Fantasy Island Tackles the Princess Dream

Fantasy Island is a recent remake of an older show that I wasn't really familiar with before last night's episode entitled "Gwenivere of Glendale." Besides including a name that's one letter off from the spelling of one of my favorite cartoon princesses, the episode's plot was also right up my alley. The series is a story of anthologies about people who come to a magical island that grants them a wish for a day that helps them to learn something new about themselves. It seemed pretty obvious that it was based on an older property closer to The Twilight Zone era since few modern original shows follow a concept like that. In this episode, the main character, Gwen, came to Fantasy Island with a wish to be--you guessed it--a princess.

I really liked the way this episode handled the princess wish by exploring the positive and negative aspects of living in a fairy tale. With the island's heavy-handed lessons for its guests, they could have easily gone in a more critical direction by portraying the main character as vain and greedy and needing to become more humble. Though there were a few passing comments about jewels and gowns, that was not the case here. Gwen was a struggling medical student who was stressed out with her debt and the pressures of making life-or-death decisions and wanted to be a princess so other people could make decisions for her. When she enters her new fairy tale life, the very first decision that was made for her was who she would marry. I don't know why she was surprised by this since that is the most common issue that princesses struggle with in stories.

When Gwen's handmaiden gets poisoned by food from her own dinner plate, she learns that like many princesses, she has a moving target on her head. Gwen then uses her medical knowledge to save her maid, a nice homage to the hope that storybook princesses represent through their love and kindness. Her selfless act impresses a kind stranger who works at the palace and offers to help her run away into the woods to escape the threat on her life, ensuing a classic storybook romance. At a certain point, Gwen says that she thought being a princess would be more like "Cinderella," a common stereotype that does not take into account the fact that Cinderella spent most of her story as an abused servant and only becomes a princess at the very end, leaving no time to explore what it was like (unless you count the awful sequel, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True). Instead, Gwen's story more closely resembles a different fairy tale that was about a princess who needed to escape into the woods to avoid being assassinated, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

In the end, Gwen realizes that she can do more good in the world by completing her studies and becoming a doctor instead of living out a fairy tale, but the experience is not completely wasted. She still gets a beautiful fairy tale romance out of the deal. I enjoyed all of the subtle nods to classic fairy tales as well as Gwen's meta-commentary with the exception of one cringe-worthy comment about swiping right on her betrothal. If Gwen's story wasn't already enough to please fairy tale fans, the episode's B-plot involved a mermaid, which was likely a reference to Nyah from the original series. This was the first episode I've seen from any version of this show, and I think it works as a standalone because of the anthology format. There were only a few lines between the two women who worked on the island that were missing context without having seen the rest of the show.

Overall, "Gwenivere of Glendale" is a beautiful love letter to fans of princesses and fairy tales. It shows that princess fans can be smart and independent while still struggling with their own issues and that the most important quality of being a princess is compassion, not greed. Gwen obtains her happy ending by showing that she cares about everyone around her and would throw away her crown in a heartbeat if it meant saving someone's life. Though no perfect by any means, the world she enters on the island contains a lot of the romance and adventure that we crave from fairy tales and gives us an opportunity to vicariously live out our own princess fantasies through Gwen's eyes.


Sugar said…
I relate to being a tired college student wanting to be pampered and have a fairy tale romance hahaha.

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