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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Fairy Tale Films of March 2011

I love movies almost as much as I love fairy tales.  That being said, it should come as no surprise that I’m really looking forward to next month, when two movies based on classic fairy tales are set to be released.  Here’s a peek at the trailers, as well as my initial reactions.  I’ve divided them into pros and cons for easy reading.

Red Riding Hood – March 11

Pros: Little Red Riding Hood is a rich story, and there have been plenty of wonderful retellings of it, many of which were fantastically grim.  The movie’s plot has potential to be beautifully dark,  and the style and cinematography look gorgeous.  Not only that, but I’m excited to see that Gary Oldman is part of the cast; he always does a fantastic job and has recently had a knack for accepting roles in all the right films.  I haven’t seen much of Amanda Seyfried, but she was truly hilarious in “Mean Girls” (2004).  It should be fun to see how she handles a more serious role.

Cons: I don’t doubt Catherine Hardwicke‘s ability to direct, but I do doubt her ability to choose a good story.  “Twilight” may have been a money maker, but it was also anti-feminist fluff of the worst kind.  Yes, I’m aware that she only directed the first film, but my problem is with Meyer’s books, themselves.  I’ll admit to being suspicious that this film might go the same way, considering that it features “Little Red” being torn between two lovers.  If this movie turns out to be about how important it is to have a boyfriend, I’m going to scream.

Beastly – March 18

Pros: Neil Patrick Harris is an absolutely brilliant actor, so his involvement in this film gives me hope.  Not only that, but like Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast is a rich story that leaves plenty of room for skillful retellings and embellishments.  Placing the story in a modern setting while still keeping the magic element is an interesting choice, and I’m really excited to see where they take it.

Cons: I haven’t actually seen Mary-Kate Olsen in anything since we were both children, and I’m not convinced she has what it takes to play an effective supernatural antagonist.  I’m willing to give her a try, but I remain skeptical.  It’s also possible that this movie could turn out to be little more than a typical high school romance flick.  I mean, sure, Alex Pettyfer looks mildly unattractive with those weird, ropey markings on his face, but don’t most teen dramas feature an “unattractive” girl that turns out to be really  gorgeous once she takes off her glasses and lets her hair down?  Let’s hope it doesn’t devolve into that.

Top Four Best Retold Fairy Tales

When I was ten years old, I discovered retold fairy tales.  Since then, I have read tons of them–probably hundreds–and written many of my own.  That being said, I’ve come to know a good retelling when I see one.

Although there are many fantastic novel-length retellings of these stories, there are an equal number of amazing short story versions.  This is a good place to start if you’re not sure about reading retold fairy tales, but you’re willing to give them a try.  Here, you will find a list of what I consider to be the top four best retold fairy tale short stories.

1. Wolfland by Tanith Lee

Nearly every story in Tanith Lee’s retold fairy tale collection “Red As Blood or Tales From the Sisters Grimmer” is pure fairy tale gold.  “Wolfland,” however, is by far the fairest of them all.  This fantastic retelling of the classic Little Red Riding Hood takes place in nineteenth century Scandinavia, where “little red” is not a helpless child but a teenage party girl whose wealthy grandmother hides a supernatural secret.  The collection is, unfortunately, out of print; if you can get your hands on a used copy, do not hesitate to do so.

 

2. Hansel’s Eyes by Garth Nix

This story is also part of a larger collection; “A Wolf at the Door” edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling contains retold fairy tales by many well-known authors.  “Hansel’s Eyes,” however, has all the marks of a truly great retelling: an original spin on the story, an engaging writing style, and a macabre twist.  This modern version has Hansel and Gretel abandoned in the inner city, where an organ harvesting witch lures them into her video game shop.  Not only is it the best story in the collection, but it’s the best reimagining of Hansel and Gretel I’ve ever come across.

 

3. Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman

Just like everything else on this list, “Snow, Glass, Apples” can be found inside a bigger book: “Smoke and Mirrors,” a collection of short stories and poems by Neil Gaiman.  Interestingly, the theme of Snow White as a creepy little girl with an aversion to holy things is not as unusual as one might imagine; this story, however, does it better than any of the others I’ve read.  In it, Snow is a blood sucking princess who is slowly killing her father.  Her benevolent stepmother plays the story’s heroine.  Although it’s not quite as original as the others on this list, it is the most beautifully written of all of them, and my absolute favorite version of Snow White.

 

4. The Bully and the Beast by Orson Scott Card

This particular retelling of popular French fairy tale Beauty and the Beast is hidden within a large collection of Orson Scott Card’s short fiction, “Maps in a Mirror.”  Card’s writing style is a joy to read, but what really makes this a great story is the cleverness of it.  The title the “beast” is also fascinating here, because it could easily be applied to several characters in the story.  Add a beauty that doesn’t love the unintelligent man that rescues her and a dragon with a power that will make you think, and you’ve got a surprisingly unique version of one of the most commonly retold fairy tales around.


Although these are a few of my favorite short fairy tale retellings, there are many more out there.  Happy reading!


%d bloggers like this: