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!

Hermione and the Beast

As some of you may have gathered from my previous post on the role of fairy tales in “Harry Potter,” I absolutely love the series.  I also happen to be a huge fan of director Guillermo del Toro.  In light of this information, I was ecstatic when I heard that del Toro and Emma Watson, who played brainy heroine Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, are teaming up for a fairy tale film.

Although the details have not yet been fully publicized–or even posted to IMDb–it was announced in July that Watson is set to star in a del Toro directed retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.”

At age 21, "Harry Potter" alumna Emma Watson already has what it takes to score the lead role in "Beauty and the Beast."

Unfortunately, no more information on the film itself has yet been released.  There’s no telling exactly what kind of retelling this will be.  It could be anything from a modern story, like this year’s teen flick “Beastly,” to a campy adventure movie reminiscent of 2005’s “The Brothers Grimm.” My money, however, is set on gritty and macabre, thanks to the director; Del Toro is notorious for his dark yet beautiful films (see “Pan’s Labyrinth,” 2006) a tendency which has made him one of my all time favorite directors.  His penchant for mixing sinister and whimsical elements is exactly what it takes to successfully retell a fairy tale.

Watson’s involvement is almost as squee-worthy as del Toro’s.  Although she has spent the last decade contractually locked into one role, I’m reasonably confident in her ability to resist typecasting.  It will be exciting to see the talented starlet try other roles on for size, and this movie will definitely give her room to grow as an actor.

Let’s just hope this movie turns out to be as lovely as it sounds.

Tangled: Something Old and Something New

Well, I finally got around to watching Disney’s new Rapunzel flick, “Tangled.” I have to admit that it was pretty cute.  It bears little similarity to the original tale, but there are a few consistent plot points.  I’ve divided the film up into two lists for easy reading; similarities and differences between this story and the original a.k.a. “something old” and “something new.” Warning: SPOILER ALERT.

Something Old

  • Rapunzel was kidnapped when she was a baby and has been kept in a tower her entire life.
  • She believes Dame Gothel to be her mother and uses her long, golden hair to pull her up into the stairless tower daily.
  • She falls in love with her rescuer.
  • Her tears magically heal the wounds of her lover after he is injured by Dame Gothel.

Something New

  • Rapunzel’s parents are royalty, rather than the peasants of the original tale.
  • Gothel is just a vain old woman, rather than a witch.
  • Rapunzel’s parents did not steal any vegetables (i.e. rapunzel) from the witch that were traded for the baby, so her name is unexplained and bizarre.
  • Rapunzel’s hair has magical healing powers.
  • She is rescued by a rascally thief, rather than a prince.
  • Rapunzel does not become pregnant.
  • Gothel does not learn of Rapunzel’s lover and cast her out into the wilderness.
  • Her lover does not attempt to commit suicide when he fears he will never see her again.
  • He is not blinded by thorns during a fall from the tower.

As you can see, there is more new to this story than old.  Not much about this retelling relates to the original story.  Admittedly, the Grimm version contained some racy themes, so I can’t say I’m surprised by Disney’s choices.  Whether or not their changes were good for the integrity of the story, they were likely good for profit.

What Fairy Tale Do You Want Retold?

With Hollywood going through a bit of a fairy tale phase, a lot of classic fairy tales are getting retold.  Despite this, many still remain untouched.  When was the last time you read or saw a retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears?  The only one I can think of off the top of my head is the character in Bill Willingham’s “Fables,”  and even then, it’s more of a reference than a full retelling.

In the "Fables" comic series, Goldilocks is a murderous, mentally unstable revolutionary.

With this in mind, I have a question for all of you; what fairy tale would you most like to see retold?  This can be a well-known fairy tale like “Jack and the Beanstalk” or a more obscure story, such as the Romanian tale of “Little Wildrose.”  Feel free to include a story concept!

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hollywood just can’t get enough of retelling fairy tales, right now.  Not only are they tackling “Beauty and the Beast,” “Snow White,” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” but “Hansel and Gretel” are getting a makeover, as well; on March 2, 2012, Paramount Pictures will release “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.”

According to this article on Screen Rant, the film will center around the now adult siblings (Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner).  Comingsoon.net suggests that the film begins 15 years after their original incident with the witch in the gingerbread house. The plot is basically that they have now become professional witch hunters, as a result of the initial encounter.  Although no trailers have yet been released, I was able to find some footage of the filming in Germany.

So far, photos and descriptions of the film have led people to compare it to everything from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Van Helsing” to “The Brothers Grimm.”  It’s a little too early for much analysis, but it’s definitely a film I’ll be keeping my eye on.

Buffy and Fairy Tales: Spike as Pinocchio

Joss Whedon loves making pop-culture references, and fairy tales are no exception to this rule.  As I mentioned in a previous post, there were more than the average number of fairy tale references in both “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.”  Buffy even went as Little Red Riding Hood for Halloween in season 4, episode 4 “Fear Itself.”  Today, I’d like to take a look at a handful of these references and do a bit of dissection on them.

Hansel and Gretel show up in Sunnydale.

Before I get started, I’ll knock the most obvious reference out of the way.  In “Gingerbread,” season 3, episode 11, Sunnydale is visited by a demon that takes the form of two dead children in order to create strife in a town.  The Scooby gang soon realizes that these “children” are none other than the Hansel and Gretel of fairy tale fame, and narrowly avoid getting burned at the stake for witchcraft.  In this episode, Joss seems to be revealing an opinion shared by J. K. Rowling; fairy tales had to come from somewhere, and there may be more truth in them than we imagine.

Interestingly, the character who seems to make the largest amount of fairy tale references on these shows is Spike.  Although it’s true that Spike and Xander are the two characters who tend to gravitate towards pop culture references, Xander just does not have the same proclivity for fairy tales in particular.

The story Spike most often refers to is actually “Pinocchio.”  While it’s true that this is not a fairy tale in the truest sense, it has started to become one; few people seem to know the name of the original author (Carlo Collodi), and the number of adaptations written is nearly preposterous.  Either way, Spike refers to becoming a “real boy” on many occasions.  Here are a few for your consideration.:

  • In “Buffy” Season 6, episode 7 “Once More with Feeling,” Spike says, regarding a puppet-like demon who appears in the episode, “someday he’ll be a real boy.”
  • In “Angel” season 5, episode 4 “Hell Bound,” Spike is still a wraith after sacrificing himself to close Sunnydale’s Hell Mouth and save the world.  In discussion with Fred about how he might become solid again, Spike refers to her “making [him] a real boy again.”
  • In “Angel” season 5, episode 10 “Soul Purpose,” Angel has a hallucination in which Fred suggests that Spike “deserves to become a real boy,” right after Wesley just mentioned that, after being such a hero, Spike deserves to get what he’s “always wanted.”
  • In “Angel” season 5, episode 22 “Not Fade Away,” Spike asks Angel if he thinks one of them will “get to be a real boy” when their battle is all over.

That is not to say that Spike never makes non-Pinocchio references;  in season 5, episode 19 “Time Bomb,” he references Paul Bunyan when he calls Illyria  “Babe the Blue Ox.”  Still, Spike’s continuous comparisons about Pinocchio are odd and, when studied closer, a little uncanny.

The thing is, Spike really does want to become human again.  He worked hard to regain his soul, but he’s aware that something about him is not true.  When Spike considers himself, he does not think of himself as a “real boy.”  Angel, on the other hand, clearly feels whole already.  Certainly, something about humanity seems appealing to him, but he doesn’t really have the taste for it; in “Angel” season 1, episode 8 “I Will Remember You,” Angel becomes human after being infected with another demon’s blood, but rejects that life because it is more important for his purposes to be a hero.  Spike, who is motivated by love above everything else, relishes such a chance in a way that Angel, whose ultimate goal is not love but redemption, never can.  Spike wants to be human to love and feel as humans do.  Angel wants to receive humanity as a reward so that he can know for sure that he has been redeemed.

Not only that, but Spike has the opportunity to become a “real boy” in a way that does not exist, for Angel.  While Spike’s personality is essentially the same with or without his soul, Angel’s is completely different.  In fact, in  “Angel” season  4, episode 14 “Orpheus,” Faith realizes, when she enters Angel’s mind that Angel himself is the curse.  Angelus sits inside Angel at all times, observing the good his body is doing and being furious about it.  That’s why his personality is so dependent upon the soul.  Angel is, in fact, not a real person at all.

Of course, there are plenty of other fairy tale references in these shows, if you watch for them.  For instance, Fred has a really cute line in “Angel” season 3, episode 5 “Fredless,” in which she mentions “dumb old fairy tales,” and the ways in which her life has both reflected and deviated from what those stories taught her.

Have fun searching for more fairy tales in the Whedon-verse!

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