Why Disney’s Godmothered is a vital watch for anyone grieving this Christmas

Posted by for Film

“My own father died very suddenly at Christmas when I’d just turned 18,” says Godmothered director Sharon Maguire. “For some time afterward, it felt like my life stopped.” 

It was perhaps inevitable that Sharon Maguire – aka the director of Bridget Jones’ Diary, and alleged inspiration for the iconic ‘Shazzer’ – would bring us a Christmas film unlike any other. And, in Disney’s Godmothered, she’s done just that.

Set over the holidays, the film sees Eleanor (Jillian Bell), a young, inexperienced fairy godmother-in-training, take it upon herself to show the world that people still need fairy godmothers.

And so, when she finds a mislaid letter from a 10-year-old girl in distress, Eleanor tracks her down and discovers that the girl, Mackenzie, is now a 40-year-old single mother (Isla Fisher) working at a news station in Boston.

“When I read an early draft of the script I got very excited because I couldn’t believe that the origin story of the fairy godmother – which is partly what this movie is – hadn’t really been done before on film,” Maguire tells me.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the fairy godmothers the most, because they turn up and fix all the bad shit in stories! Who wouldn’t love that character?”

She continues: “Like me, writer Kari Granlund, who came up with the original concept, has always been fascinated by fairy godmothers, and she’s always wondered about the backstory of these old ladies and how come they showed up as fully-formed master magicians?

“And so she came up with the idea of the Fairy Godmother Academy, and considered what might happen if a young student thought she was ready to graduate and left early, only to discover that she was, of course, not ready at all.

“That’s Eleanor in our story.”

Jillian Bell as Eleanor in Disney’s Godmothered.

Of course, Mackenzie has “been waiting for many years for someone who never showed up,” adds Maguire. “And so she’s a cynic who is disappointed in life and doesn’t believe in Happily Ever After.”

A story of overcoming grief

Mackenzie has good reason to be cynical, however; she found her happy ending a while back, only to have it snatched away when she lost her husband.

As such, Eleanor is bound and determined to give Mackenzie a happiness makeover, whether she likes it or not. And this means that, yes, this is the sort of film that’s guaranteed to have you reaching for the tissues before too long.

“My own father died very suddenly at Christmas when I’d just turned 18,” Maguire tells us, explaining that the film’s message of finding happiness after loss is “very personal” to her.

“For some time afterward, it felt like my life stopped and there would never be any ‘happily’, never mind ‘happily ever after’.”

This, of course, is a key part of the movie: in Godmothered, Mackenzie eventually realises that she needs to work towards “living happily,” as opposed to “living happily ever after.” And, in doing so, she completely shakes up Eleanor’s perceptions of what a godmother should set out to do for the people she’s aiming to help.

“For myself and the writers, dropping ‘ever after’ makes things feel more realistic,” says Maguire. “Not in a cynical way, but in an emotionally resonant way.

“To assume that there won’t be difficult or unhappy moments along life’s road feels crazy, especially these days! I think focusing on just living happily lets people live in the moment and embrace the present instead of worrying about the future.”

Maguire continues: “This film poses the idea that sometimes you’re so focused on what you’ve lost that you spin your wheels trying to move backward, when in reality, the right path might be to move forward and try to redefine that idea of happiness for yourself. That ‘happiness’ might always be tempered by loss, but, believe it or not, you can find happiness again in the gifts right in front of you.

“Hopefully that’s a message people can connect with that true love and happiness don’t have to mean just one thing, and that it’s possible to overcome and move forward – even in the face of tremendous loss.”

A feminist reimagining of the classic Disney princess

For all those thinking that this sounds unlike your typical Disney Princess fare, then… well, you’d be right. Because, while “Godmothered contains all the tropes of a Disney movie and of the Disney legacy” – think wands, ballgowns, and woodland critters – Maguire explains that she and her writing team made a point of subverting that legacy for comedy.

“I grew up loving all those non-woke traditional Disney princesses, especially Snow White and Cinderella and I still do love them,” she says. “But I think, even back then, I must have viewed them with irony, because if they had a pernicious influence on my feminist expectations, I don’t think that was ever borne out in my life.

“Kari grew up watching all of the traditional Disney fairytales, too, but she was very much a tomboy, so she was always more interested in the adventures the male characters were having. It seemed like they got to care about things beyond dresses and wedding bells and so she wanted to take the character of Eleanor on similar adventures.”

disney
Disney’s Godmothered gives the classic princess storyline a 2020 twist.

Maguire continues: “In a diverse world of 2020, it’s important to be more inclusive in our definitions of happiness,” she says.

“Let’s face it, none of us really feel we ever conform to the conventions society places on us. We all fear we’re a little different and I hope this movie tells us that difference is great!”

An unconventional love story

This may, of course, go some way towards explaining why (spoilers) Mackenzie doesn’t end up with her ‘love interest’ in Godmothered. In fact, they don’t even share so much as a kiss, and there’s no epilogue revealing whether or not they do get together come the end.

“As someone aptly described it to me just recently, the traditional heterosexual romance is served up as a ‘side dish” in this movie, rather than the main course,” explains Maguire. “And that was a conscious decision.”

She continues: “Our fairy godmother Eleanor is forced to realise that all of her old-school concepts about what constitutes HAPPILY EVER AFTER are outdated and that the real world, in all its amazing diversity, has alternative definitions of happiness; in the love of a parent for a child; or a grandchild for his grandmother; in the love between two friends or simply, in being accepted and included for who you are.

“But there is romance in the movie, nevertheless. That’s because I’m a great believer in having your cake and eating it. If I had a motto for life, that would be it.”

Godmothered is, in a wonderfully unexpected twist, as much a film about female friendship as it is magic – a topic which isn’t explored enough onscreen, in this writer’s opinion.

“As far as the love story between Eleanor and Mackenzie goes, we always felt like they were opposite sides of the same coin,” says Maguire.

“They’re both women facing uncertain futures, both outsiders in their respective worlds, both accidentally neglecting what’s right in front of them. 

“Even though I think the film points out a lot of different types of love (most pointedly familial), that friendship between Eleanor and Mackenzie always felt like the core of it all – two lonely people who had to find each other to find themselves.”

Taking aim at Trump and the ‘fake news’ era

There is, as those who’ve already watched Godmothered will have no doubt noticed, a biting edge to the film – and that’s in its effortless takedown of American news outlets.

“The movie was made during the peak of the Trumpian ‘fake news’ culture, a time when there was no such thing as truth,” says Maguire, “so the surreal local news theme felt kinda more relevant than usual.

“I lived in the USA for four years and when you live there, you realise just how huge America is, how each state is bigger than the whole of the UK and how all the local news channels reflect wildly different cultures.”

With all that in mind, then, one can’t wonder who this film is aimed at?

“I guess I don’t see it being aimed at death-metal-loving males,” muses Maguire, when I put the question to her. “However Jillian, the brilliant comedian who plays Eleanor, has a large male following thanks to her idiosyncratic, indie-girl humour, so you never know.

“Kari, though, always says that the movie is aimed at her tween tomboy self as much as is her 30-something self. And, for my own part, I will have to please my 93-year-old Mum as well as my 16-year-old and my 11-year-old children, plus a few ages in between.”

To all those who have yet to see the Godmothered, she adds: “WATCH IT! You’ll have a laugh. I promise.”

Godmother is currently streaming on Disney+.

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Images: Disney

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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