Charming positions heroine Lenore as being misguided for demanding great riches as payment for taking Prince Philippe safely through his Run The Gauntlet challenge – I prefer to see her as an independent working woman who knows the value of her skills.
She even – spoiler – gives all her money away at the end. Has no one explained to her about the poverty that disproportionately affects elderly women? She may need it one day.
I jest – a little? – but it does show how Charming gets its feminist message rather confused. The central premise, that Prince Charming (Wilmer Valderrama) is afflicted by a curse that means every women who sees him falls in love with him, is entertaining enough. And there are some good jokes aimed at the anodyne nature of modern versions of old (and previously dark) fairy tales.
But while the cursed Philippe (Prince Charming) is presumably meant to represent privileged men who are attractive because of their status and money, it makes the women look like they’re shallow. And it reinforces some gender stereotypes even as it tries to smash others down – why shouldn’t Lenore want money, so she can maintain her independence? It’s not the answer to everything but those who most decry its importance have often never lived without it.
Philippe has to break the curse by the end of his 21st birthday, a mere three days away (they do like to take things to the wire, these princes). The men of the kingdom are furious as their wives and girlfriends all fall for him, so his father the King (Jim Cummings) decides it’s time to send him off to Run The Gauntlet. It sounds like an old Gladiators game, but is actually a series of impossible tasks, after which Prince Charming will have to choose his bride.
As long as it’s true love, a kiss from her will break the curse set during his babyhood by Nemeny Neverwish (Nia Vardelos).
Philippe is unaware that Lenore (who is immune to the curse) is being paid to help him, instead of him being made to face up to the task. Yet there should be no shame in needing help when crossing an impossible pass, or surviving an impossible attack – two of his challenges.
I know, the twin curses of male privilege and toxic masculinity; why not just enjoy it as a fun cartoon for children? Does it all matter? Well if you’re reworking traditional favourites to provide better role models for girls and boys then yes I think it does. (Actually I know it does. Look at me succumbing to gender stereotyping by couching my beliefs! Another reason why we need films that invert those stereotypes or you’ll end up like me, girls.)
Still, despite Charming‘s weaknesses, this is a gorgeous-looking film containing some funny scenes with pointed commentary about the insipid nature of some heroines.
The prince has found himself engaged to three fairy tale princesses – Cinderella (Ashley Tisdale), Sleeping Beauty (G.E.M.), and Snow White (Avril Lavigne) – who all meet up, like a staged reality TV show, in a bakery to order their wedding cakes. There’s also an arched mention of the proliferation of wicked stepmothers; more like this would have been welcome, as would more defined characterisation for the princesses.
The tasks tackled by by Philippe, with considerable help from Lenore (Demi Lovato), now sporting a fake moustache and calling herself Lenny, are fun. I loved the murderous forest vines, twisting and turning with eyeholes cut in leaves that look like snake heads. The giants – a community of superwomen with richly decorated faces and costumes – are fabulous, especially the ineffective, one-eyed Oracle (Sia, excellent), whose suggestions about Lenore are almost always wrong.
Of the songs some are eminently forgettable, though Balladino, written and performed by Sia as the Oracle, is terrific and mournful. There’s also a lovely duet (Magical) between the prince and Lenore, though the first song, called Trophy Boy and sung by the princesses, is dreadful. (My 7 year old didn’t rate the songs though my 10 year old, who always listens to them quite intently while watching films, declared them “good for this type of movie”.)
The prince too is eminently forgettable. What he really needs is a personality. There’s a fairy godmother who looks like Matt Lucas but is voiced by John Cleese. (Cleese also voices the executioner, in a scene that feels out of place until you remember the original darkness of most fairy tales, and he’s much more effective, and considerably funnier, in that role.) The king is rather good, though as usual his wife has died years before (please, no more dead queens unless we’re watching Aliens).
Charming is short and snappy; I’m not going to say mercifully so, as this isn’t a terrible film, just somewhat muddled. It’s only 85 minutes’ long, and I have to say I’m delighted by what seems to be a move away from two-hour children’s movies.
It also offers a sting in the tale: that this is not just a happy ending for Lenore but a happy beginning, possibly its most important message to young girls fed the Prince Charming “happily ever after” myth for so long.
Charming is in UK cinemas now. Read the 4-star review of Charming from Cassian, aged 7
Watch the Charming trailer and scroll down for images from the movie: