A Beastly Review

Some of you may remember a post I made a few months back wherein I discussed several upcoming fairy tale films, and made predictions about them.   Having now seen these movies, I suppose I should share my findings in review form.  Today, I’ll be tackling the first of these: “Beastly.”  Instead of a full blown article, however, I decided to slim it down to the basics for a quick read.  I present you with the best and worst three things about this “Beauty and the Beast” inspired teen flick.  Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Top Three:

  1. Just as I initially predicted, Neil Patrick Harris was as hilarious as always. He’s a fantastic actor who can shine in any role.
  2. The dialogue was actually pretty snappy.  It was no “Brick,” but the writers clearly put some effort into the film’s quirky language.
  3. It was interesting to see the witch character (Mary-Kate Olsen) get more involved.  In most versions of the story, she casts her spell and clears out (if she’s even mentioned at all).  Here, she seems to have a legitimate interest in how the story ends.

The Bottom Three:

  1. The plot was insanely predictable and not just because it was a retelling of a familiar story.  A little more creativity would’ve gone a long way.
  2. It was way too easy for Kyle (a.k.a the beast, played by Alex Pettyfer) to convince his love interest’s druggie dad (Roc LaFortune) to make his daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) come live with him as a captive.  I know the man was on drugs and owed money to some sketchy dudes, but it seems wildly unlikely that any father of a teenage girl would think it was in his daughter’s best interest to send her to live with a creepy, hooded stranger.  It was honestly unrealistic enough to be distracting.
  3. Although I understand that the writers wanted Kyle to look like a jerk, his speech in the opening section of the film just seems over the top.  Sure, tons of popular high school jocks are tools, but the student body’s enthusiasm for his shallow sentiments seems kind of impossible.  I don’t know about you, but even in high school I would’ve associated cheering for this guy with a loss of personal integrity.  The clip below contains his speech; could you have stomached this in high school?

Even though it wasn’t the most original retelling I’ve ever seen, it was well worth the $1 I spent renting it from Red Box.  If you’re looking for a thought provoking evening, “Beastly” won’t fit the bill.  If, however, you’re in the mood for a cute, slightly fanciful film with some witty banter, this could be your happily ever after.

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Advice from a Cartoon Princess – Snow White

As some of you may recall, I started a recurring feature earlier this week wherein I respond to the Second City Network video series, “Advice from a Cartoon Princess.”  Previously, I responded to their “Beauty and the Beast” video, showing which of their criticisms were valid critiques of the original fairy tale and which were only relevant to the Disney film versions.  Today, I’ll be doing the same with their video about Snow White.

In this particular video, there are several criticisms which apply to the original story and several which fit in only with the Disney retelling.  Oddly, I also noticed a few that don’t seem to fit with either.

Criticisms that Don’t Fit with Either Disney OR the Original:

  • One of the video’s criticisms is that Snow White marries the prince rather than one of the dwarves, claiming that she ruled them out as romantic partners because of their small stature.  Honestly, this seems a little ridiculous.  I don’t believe that she was unattracted to the dwarves because they were short, but because they were a different species.  In fairy tales and fantasy, dwarves are not simply small humans but a different creature altogether.  A suggestion that Snow White should have married one of the dwarves is akin to saying that Eowyn from “Lord of the Rings” should have married Merry (one of the hobbits) instead of Faramir; frankly, it’s a little ridiculous.
  • The video also says that Snow “loves mirrors,” suggesting that she is vain.  This seems a little ridiculous because the princess never seems self-absorbed in either story.  The only vain character is the antagonist, Snow White’s evil stepmother.
  • The clip interprets the statement “fairest of them all” to mean “whitest of them all.”  Although the word “fair” can mean “pale,” this is really taking things out of context.  In the story, a different definition of the word is being used; “fair” is not meant to mean “white,” but “beautiful.”  This is an intentional misinterpretation rather than a legitimate criticism of the fairy tale’s message.

Criticisms that Only Apply to the Disney Version:

  • This video suggests that Snow White’s choice to let the wild animals help her with cleaning is not something to be encouraged.  After all, encounters with wild animals can pose various dangers to children.  Of course, the original story included none of Snow White’s animal friends, so this one is all on Disney.
  • Next, the clip criticizes the fact that all of the dwarves are given nicknames that describe their most obvious features, not unlike frat boys.  However, the dwarves in the original fairy tale were not given names at all.  In fact, no names were mentioned until the story was turned into a Broadway play in 1912.  They were renamed for the Walt Disney movie, so the dwarf names most people are familiar with (Dopey, Sneezy, Doc, Grumpy, Sleepy, Happy, and Bashful) are purely a Disney creation.
  • The video also criticizes the fact that Snow White interprets attractive older women as evil, but assumes ugly older women are trustworthy.  This is definitely only a problem with the Disney version.  In the original fairy tale, the evil queen makes three separate attempts on Snow’s life, disguising herself differently each time.  It is only when Disney eliminated the various disguises that this appeared to be a comparison involving levels of attractiveness and perceived trustworthiness among older women.

Criticisms that Apply to the Original Fairy Tale

  • In all versions of the story, Snow White lives platonically with seven men she met in a scary forest.  As the video points out, this is maybe a little creepy.  After all, Snow is a teenage runaway.
  • Similarly, the video clip criticizes the way Snow White wanders into a random house and goes to sleep in a stranger’s bed.  Clearly, she has never had a talk about stranger danger and seems weirdly okay with breaking and entering.
  • The Second City Network also points out the fact that the princess’ priorities seem to consist of cooking, cleaning, and men.  Admittedly, the dwarves in the original story agreed to let her stay with them in exchange for her doing their housework, but it is perhaps a little odd that she never seems to do anything else. Despite this, it seems like a weak criticism.
  • Next, the video suggests that the story is saying “you know you’ve made it as the prettiest person when everyone around you wants to kill you.”  Indeed, if people interpret the message this way, it is negative.  However, this is clearly not the intended moral of the story; Snow White’s goal was never to be the fairest of them all.  In fact, only one person in the story has that goal; the evil queen.  The more likely message here is “vanity and conceitedness are never attractive.”
  • Finally, the Snow White in the clip instructs kids not to eat fruit.  This was actually my favorite moment in the video.  I guess it would be possible for a young child to become suspicious of apples after hearing/watching this fairy tale!

Although Second City Network’s criticisms of “Beauty and the Beast” were almost exclusively geared toward the Disney version, their critique of negative messages in “Snow White” is divided fairly evenly.  In fact, more criticisms relate directly to the original than the retelling.  I guess my response to their “Little Mermaid” clip will have to be the tiebreaker!

Advice from a Cartoon Princess – Belle

Hello, everyone!  First, let me apologize for my lack of updates, this summer.  I was a little busy getting married.  We also made several moves, so our internet often wasn’t that dependable.  Hopefully, you’ll forgive me as I get back into the swing of this blog.

I’d like to start back up by taking a look at some Second City Network videos with a fairy tale twist.  Many of you may be familiar with my favorite Second City Network character, Sassy Gay Friend, wherein a sassy, gay guy stops literary characters from making huge mistakes.  Their new series, “Advice from a Cartoon Princess,” features a woman who dresses up like princesses from various Disney films, then points out the negative messages these movies depict.

My goal with this recurring feature is to pick apart these videos, documenting which of the negative messages appear in the original tales and which can only be found in their modern versions.  The first video I’d like to discuss is about Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.”  For easy reading, I’ve divided my response below into criticisms that only apply to the Disney version and criticisms that apply to both.

Criticisms that Only Apply to the Disney Version:

  • The video’s first criticism of this French fairy tale is that the Beast is violent, but rich.  It suggests that Belle stays with the Beast because she feels that she can change him.  Interestingly, this is not a problem that can be seen in the tale’s original version.  Although all versions of the story depict the Beast as ugly, the original never suggests that he is in any way violent or threatening toward her.  This element was added later, most likely to make the story more exciting.
  • The second criticism relates to the Beast’s orders that Belle must eat with him or not at all.  This is almost a direct quote from the Disney film and does not appear in the original story.
  • Second City Network cites the Disney character, Gaston, as a “hot, successful man who was very goal-oriented and wanted to marry” Belle, but suggests that she resisted his affection because it was not a challenge.  This character does not even exist in the original story.  As far as I can tell, the character was added so that the film would have a clear antagonist.
  • Belle’s imprisonment by the beast is also pointed out.  Interestingly, the original fairy tale handled this quite differently.  Belle’s father steals a beautiful rose from the beast.  When the beast sees this and threatens to kill him, Belle’s father pleads for his life, saying that the flower was meant as a gift to his daughter.  The beast agrees not to kill him, and actually offers the man great riches in exchange for sending one of his daughters to live with him.  The beast specifies that he will only accept the trade if the girl comes of her own free will; he does not want to imprison her.  If none of his daughters will return, the man must come back to the castle himself.  Belle, who is the least selfish of her sisters, offers to go because of the great benefit to her family.
  • The video points out that Belle’s only friends are inanimate objects.  The original tale, however, contained invisible servants, not talking furniture.
  • The princess in the video says that Belle tolerates everything the beast does to her.  This obviously only applies to the Disney movie, seeing as the beast in the original story is never mean to her.

Criticisms that Apply to the Original Fairy Tale

  • The video summarizes the story by saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder as long as the woman is good looking.  This is a flaw that can be seen in the original version of this fairy tale and many others; while women consistently fall in love with men who have been transformed into hideous creatures, the opposite is rarely true.

Overall, it’s clear that the Second City Network is specifically targeting the Disney version of this story rather than the fairy tale itself.  Although many of today’s fairy tales have been censored because of their potentially violent or disturbing themes, it’s obvious that these changes were accompanied by questionable messages of their own.  At least in the case of “Beauty and the Beast,” the uncensored original seems to be the more appropriate version.

Cracked Fables

Cracked.com has finally decided to take a stab at Aesop’s fables (and a few wrongly attributed to Aesop, i.e. “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” and “Henny Penny“), and the result is pretty amusing.  Their “non-bullshit fables” summarize what they believe would happen if any of these fantastical events happened in real life.  Some of the jokes are based on common sense responses to fairy tale problems, while others make blatant pop culture references.  They even throw in some more “realistic” morals for good measure.

This is just another great example of a joke based on our cultural knowledge of fairy tales.  Everyone who reads the above comic strip will understand the stories these are based on and get a laugh.

My personal favorite of these Cracked fables is the retelling of “The Ant and the Grasshopper.”  That ant always did seem like a jerk, to me!  Of course, their version of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is pretty great, too.  Why did the townspeople let that irresponsible boy guard their sheep at night, anyway?

Once Upon a Webcomic: A Softer World

It’s time for another “Once Upon a Webcomic.”  This one centers around another comic I adore, “A Softer World.”

First time I've ever wished for a Disney version.The alternate text of this comic on its original page is fantastic.  It reads “First time I’ve ever wished for a Disney version,” and Joey Comeau (He’s the writer of the series, but not the photographer; that would be Emily Horne.) has a great point.  Because our culture has censored so many of these old stories for modern children, we often forget that fairy tales are almost never truly happy stories, and it is only ever through great hardship that characters are sometimes (but not always) able to find their happy endings.

Take, for instance, the familiar story of Rapunzel.  In its original version, Dame Gothel (the witch) cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and casts her out into the wilderness upon discovering that Rapunzel is pregnant and must have been consorting with a man.  When the prince comes for Rapunzel, the witch tells him that he will never see her again.  In despair, he attempts to commit suicide by leaping from the tower, but instead blinds himself when he lands face first in the thorns below.  Confused, disoriented, and in pain, he wanders off into the wilderness.  Rapunzel gives birth and eventually finds the prince.  Her tears heal his blindness and they live happily ever after.  Of course, this happy ending is only achieved after the couple has experienced great trauma and misfortune.

In many cases, fairy tales are darker than our culture seems to remember.  Like Comeau, I always find it interesting when people express a desire for a “fairy tale” romance, because it reveals, as he points out, that they have probably never read any actual fairy tales.

Once Upon a Webcomic: Ryan North Strikes Again

Some of you may recall last week’s Once Upon a Webcomic on Ryan North’s “Dinosaur Comics.”  Apparently, since that time, Ryan North has become determined to blow my mind.  His last three webcomic posts have been a fantastic series on fairy tales.

The first of these retells “Little Red Riding Hood” including some of the more disturbing details from older versions of the story.  Yes, in some versions, Little Red actually did eat her dead grandmother and escape because she told the wolf she had to poop and didn’t want to have an accident in the bed.

In his next comic, North addresses “Sleeping Beauty.”  Some of the information he gives us is true; the Prince really did rape the title character, causing her to give birth to the twins who woke her from her slumber.  Of course, he also provides us with some false information.  “Sleeping Beauty,” while it describes the character, is not her name.  She has been known, in different versions of the tale, as Talia, Aurora, Briar Rose, and more.

Finally, North writes a comic strip in which T-Rex tries to write his own less disturbing fairy tale.  Of course, he fails when he creates a story with a gender-confused protagonist (reminiscent of Ozma) who uses magic to enable her friends to cannibalize an evil wizard.

With any luck, Ryan North will keep reflecting on fairy tales in their grisly, original forms and make comic strips about even more of the old favorites.

Once Upon a Webcomic: Dinosaur Comics Fairy Tales

Since last week’s post on XKCD fairy tales was so popular and many of my favorite webcomics have referenced fairy tales in the past, I decided to start a new recurring feature called Once Upon a Webcomic.  My second webcomic post centers around another of my favorites: “Dinosaur Comics” or “Qwantz” by Ryan North.

Although Dinosaur Comics has referenced fairy tales on a number of hilarious occasions, the following comic is my favorite example of this.

As you can see, this comic takes a humorous poke at fairy tale retellings.  While many of them are interesting and inventive, some do seem a little silly.  For instance, take a look at the plot of Disney’s upcoming film, “Snow White and the Seven“; if Snow White is a British woman in China in the 1800s and the dwarves are actually not dwarves but international warriors teaching her how to fight, is it really even the same story?  Sure, the concept sounds pretty cool, but at what point does it begin to distract from the actual story and become a little pointless?

I can’t help but feel the same about Maureen McGowan’s new books “Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer” and “Cinderella: Ninja Warrior.” I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and read them on the off chance that they may actually be cool and funny mash-ups, but frankly they sound a little ridiculous.  Hopefully, that’s intentional.

When retelling fairy tales, it can be easy to get caught up in trying to make everything “totally sweet” and forget about what you were actually trying to do in the first place; breathe life back into an old story.  Of course, that doesn’t mean space travel and fairy tales should never mix; in her book of short fairy tale retellings “Red as Blood,” Tanith Lee masterfully reconciles these genres in “Beauty,” a futuristic retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.”

To see some other fairy tale references in Dinosaur Comics, check out the comics from November 20, 2003 and May 31, 2006.

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