Favorite (Non-Disney) Fairy Tale Films

A lot of us are stuck indoors for the near future. We’re isolated. We’re anxious.  So we need fairy tales. As much as I love Disney, I decided to highlight some of my favorite films based on fairy tales that are not Disney-made or styled. Be warned, some of these are kid friendly but some aren’t. I put a * next to the ones that are OK for most kiddos, and a ! next to the ones that should be fine for kids above 12, but you might use caution with younger ones. If I don’t put a symbol next to it, I’d suggest sticking to adults audiences.

Beauty and the Beast

beauty-and-the-beast-1946-granger! La Belle et La Bete (1946) Jean Cocteau begins this film by imploring his audience to watch it with the eyes of a child- to regain that sense of wonder and imagination. He then plunges the audience into a magical world full of stunning practical effects, mystery and magic. There are allusions to other tales, and you can read into it from different perspectives and make a lot of arguments about subtext. Or you can do as Cocteau asks, and watch it from the a child’s point of view, and be enchanted. [trailer]

edward-scissorhands-1! Edward Scissorhands (1990) This is a movie takes place in a world that is in some ways very like our own. But the town  in the film is overshadowed by a mysterious, seemingly abandoned fairy tale castle. When make-up saleslady, Peg, knocks on the door she finds Edward, a naive fellow with scissors instead of hands, she takes pity on him and brings him home to stay with her and her family. Her daughter, Kim is initially not happy that her mom has brought home this strange young man. But Edward unwittingly finds a place in her heart. The fairy tale feel here is very stylized, and once again there’s lots of metaphor, but there’s  not need to go there unless you want to. There’s plenty to enjoy on a surface level. [trailer]

Cinderella

cinderella-lg

Moviestillsdb.com

*Cinderella (1957 Television Production) – In 1957 this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was televised live with the incomparable Julie Andrews in the title role. The telefilm was remade in 1965 with Leslie Ann Warren and in 1997 with Brandy. It also did a stint on Broadway in 2013. But if you can deal with black and white picture, this is the best for my money. [trailer -fanmade]

the-slipper-and-the-rose-3*The Slipper and the Rose(1976) This lavish musical film adds depth the Cinderella story while still maintaining a kid-friendly fairy tale feel. We still have a fairy godmother, the stroke of midnight, and step families. But we also see the royals worried about outside attack, and some of the challenges that face Cinderella and her prince after he identifies her by her glass slipper. It’s also got some great tunes from the Sherman Brothers, beautiful costumes, and settings. [trailer]

6db5c710-0eab-469a-a4fa-e4ad9d6706c5! Ever After (1999) This Cinderella story eschews the magic in favor of a historical setting. But it still manages to include the ball, the glass slipper and Leonardo DaVinci in the fairy godmother role. We also see a more rebellious Cinderella who works hard for her own reasons (not because her stepmother demands it) and isn’t afraid to tell her stepmother to shove it. [trailer]

The Little Mermaid

splash-lg

moviesstillsdb.com

!Splash (1984) Some may argue that this 80’s fish out of water (literally) comedy has little in common with Hans Christian Anderson’s tale. On the surface they’d be right. But there’s a mermaid in love with a human. She can’t speak (until she leans how in this), and gives up the sea to be with her beloved on land. Or you could just enjoy this funny, sexy, 80’s rom com for exactly what it is. [trailer]

ondinefeat

aftercredits.com

Ondine (2009) This actually has more in common with several other water spirit/selkie tales than it does with The Little Mermaid, but I’m including it here for the sake of ease. Syracuse is a fisherman in Ireland. One day he catches a beautiful woman in his net.  His daughter believes that she’s a selkie, and as he and the woman fall in love, he starts to think that the fantastical might just be true. But the woman, whom they call Ondine, had a life before she turned up in Syracuse’s nets. And that life might threaten everything she’s built with Syracuse and Annie. [trailer]

The Red Shoes

shoemakersshop_theredshoes

thesouloftheplot.wordpress.com

! The Red Shoes (1948) This movie retells Hans Christian Anderson’s story of The Red Shoes. Here we have a ballerina who is thrust into a backstage drama, when she’s torn between a handsome composer and the ruthless ballet instructor who demands her total dedication to her craft. The film features stunning technicolor visuals and a gorgeous ballet within a film, that tells Anderson’s tale against the backdrop of this tragic romantic triangle.  [trailer]

Red Riding Hood

company_of_wolves7

damonart.com

The Company of Wolves (1984) If you read my blog, you probably have a sense of how much I admire Angela Carter. This film is based on several of her Red Riding Hood stories as well as themes that pervade her fiction. The film deals with a teenage girl who has vivid dreams about werewolves. The movie weaves in and out of dreamscapes and stories. It’s lurid, stylized and has some (intentionally?) cringe-worthy effects, but also some interesting elements and a perfectly cast Angela Lansbury as Grandmother. [trailer]

freeway-lg

moviesstillsdb.com

Freeway (1996) This film features a teen delinquent on the run from social services. She travels to her grandmother’s house while being  stalked by a serial killer. It’s campy and darkly humorous, but also features some satirical criticism of our justice system and a the racial and class dynamics in the United States. [trailer]

Snow White

1018418-balloffire

awn.com

!Ball of Fire (1941) Snow White gets an old Hollywood screwball comedy treatment in this film starring Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. Betram Potts is one of seven professors living and working together on a dictionary. When they realize that they’re unfamiliar with contemporary slang, they head to a nightclub to expose themselves to it. There they meet Sugarpuss O’Shea, the girlfriend of a gangster. She needs to hide out, and the seven professors live far enough from the realm of normal people to give her the perfect place to hide. She might just make it out alive, if she doesn’t fall for Bertram… [trailer]

Sleeping Beauty

elvis-annabelle-stills-max-minghella-7309030-746-500

fanpop.com

Elvis and Anabelle (2007)- Anabelle is a small town beauty queen who dies. Elvis runs the town mortuary with his dad, the mortician. When Anabelle ends up on the table in the morgue, Elvis sneaks a quick kiss before he begins his work, and is really surprised when Anabelle suddenly wakes up! Anabelle convinces Elvis to keep quiet about her resurrection for a few days, and  they start to fall in love. But their real world issues could keep them apart.  [trailer]

Does anyone else have any other recommendations for fairy tale movies that aren’t necessarily for kids?

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

The above quote is from Albert Einstein. He was a fairly intelligent fellow himself.

白雪姫のクリップアート princess Snow White Disney cartoon イラスト素材22

Last week, @theorangutanlibrarian shared this article (Five reasons to stop reading your children fairytales now) along with some humorous responses as to why it was absurd. But even though the advice in the article is troubling, people listen. Keira Knightly and Kristen Bell are among the people who have listened to this advice. While I think that looking at artistic/literary material through a critical lens is always worthwhile, I think that this trend  is troubling because the lens through which it looks at the material is flawed.

Yes, there are troubling, sexist tropes in Disney films and in the fairy tales on which they’re based. But banning them is not the answer. For one thing, forbidding children to read/watch something is just guaranteeing that it will be more interesting to them. Have people really not figured that out by now? Children will seek it out, especially if it’s something as universal and commonly referenced as fairy tales. But if they seek it out themselves, parents will have lost the opportunity to make those troubling elements explicit and discuss them with kids. Instead of having that critical lens, the children will only have the lens that’s given to them in the story/adaptation.

But beyond that, some of out problems with these stories come more from perception. I discussed that a bit in this post.  You could look at Cinderella as a  girl who waits around for a prince to save her. Or you could look at her a survivor of an abusive environment, who never loses her characteristic good nature. Instead of perpetuating the cycle of abuse, she’s kind to even the lowliest mice. Why not highlight that when a child wants to read/watch Cinderella? Maybe speculate as to why her stepmothers and stepsisters would be so cruel to her (are they in pain? was someone cruel to them?). Present it as a story about the ways that people respond to cruelty.  Point out that while Cinderella was tormented by her step family she had the loyalty of all those to whom she’d been kind.  Point out that her stepmother wanted one of her daughters to marry the prince, and that she could have had that if she accepted Cinderella as her daughter. Show them that it’s better to be kind even when it doesn’t seem like a reward is imminent.

The same can be done for other fairy tales. Yes, you could see The Little Mermaid as a woman who changes who she is to impress a guy. But you could look at her as someone who was so fascinated by another culture that she she made sacrifices to live among them. Snow White could be seen as a foolish girl who takes gifts from strangers. But you could also see her as someone who escaped a threatening situation. She was a princess who had probably never worked a day in her life, and in order to survive, she rolls up her sleeves and takes a job cooking and cleaning for seven men. Is it troubling that men kiss sleeping/comatose women in these stories? Point that out to kids! They can understand from an early age that touch is only OK with consent.

But there are so many fairy tales out there in which a female character takes an active, even heroic role. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle saves her father by going to live with the Beast. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon, the princess goes on a quest to rescue her prince. In The Snow Queen the girl travels to the frozen north to save her male friend. In The Six Swans the princess endures years of silence and hardship to free her brothers from a curse. In Hansel and Gretel, Gretel outsmarts the witch and saves her brother. Disney hasn’t adapted all of these as films, but there are other adaptations out there. Why stop with Disney? Why not expose children to all that fairy tales have to offer?

Frozen may be loosely based on The Snow Queen but it changed a lot. If you have a kid who enjoyed Frozen maybe read the original story with them. Check out some of the more faithful film adaptations. There’s the 1950’s Russian cartoon that was dubbed in English by Sandra Dee and Tommy Kirk.  Or check out the 2002 miniseries with Bridget Fonda in the tile role.

If they like Frozen, introduce them to another wintery fairy tale with a kick-ass heroine. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon we see the princess go on a long quest to save the prince.  While there’s no Disney film, there is a live action film adaptation called The Polar Bear King. Compare it to the story. Compare the heroine of this story to Gerda in The Snow Queen. Ask your kids who they think is braver?

There are several film adaptations of Hansel and Gretel. The 1987 Cannon Movie Tales film with Cloris Leachmann is fairly child friendly.  There’s also a 2003 film featuring Lynn Redgrave. Or why not introduce your kids to opera while you’re at it? This film uses stop-action animation with Kineman dolls (a precursor to claymation) and lavish sets as a backdrop for Englebert Humperdinck’s opera.

Actually some of the fairy tales with female agency are ripe for adaptation. This was the only film version of The Six Swans that I could find!

And why limit your kids to the traditional Western canon? There’s a whole world of cultures that have their own fairy tales. Some of those are thematically similar to the ones that we’re familiar with. Do some research and draw parallels with kids. Appreciate the diverse world in which we live!

My point is that instead of conflating Disney’s fairy tale films with fairy tales in general, separate the adaptation from its source. Kids can appreciate from a very young age that there is more than one way to tell a story. Introduce them to stories that Disney hasn’t yet adapted to show that there are many values that are espoused in fairy tales, not  just the ones that get mainstream adaptations. Let them watch Disney films. Point out the good in them and make the bad explicit too. Instead of banning things that are difficult, raise your kids to be critical thinkers. Don’t just “throw out” stories that have endured for generations.

 

 

 

Fairy Tale Heroines: The Good, the Bad and the Sleepy

Like many young girls I once wanted to be a Disney princess. Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella…. I wasn’t really fussy. I suppose the idea of being totally gorgeous, with a beautiful singing voice, and a handsome prince, still appeals to some degree. But as I got older, I started to gravitate toward different kinds of stories. I found myself liking heroines who weren’t perfect. I also started to want them to *gasp* do stuff!

白雪姫のクリップアート princess Snow White Disney cartoon イラスト素材22

The old school Disney princesses were largely reactive. Snow White runs away because it’s that or be killed. Sleeping Beauty just sleeps while the prince does all the hard work. While Cinderella is a little more proactive, she still sits around crying until her fairy godmother shows up to help. This passiveness isn’t just Disney’s fault. The heroines in the stories on which the films were based were really just… there.  That was largely reflective of the the way an ideal woman was expected to behave.

But that changed. In my early childhood, I saw Ariel decide to leave everything she’s ever known and venture into a new world, in The Little Mermaid. I saw Belle give up her own life to save her father in Beauty and the Beast. I liked these heroines more because they actually made choices.

1c0421ab-3a8a-4ad1-b48f-a3d1c3eaf67d

Is that only because society’s expectations of women changed? I don’t think so. The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast both feature female characters who make active decisions that shape their lives. That much is the same in the original stories.

Those are the stories that I gravitate to more now. They’re the ones that I’m most interested in re-imagining in my own work. In Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel, The Snow Queen, The Wild Swans, East of the Sun, West of the Moon,  and many more, the heroine drives the action of the story.  Actually my current work in progress is based on one of these stories, so stay tuned for that!

18175922_6323

I know a lot of people are critical of fairy tales because of the gender roles that they reinforce. And yes, even in some of the more modern Disney films we see some disturbing stereotypes. But try to reframe it. Point out that these characters show tremendous courage at different points. Make it explicit that it isn’t brave if you’re not scared.

We can even look at some of the more passive heroines through that lens. Yes, Cinderella sobs until her fairy godmother comes along. But before that she survives in an abusive environment day after day (it’s not like she could just leave with no money and nowhere to go) without losing her characteristic kindness. When she hears about the ball, she decides to make a dress and go herself. Yes, she cries when it’s ruined (who wouldn’t, after all that work?) and accepts outside help. But that doesn’t make her weak. It just means she seized an opportunity when one showed up. As for goals, really she just wanted to take a night off and go to a party. She didn’t want the prince until she met him.  In the Twelve Dancing Princesses, the daughters of a controlling father rebel in one of the few ways available to them; by sneaking out of the house and doing what they want at night. They even drug the men who are supposed to be watching them, so that they can sneak away.

I always get frustrated when people assume that fairy tales are simple. Because they’re anything but.  Gender roles are just one example of this. Their complexity is part of why the speak to people on a universal level. It’s why I love them, and why they inspire me creatively.