Fairy Tale Halloween Costumes: Why So Scandalous?

As someone who loves candy, costumes, and stories of the spooky and supernatural, Halloween has always been my absolute favorite holiday.  Throughout the year, I gleefully dress up for Comic Conventions, movie/book openings, costume parties, and plays (I am an actor, after all.), but Halloween is the one time of the year when I can convince my friends to don their own costumes and take goofy photos with me (The exception is my husband, who humors me year-round.).

Last year, some of my friends and I went as characters from the video game "Left 4 Dead."

Needless to say, when I received a Halloween-themed Victorian Trading Co. catalog in the mail, I was pretty excited.  I couldn’t wait to scan the pages for costume ideas!  Imagine my delight when I spotted their lovely Little Red Riding Hood cape.

The Victorian Trading Company's "L'il Red Riding Hood Cape" is gorgeous.

Although the item itself was a little out of my price range, it inspired me to consider fairy tales as a theme for this year’s Halloween fun.  A quick search of the internet, however, convinced me otherwise; for whatever reason, a huge portion of fairy tale Halloween costumes are really trashy.  In the 2004 movie “Mean Girls,”  the main character (Lindsay Lohan) learns that “Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”  Still, I was pretty surprised by some of the results my costume search turned up.  For instance, the photo of a Cinderella costume below (which I can only assume is modeled after the Disney character) bears almost no resemblance to Cinderella.

It's funny, but I remember Cinderella a little differently...

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Admittedly, the original versions of fairy tales had a lot of violent and sexual undertones.  For instance, in the earliest versions of “Sleeping Beauty,” the princess isn’t awakened from her slumber by a romantic kiss; instead, she’s raped by the prince  and awoken when she goes into labor to bear twins.

Despite the fact that the original versions of many fairy tales were pretty racy, I think it would be a little far fetched to claim that barely there costumes like this one signify some sort of return to fairy tale roots.  I’m still not decided on what I’ll be going as for Halloween, but I will say one thing; if it’s fairy tale themed, I think I’ll try my hand at making it myself.

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Lost Girl and Fairy Tales, Part Two

Last April, I started getting into the Canadian TV series “Lost Girl.”  Excited by the potential for fairy tales on the show, I wrote a post called “Lost Girl and Fairy Tales,” predicting their appearance in the series.  Yesterday, my predictions came true; “Lost Girl” finally aired “Mirror, Mirror,” a fairy tale themed episode!

For those unfamiliar with the show, it stars Bo (Anna Silk), a succubus who, having been raised by humans, only recently realized her Fae nature.  Now, she works as a sort of supernatural private investigator, helping others in the Fae community.  Meanwhile, she is still searching for answers about her own mysterious heritage, navigating the murky waters of Fae politics, and doing her best to have a personal life.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Best friends Bo and Kenzi are forced to face Baba Yaga in this week's episode of "Lost Girl."

Still hurting from her breakup with Dyson (Kris Holden-Ried), Bo decides to join her human pal, Kenzi (Ksenia Solo), for a drunken girls’ night.  Unfortunately, Kenzi invokes Baba Yaga (a witch of Slavic fairy tale fame) while she’s under the influence and asks her to lay a curse on Dyson.  Once sober, however, our heroes seek to get the curse reversed.  Baba Yaga agrees, but takes Kenzi as payment, leaving it up to Bo and Dyson to get her back.

While the episode paid tribute to the Baba Yaga fairy tale stories, some of the details were changed for the show.  For instance, the old stories depict the witch’s house as a cottage with chicken legs; in the world of “Lost Girl,” however, Baba Yaga lives in some sort of alternate Fae dimension of her own and only travels by way of mirrors (kind of like a Fae version of the Bloody Mary urban legend.)  My guess is that a house on chicken legs probably sounded a little too far-fetched for network television.

Although parts of the Baba Yaga story were altered, “Lost Girl” stayed true to the original tales in many ways.  Just as in the old stories, the “Lost Girl” version of Baba Yaga is both powerful and scary.  She has the ability to grant wishes and offer wisdom, but is also known to kidnap and eat young people.  Seeking her counsel is considered extremely dangerous.  Not only that, but both versions depict her using human bones as building materials; in the fairy tales, her fence is often made of bones, and the show claimed she built her entire house out of them.

The episode also made reference to several other fairy tales.  At one point, Kenzi references Snow White by speaking rhyming commands to a mirror.  She even starts these commands with “mirror, mirror” (also the name of the episode). There are hints of “Hansel and Gretel” to be found, as well.  For instance, the witch tries to fatten her victims up before eating them, but is defeated when Kenzi closes her inside her own oven.  Of course, I can’t say I’m surprised that the writers went in that direction; in some Polish fairy tales, witches living in gingerbread houses are called “Baba Jagas.”

All in all, Bo’s first fairy tale encounter was a delight to watch.  I can only hope that more such episodes crop up in this and future seasons of “Lost Girl.”  In fact, I’m sure they will; the end of the episode suggests that Baba Yaga may have survived the fires of her oven.  Who knows when she’ll be back for revenge?

Want to learn more about “Lost Girl,” or discuss the latest episode with other fans?  Visit the “Lost Girl” subreddit (r/lostgirl).

Warehouse 13 and Fairy Tales

If any of you watch the SyFy Network’s original series, “Warehouse 13,” you might have noticed the following lines in this past week’s episode (“Insatiable,” season three, episode ten).

Myka: “We deal with artifacts, not fairy tales.”

Pete: “Well, a lot of those artifacts come from fairy tales…”

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the show, the basic concept is this; the Warehouse agents (most of whom are in the Secret Service) travel around the world collecting dangerous objects imbued with  supernatural powers.  Many of these artifacts are historical in nature and get their power from contact with now well-known historical figures or situations.  For instance, a piece of driftwood from the Titanic can give people hypothermia, and Edgar Allen Poe’s pen allows its wielder to bring Poe’s stories to life.

This is far from the first time the show has hinted at fairy tales.  In fact, as you can see in the clip below, a shot of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” appeared in the season one opening theme.

Although this episode was more about zombies than princesses, “Warehouse 13” has previously confirmed that in the world of the show fairy tales are based in reality.  This is evidenced by Cinderella’s Knife, an artifact the team chases in season two, episode ten (“Where and When”).  According to Artie (Saul Rubinek), the story of Cinderella and her glass slippers originated from the real Cinderella’s use of the knife, which turns its victims into glass.  The show has also played with artifacts and ideas from other fictional stories, such as Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio” and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”  Although these are NOT true fairy tales, they often get lumped in together.

Considering the fact that this season’s main villain is after a Pinocchio themed artifact (author Carlo Collodi’s bracelet), it seems that Pete (Eddie McClintock) and Myka’s (Joanne Kelly) conversation may not just have been simple banter.  Although Myka is skeptical, Pete recognizes the potential for truth behind fairy tales.  They’ve encountered one fairy tale item (Cinderella’s knife), so why not others?  After all, the Warehouse did introduce them to “a world of endless wonder.”  I can’t help but think that more fairy tale artifacts are in store for the Warehouse agents.  There’s just too much foreshadowing and suggestion here for this not to pan out.

What do you think?  Are there more twisted fairy tale artifacts to come in this season of Warehouse 13?

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.

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.

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.

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