"Enchanted": Pilgrimess' Progress

Valerie M. Hudson

SquareTwo, Vol. 1 No. 1 (Fall 2008)


1 Comment



Warning: If you have not seen the movie “Enchanted,” and do not wish to know plot details, do not read this essay.

            Disney has made quite a number of children’s movies that eerily mimic LDS doctrine and teachings.  Placing the C.S. Lewis Narnia series to one side (after all, those were meant by Lewis to be parables of Christianity), probably the most noteworthy films in this regard are “Hercules,” and “The Lion King.”  The first could have come straight out of a Primary lesson; the only alteration necessary is that at the end, Zeus would need to tell Hercules that not only he (Hercules), but all of his friends are also children of the gods, and they can all come home, enter the celestial realm, and live with the gods once more.  In the latter, Mufasa’s call to his son from beyond the veil—“You are more than what you have become,” may be the most eloquent expression of “awake and arise” to be found in film.

            “Hercules” and “The Lion King” deal with the moral awakening of male souls.  It was not until the appearance of “Enchanted” in 2007 that Disney Studios gave us a tale of the awakening of a female soul.  Sure, plenty of Disney heroines have had to wake up—think Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, etc.—but that has not involved a concomitant spiritual awakening.  These princesses were already pure, noble souls.  They just needed saving from the odd dragon, evil stepmother, horrible witch, etc., by a manly hero.  Then all is well.

            Rightly then, Disney gives us that pure, noble female soul in the person of Giselle, an animated character with traditional Disney flowing hair, abnormally large blue eyes, and gracefully-drawn body.  Though not currently a princess, like many Disney characters, she lives in a pretty, sunny tree-cottage with many adorable woodland creatures who share her day of singing, dancing, and dreaming about her one true love to come.  (Did I mention they also do housework?)  Of course, he will be a prince, and when he marries her, she will finally fulfill her destiny and become a princess through “true love’s kiss.”  And all will be well.

            Within the first ten minutes of the film, the prince hears her singing, rushes to her side, and saves her from a troll. Giselle and Prince Edward then sing a duet and ride off into the sunset to be married the next day.  Things are bollixed up, however, when Edward’s evil stepmother heads off Giselle on the way to the wedding.  Disguised as an old hag, she sends Giselle hurtling toward a dark and evil place where there are “no happily ever afters”—New York City.

            And now Giselle is very real; she is no longer animated.  (Indeed, she is now played by the actress Amy Adams, whose upbringing in the LDS Church might be one of the reasons why she is able to bring a believably sweet Laurel-esque innocence and wonder to the character of Giselle.)  Emerging from a manhole onto a busy street at night in New York City, she quickly discovers several things.  One, she is ridiculously attired: what looked so beautiful in animation land of Andalasia is utterly dysfunctional in the real world—shall we call it mortality?  She is almost run over by several cars, falls over a sidewalk display table whose owner wants her to pay for the damages, is pushed along by the crowd, ends up on a subway train heading who knows where, and finally gets back up to street level.  The only person in sight is an old drunk on the sidewalk: she approaches him, says, “I’m tired and scared, and I’ve never been so far away from home.”  She asks for “a smile, or a friendly hello.”  He grabs her tiara and runs off, and as she tries to catch up to him in her wedding dress, a downpour begins.  Drenched to the bone, she winds up knocking on a cardboard fairy tale castle, insisting that “It’s Giselle, let me in!”

            I have to admit that the film had me at this point.  You see, I am one of the principal investigators on a project, the WomanStats Project, which compiles information on the situation and status of women in the world.  We code over 260 variables for 174 countries, and our over 100,000 data points are freely accessible on the internet at http://www.womanstats.org .  I know more than I want to know about how women are treated in the world.  We now even have a blog, so the coders can share what they have learned in their coding with the world (http://www.womanstats.org/blog.htm ).  From the horrors of rape in war and peace, to honor killings, acid attacks, infibulation, gavage, the obscene rate of maternal mortality, sex-selective abortion, sex trafficking . . . sometimes it is really hard not to just jump off a bridge when contemplating the vastness of the hatred and contempt for women demonstrated in the world.

            Indeed, when I read the scripture about how “the sons of God shouted for joy” when they heard the Plan of Salvation (Job 38:7), I sometimes catch myself thinking that in this particular verse, “sons” must not mean “sons and daughters,” but only sons.  If the daughters of God had any idea what would happen to them in mortality, would they not have been weeping instead of shouting for joy?  Giselle is the quintessential female Pilgrim, coming from the pre-mortal existence of sunshine, tree-cottages, heroic princes, and helpful woodland creatures to the black night of injustice, fear, heartache, loneliness, and even cruel abuse.  I felt, there in the movie theater, that I passionately wanted—no, desperately needed--to know what Giselle would do, and how her sojourn into mortality would affect her.

            Giselle literally falls into the lives of a jaded divorce lawyer and his little daughter.  When she tells Robert, whose wife left him years ago, that no one has been very nice to her, he says, “Well, welcome to New York,” to which she replies with formal sincerity, “Thank you.”  Through plot machinations, she ends up sleeping in their apartment.  Upon rising in the morning, and seeing how messy the apartment is, she decides to clean it in Disneyland style—by calling for the gentle woodland creatures to help her.  She issues her lilting call from the balcony of the apartment, and the creatures do answer her call and come to her aid—rats, cockroaches, flies, and pigeons.  At a loss for words for only a beat, she concludes, “Hello, well it’s always nice to make new friends!”  Singing a happy little working song, entitled, “A Happy Little Working Song,” Giselle and the pests make the apartment sparkling clean.  (I seriously admired the way the cockroaches cleaned the scum from the bathtub; maybe this could be a new hint from Heloise . . . )

            At one point in their cleaning, Giselle leans on the balcony and sings,

            “How strange a place to be,

            ‘Til Edward comes for me,

            As long as I am here,

            I guess a new experience could be worth trying . . .”

            Robert’s girlfriend Nancy is not amused by Giselle’s presence, and Robert himself is not amused at the way Giselle makes lovely new dresses from his drapes.  Robert’s daughter, Morgan, on the other hand, believes everything that Giselle has told her about the land from which she comes.  Giselle is convinced that Prince Edward will come to rescue her, and Robert is equally convinced that he will not.  Furthermore, Robert is aghast that she intended to marry someone she only knew for a day, and with whom she had never been on a date.

            Giselle’s purity of feeling elicits a wide variety of reactions.  A divorcing couple at Robert’s firm is angry that Giselle is grief-stricken over their impending separation.  But in Central Park, Giselle finds herself surrounded by a steel drum quartet, a mariachi band, brides, grooms, workmen, clowns, children, and senior citizens in a huge production number singing the virtues of love: “Everybody wants to live happily ever after; everybody wants to know that their love is true.”  Giselle asks two doves to take flowers and tickets for a ball to Nancy on behalf of Robert, and he is amazed to find that Nancy not only received them, but finds this the most romantic gesture he has ever made in the five years they have been together.

            In the meantime, Giselle’s faith in Edward was not in vain: he has arrived in New York City to rescue her. Edward’s swashbuckling is also misplaced in New York City, leading him to finally cry out, “What is this awful place?  Why is everything so difficult?”  One of the funniest moments in the film—at least to this mother of eight--is when Edward, in full princely garb, knocks on the door of an apartment he thinks holds Giselle, and is confronted by a worn-out mother, baby in arms and two crying toddlers holding onto her bathrobe.  She says simply, “You’re too late,” and shuts the door.

            While Edward is closing in on Giselle’s location, he has no idea that something very pivotal has happened to her.  That night, as they prepare to go to sleep (Giselle on the living room couch), Robert advises her to see things the way they really are—Edward isn’t coming.  She gets very angry at him, and then realizes that this is the first time in her life that she has felt that emotion.  Instead of making her sad, this realization makes her giddy: somehow she is beginning to feel strong feelings in her heart, much stronger than the feelings she was capable of having in animated Andalasia.  And when she looks at Robert, she realizes with a shock that she has fallen in love with him.  (And in true Disney fashion, we are made to understand that he feels the same for her, though he says nothing.)

            In the morning, about twelve hours too late, Edward finds Robert’s apartment and realizes Giselle is there.  He starts singing his part of their duet—but she doesn’t pick up her part.  Edward is puzzled, and even more so when she insists they go on a date before returning to Andalasia.  While on their date, Giselle clearly shows her reluctance to return there, but she agrees to return after the ball being held that night—the ball to which Robert is taking Nancy.  She wants to see Robert one last time before she leaves.

            Yes, you can guess that at the ball Robert and Giselle realize that they love each other, but neither one wishes to hurt Nancy or Edward.  Giselle and Edward turn to leave.  But while Edward gets her wrap, the evil stepmother returns in the guise of the hag who engineered Giselle’s departure from Andalasia.  She offers a poisoned apple to Giselle:

Giselle:  You sent me here.

Hag:  What a terrible accident to bring you to this place with so much sadness and so much pain.  I can make all those bad memories disappear.  Just one bite, my love, and all this will go away.  Your life here and all the people you met—you will not even remember.  Just sweet dreams and happy endings . . .”

             In despair, Giselle takes a bite from the apple and falls into a deep sleep.  And yes, it is only Robert, not Edward, that can supply the “true love’s kiss” that will awaken her.  But that is not all, no, that is not all.

            The evil stepmother turns into a dragon, snatches Robert, and proceeds to climb to the top of the skyscraper they are in.  Then, in one of the most paradigm-busting but emotionally correct scenes in any Disney movie, Giselle kicks off her glass slippers, grabs Edward’s sword, clenches her jaw, and goes after them alone.  And Giselle, the brave little princess, succeeds in rescuing her one true love.

            Then she succeeds further: she marries Robert, becomes a mother to Morgan, and opens a dress shop where she and the rats make princess dresses for little girls who dream the dreams Giselle made come true.  Completing the happily ever afters, Edward and Nancy return to Andalasia, where they turn back into animations and marry, and the divorcing couple we met earlier in the film reunite.

            I rejoice for Giselle, because her pilgrimage has great spiritual import for me and, I suspect, many LDS women who have fought the good fight in the darkness and injustice of this world, and made their joy along the way.  Yes, it is sad for women to come to this world and leave the pre-mortal existence.  But what you gain in return for coming cannot be found anywhere else: your woman’s body, real feelings—not pretend feelings in a place where there are no tears--a chance to fight for your loved ones against the evil that threatens to destroy them, and the opportunity to make your dreams of love and family come true through your efforts.  The response of a princess to the real world is not to faint or wait for the prince to whisk you away from it.  And neither does a princess give up her vision of happily ever after and resign herself to the ugliness of the world.  No, a real princess kicks off the glass slippers, picks up her sword, sets her jaw—and makes her happily ever after a reality.

            “Enchanted” brings to mind one of the most famous talks ever given in the LDS Church; Carlfred Broderick’s “The Uses of Adversity,” originally published in 1989 in a collection from Women’s Conference, and since republished in stand-alone form by Deseret Book (good for them). [1]   I have kept this talk by my bedside for 18 years, and had the great fortune to speak with Broderick before his death from cancer several years ago.  Broderick tells of a time when he was a stake president, and the stake Primary/Young Women’s leaders put on a Wizard of Oz themed program for the young women, with a yellow brick road leading to the temple.  A beautiful woman, handsome husband, and adorable children skipped down the yellow brick road to their celestial goal, and “she enthused over her temple marriage and how wonderful life was with her charming husband and her perfect children and that the young women too could look like her and have a husband like him and children like them if they would stick to the yellow brick road and live in Oz.  It was a lovely, sort of tear-jerking event." [2]

            Broderick continues, and I will not paraphrase him, for his prose is so fine:

            “After the event was nearly over, the stake Primary president, who was conducting, made a grave strategic error.  She turned to me and pro forma, said, ‘President Broderick, is there anything you would like to add to this lovely evening?’

            “I said, ‘Yes, there is,’ and I don’t think she had ever forgiven me.  What I said was this, ‘Girls, this has been a beautiful program.  I commend the gospel with all of its auxiliaries and the temple to you, but I do not want you to believe for one minute that if you keep all the commandments and live as close to the Lord as you can and do everything right and fight off the entire priests quorum one by one and wait chastely for your missionary to return and pay your tithing and attend your meetings, accept calls from the bishop, and have a temple marriage, I do not want you to believe that bad things will not happen to you.  And when that happens, I do not want you to say that God was not true.  Or, to say, ‘They promised me in Primary, they promised me when I was a Mia Maid, they promised me from the pulpit that if I were very, very good, I would be blessed.  But the boy I want doesn’t know I exist, or the missionary I’ve waited for and kept chaste so we both could go to the temple turned out to be a flake,’ or far worse things than any of the above.  Sad things—children who are sick or developmentally handicapped, husbands who are not faithful, illnesses that can cripple, or violence, betrayals, hurts, death, losses--when those things happen, do not say God is not keeping his promises to me.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is not insurance against pain.  It is resource in the event of pain, and when the pain comes (and it will come because we came here on earth to have pain among other things), when it comes, rejoice that you have resource to deal with your pain.

            “Now I do not want to suggest for a moment, nor do I believe, that God visits us with all that pain.  I think that may occur in individual cases, but I think we fought a war in heaven for the privilege of coming to a place that was unjust.  That was the idea of coming to earth—that it was unjust, that there would be pain and grief and sorrow.  As Eve so eloquently said, it is better that we should suffer.  Now, her perspective may not be shared by all.  But I am persuaded that she had rare insight, more than her husband, into the necessity of pain, although none of us welcome it.” [3]

            Broderick concludes that it is not the pain that is good, but what’s important is the good that good people can make of pain, as did the Savior.  Yes, sweet Giselle had every right to weep because of the New York City night, but I am glad she stopped weeping and took up her sword instead.  The brave little princess of “Enchanted” is an example to all women who experience the pain of this world and wonder why they agreed to leave the pre-mortal existence for mortality.  The story of “Enchanted” is the story of female spiritual awakening, the Pilgrimess’ Progress.  This is the Disney princess I am grateful my daughters will grow up with . . .



[1] Carlfred Broderick, “The Uses of Adversity,” in As Women of Faith, edited by Mary E. Stovall and Carol Cornwall Madsen, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989, pp. 171-190.  Recently released as Carlfred Broderick, The Uses of Adversity, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2008. [Back to manuscript]

[2] Ibid, 172. [Back to manuscript]

[3] Ibid, 172-173. [Back to manuscript]


Full Citation for This Article: Hudson, Valerie M. (2008) "Enchanted: Pilgrimess' Progress," SquareTwo, Vol. 1 No. 1 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHudsonEnchanted.html, accessed [give access date].

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COMMENTS: 1 Comment

1) Michael Hoggan, January 2011

I read your article about Enchanted and was very impressed by it. I wanted to thank you for mentioning Brother Broderick's "The Meaning of Adversity". I have read many of Brother Broderick's books, but was not aware of this particular one. Fortunately, my library had a copy and I was able to read it yesterday.

I don't know what to make of the "Barbie and Ken" image of that couple in Brother Broderick's account. I've certainly never heard that obedience to the commandments will turn me into a human Ken doll. I can only guess that they were alluding to the glory of exalted beings (section 76 again), but they certainly did a poor job of explaining that.

I once had a teacher in school who lamented her young daughter's "Cinderella syndrome". I suspect that people with "Barbie and Ken" expecations will be unable to bear "the calamity which should(will) surely come" (D&C 1:17). The lives of the early Saints were certainly not a fairytale come true.

I personally like Enchanted, not just because of the proactive heroine, but because it illustrates that life for most men (present and past)isn't a fairytale either. (Serfdom: Being beaten like a mule builds character: Apply Today!) Incidentally, the nemesis in this modern fairytale is a woman. I am convinced that "unrighteous dominion" is an equal opportunity employer.

Brother Broderick's accounts reminded me of the parable of the laborers in the New Testament. The employer chooses to pay a full day's wage, even to those laborers who had worked in his feilds for only the final hour. His response is that these laborers were ready and willing to work the entire day, and that it was not their fault they were not chosen earlier. Regardless, the full-day laborers were still given a full-days wage, so they have no real cause to complain.

I think that Heavenly Father views equality very differently than we do. Modern notions of equality are too mathematical (i.e. 2=2; anything other than 2 not = to 2) for my taste. I often feel (correctly or incorrectly) that many other people have had an easier life than I have had. However, I don't deny their right to be exalted and joint-heirs with Christ.

I think Enchanted is a continuation of the changes in the Disney fairytales that really began with "The Little Mermaid". They are certainly a welcome change and making it an animated/ live-action blend is an interesting touch. The Dreamworks "Monsters vs.Aliens" and Disney/Pixar "Tangled" are other modern fairytales. I think their box office success indicates they have struck a good chord with modern audiences.