and nearly burned down a house. A racoon repeatedly tries to chew through electrical wires (sometimes successfully).
News stories are routinely sensationalized, turning gentle snowfalls into winter blizzards and describing inexplicable fireworks as the secret work of the military. When a pumpkin patch is mysteriously vandalized, an anchorwoman dubs it the “Essex pumpkin-cult massacre.” And when Mackenzie covers a tailgating party, someone quips that if anyone chokes, they can do a story on killer chili. Someone has an allergic reaction to shellfish, necessitating an alarmingly painful EpiPen injection. Someone is hit in the head with a billiard ball.
We learn that Mackenzie’s husband died in a car crash.
We hear four misuses of God’s name, paired with a few more nudges in that direction when Eleanor exclaims, “Oh my godmothers!” (We also hear a strategic use of the word “fudge.”)
Eleanor, Mackenzie and couple of Mackenzie’s work friends go out to a bar to celebrate a big achievement. Eleanor winds up drinking a shot—her first experience with alcohol, apparently—and she gets a bit tipsy. She also calls for “more elixir,” which is actually light beer.
When Eleanor first arrives near Boston, her speech and dress seem so out of place that someone asks her if she was on drugs. “Of course not,” Eleanor responds—adding, “What are drugs?” Later, she considers hanging out with a group of down-and-outers, but she reports that she’d have to “share knitting needles.” (The insinuation is that they actually said “needles,” but naive Eleanor didn’t quite know what that meant.)
There’s a reference to drinking wine while wearing sweatpants.
Jane gets so frightened when performing in front of people that she tends to projectile vomit, we hear.
Godmothered is a light, sweet and wry movie, the latest to gently reexamine Disney’s legend-spinning archetypes.
This trend saw its apex in Frozen, of course—a delightful and wildly successful film that turned your typical Disney princess story into a tale of self-empowerment and sisterly love. It pushed against the idea that princesses aren’t complete without a prince. It (and other movies) say that happily ever after shouldn’t be anyone’s goal, because it’s inherently unachievable. Godmothered acknowledges this sober truth and thus strives to protect many a young viewer from the disillusionment they might feel when they have to start paying taxes.
But in trying to update Disney’s messages and poke gentle fun at some of its most famous tropes, Godmothered also departs from traditional Mouse House moviedom in some slightly less savory ways.
Certainly, Godmothered is cleaner than all but a tiny sliver of new films you’ll find on streaming services. But the winking allusions and asides—asides that might sail over many a young viewers’ head, admittedly—might raise an eyebrow or two. And the (very brief) inclusion of a gay couple at the very end might spark questions that some parents weren’t planning on addressing for a while.
“Instead of telling people what true love is supposed to look like, maybe we should let them tell us,” Eleanor says. Some might read that exhortation as not just a push against Moira’s strict Godmothering treatise, but against many forms of cultural conservatism: We must change, the movie says, or have our own doors close for good. Love is whatever we want it to be. If we take that message to heart to the degree that the film may want us to, we move into some problematic territory.
But at the same time, that message is potentially better than it might seem at first blush, too. After all, the Bible also says that love comes in many different forms: Between husband and wife. Between parent and child. Between friends. Between our Creator and His creation. And if the ensuing conversation is guided in the right way, Godmothered could point, ever so slightly, to God the Father.
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.