Thursday, July 31, 2014

First movie stills from Disney's "Into the Woods".

As many of you know, Disney's string of fairy tale reimaginings is set to continue with an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods.  There was some controversy recently about supposed changes made to the story in order to make it more family-friendly.  These supposed changes were also supposedly refuted by Sondheim who had mentioned their possible existence in passing previously.

Anyways, over at the website Den of Geek, they apparently have the first stills from the movie up.  You can see them by clicking HERE.  There's apparently also a trailer out there somewhere.  I tried to access it on Den of Geek's page, but was informed that the video was "private" and was not allowed to see it.  I'll keep looking, though.

Update: I found the trailer: Into the Woods trailer.

Any thoughts about Disney, Sondheim, Into the Woods and these movie stills, make yourself heard in the comments below.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

On Internet Lists and Ruined Childhoods.

Okay, internet, I think it’s time to stop it.  No really, just stop.  Enough with the lists already!

Maybe I should start at the beginning.  I was surfing along the internet when I found this on the comedy website Dorkly: “The Real Stories Behind 9 Disney Movies”.  You know the drill, they list 9 movies and their literary and folk tale counterparts and write a little piece on the differences between the two.  All in the interest in somehow getting a couple of laughs (I’ll get back to that point later).  No big deal, right?  Well, it’s not the only one.  Listverse had a list like this.  Buzzfeed (king of internet lists and countdowns) had a couple.  Cracked (the website of Mad Magazine’s edgier spinoff) had a couple of them as well.  Huffington Post had one with a particularly memorable title: “The Real Stories Behind These Disney Movies will Ruin Your Childhood”.  This seems to be just the tip of the iceberg.  I mean, take a look at my Google search results (click HERE).

So, I get the idea.  People are more aware of the Disney versions of these stories, so people write articles on the internet pointing out the differences.  Now, I’m no fan of Disney and the “Hollywood fairy tale machine”.  I’m also all for getting the original tales some more exposure.  However, I’m not sure these lists are helping.

Every one of these internet lists I read has a tendency towards sensationalism.  The problem with sensationalism is that it can drive people away too.  An outsider may come in thinking “Gee, it’s a good thing Disney came along and fixed these stories” (I’ve encountered that attitude elsewhere online before).  These articles all trade on the notion that something sweet and precious from your childhood was based on something awful and violent and terrible.  However, the original fairy tales are not awful.  They’re fantastic!  I mean, sure, there’s violence in many of them.  However, there’s also violence in the real world.  I don’t want to say that children have to learn to live with violence, because that would be stupid.  If there’s violence in your life, you have every right to try and get away from it and no one should try to hurt a child.  However, children should also know that violence does exist in the world.  Many of these early stories weren’t concocted expressly for children, anyway.  They were created for everybody with children just being part of that greater audience.  Now some of these stories were written for children, like the tales of Hans Christian Anderson and Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.  With these cases, it could go one of two ways.  In one case, they may stem from a time when children weren’t quite as sheltered as they are now.  The truth is that childhood as we know it didn’t always exist like it does now.  For a long time, children were mostly treated as little adults.  In agrarian communities when whole families lived in one room houses, work was often dangerous and wakes were held in the home, it was hard to shield the little darlings from things like sex, injury and death.  It was a change that only really came about with the process of industrialization.  The notion of adolescence as a transition period between childhood and adulthood really didn’t exist either.  The other possibility is that, well, they figured kids could take it.  I mean, children aren’t as fragile as some people seem to think they are.

They leave out all sorts of great stuff, too.  Take, for instance, when these lists write about Pinocchio.  Do they ever mention that despite the darker bits, the original Pinocchio is actually quite funny.  I’ve been telling the story of Pinocchio in installments at storytelling guild meetings for months now and I’ve gotten laughs every time.  Of course, my delivery might help.  However, there is a humor to all of Pinocchio’s trials and tribulations.  Many of them are so over-the-top and ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh.  They also neglect to mention that the characters are more complex and interesting in Collodi’s version.  Geppetto is more of a hothead and originally created Pinocchio to make money, but also tries his best to do right by him.  Pinocchio is equal parts mischievous, selfish and innocent and really does love his father despite being drawn to trouble.  It all reflects a more real and complicated view of family where people are flawed and expectations aren’t always met.  Instead, it’s always just “Oh no, he killed the cricket” (so much trouble over squishing a bug).  Many of these lists get their facts wrong as well.  I don’t know how many I’ve seen that refer to the Grimms’ version of “Cinderella” as the original.  The truth is that Charles Perrault’s version “Cendrillon”, which is very much like the Disney adaptation, predates the Grimms’ “Aschenputtel” by about two hundred years.

Now, you’re probably thinking that I shouldn’t be getting so up and arms over something that’s being posted on comedy websites.  Here’s the thing: these lists aren’t really funny either.  Oh, they’re trying to be.  Most of them have a sort of jokey, wise-cracking tone.  But they don’t really have any laugh-out-loud lines or anything.  So, that kind of just makes it worse.

I don’t know.  I’d just like to see more on the internet about how terrific the old stories are instead of how awful they are.  That’s more or less what blogs like this one are for, though.  Maybe I’m overreacting.  After all, Soman Chainani (author of The School for Good and Evil) posted a similar list on Buzzfeed.  If someone who's so clearly a fairy tale fan can do it, maybe it's not so bad.  I’d like to hear your thoughts.  Post in the comments below on any impressions about the internet, old fairy tales and “ruined childhoods”.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Folk Tale Secret Stash: The Golden Twig.

Some may argue about it.  Some may deny it.  However, it’s a simple fact.  The fairy tale as we understand it now, was invented by the French.  Specifically, we owe it to the writers of the French salons of the Seventeenth Century.  Now, some could say that the fairy tale existed in folklore for centuries before that.  It is true that the “salonistas” did draw on folklore.  However, their stories would also be drawn into folklore to the point that the folk and literary feed on each other to the point that it’s hard to separate the two (I don’t know if this tale has a literary counterpart, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did).  So, it is past time that I focus on a French fairy tale.  Some of the most notable French fairy tale writers include Madame D’Aulnoy, Charles Perrault and Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont.  This tale, however, comes from a different place.  This is one of the tales collected by one Henri Pourrat.  Pourrat was an anthropologist and writer who spent much of his life collecting the folk tales of the Auvergne region of France.  Now, not only does this tale come from a classic fairy tale location, it also touches on a classic fairy tale theme: ugliness.

Now, the story starts out with a king’s son.  This isn’t your typical handsome Prince Charming type, though.  You see, this prince was born kind of . . . ill-made.  Okay, I’ll just say it.  He was ugly.  Heck, he was deformed.  He had a hunched back and a twisted neck.

It was because of this that people called him Crickneck.  His case was supposedly so hopeless that even his uncle, who was a magician, couldn’t fix it.  The only thing he could do is give Prince Crickneck a magical golden twig that could cut through evil enchantments (Hey, at least it was something).

Now, the time came for the prince to marry.  The king, who’d been kind of volatile since his less-than-handsome son was born, decided to marry him off to a king’s daughter who was similarly afflicted with poor looks.  People called this princess Bootface.  Well, Crickneck didn’t like this idea.  He told his father, in no uncertain terms, that he would rather die than marry Princess Bootface.  Of course, he also did this over dinner with poor Princess Bootface right at the table.  This didn’t go over well.  The king got angry and ordered his son locked in the tower for the night.

Well, the tower was old, run-down and dusty.  However, the prince has the run of it to himself.  He explores the tower until he finds a room hidden behind a tapestry.  There, a woman lies as if asleep, covered in cobwebs.  He touches her with his golden twig and she wakes up.  She explains that she was a fairy who was cursed by an evil fairy.  Now, to reward him, she uses her magic to straighten out the parts of him that are crooked and make him conventionally handsome.  She renames him Peerless and sends him off to some distant place to live the happy life of a shepherd.

Next morning, the king decides that his son has been grounded long enough and goes to release him.  Surprise, surprise, they can’t find him.  They do, however, find two sets of footprints.  One belonging to Crickneck and a woman’s footprints.  The king arrives at the only logical conclusion: Princess Bootface broke into the tower and killed Crickneck and then disposed of the body to avenge her pride!  Anyway, she gets locked in the tower as punishment.

Now, Bootface is of a similar mindset as Crickneck.  She explores that tower top to bottom until she finds a drawer with a severed hand locked inside.  When she pulls it out, she gets attacked by a one-legged eagle that snatches it away.  The eagle turns into a sorcerer.  He explains that he was cursed by an evil fairy (a lot of that going around).  He then transforms her into a beautiful girl who he dubs Radiant.  Then he sends Radiant off to live as a shepherdess in some distant place very close to where a young man named Peerless is also herding sheep.

Now, this is where things start to really get interesting.  This is also where I usually give you a link and tell you to read the whole story for yourself.  However, I just can’t.  Apparently, this one isn’t online.  I can’t find it anywhere.  What I can do is give you a link to an entry for the book in Worldcat, the world’s largest library catalog (the link is right HERE).  I can then suggest that you check your local library system.  If you can’t find it locally, well, interlibrary loan is a wonderful thing.

Really, there are a lot of good stories in this book, so you should check it out.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Fairy Tale Media Fix: Jack and the Beanstalk

I got a Classicflix in the mail!

What is Classicflix?  Well, it’s kind of like Netflix only all the movies and TV shows they carry are from before 1970 (I find it useful for watching old monster movies and classic comedy team flicks).  When I started this blog, I made it a point to go onto Classicflix and put some older, non-Disney fairy tale movies on my queue.  Now, the first one has arrived.  So, what fantastic actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood are here to depict the tales and lore of yesteryear . . .

Okay, so maybe not what everyone was expecting.  I actually have a better picture around here somewhere that I used for a different post.  Where is it?  Ah, here we go . . .

Yes, this is Jack and the Beanstalk, a 1952 picture starring comedy team Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.  Now, I don’t know if I’ve made it clear here or not, but I am a big fan of the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk”.  Everyone’s got their childhood favorite and that was mine.  It had a young boy as the protagonist, plus a giant, lots of climbing, some mischief (stealing the gold, hen and harp), ax-swinging and best of all there were no princesses and no kissing!  What more could a 7-year-old boy ask for?  I’m still a fan.  In fact, such a fan that I actually bought this shirt online:

And I wear it proudly!  Now, you may think that as such a big fan that I wouldn’t be happy with a couple of clowns like Abbott and Costello adapting it.  But I’m actually a big fan of Abbott and Costello too.  I’ve liked those guys ever since I saw them meet Frankenstein.  So, let’s see how the boys do with their fairy tale adaptation.

Now, the plot starts out in a sepia toned “real world” setting.  Here, we’re introduced to the players.  Jack (Lou Costello) and Mr. Dinkle (Bud Abbott) are looking for work at an employment agency.  Jack makes a pass at the woman at the desk (Dorothy Ford) only to run afoul of her boyfriend, a very tall police officer (Buddy Baer).  The duo get assigned to a babysitting job looking after an intelligent but problematic child named Donald so that his big sister (Shaye Cogan) and her fiancĂ©e (James Alexander) can go out for the night.  Upon arriving, Jack attempts to read Donald the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” (which our hero refers to as his “favorite novel”) only stumbles over the big words.  So, he gets Donald to read it to him instead.  Jack starts to fall asleep and dream the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk”.

So, they’ve already turned the Hollywood clichĂ© of the kid dreaming the story he’s being told on its ear b having the kid read the story to a dreaming adult.

Anyway, here is where the color kicks in.  The story starts as expected.  Jack (Costello again) has to sell his cow because they’re too poor not too.  Only this time, along the way he meets a prince (Alexander again) and princess (Cogan again), both of whom are not eager to enter into an arranged marriage to fix the kingdom’s giant-induced monetary crisis.  When Jack gets to the market, he meets with the butcher Mr. Dinklepuss (Abbott again) who swindles him into selling the cow for beans.  Jack plants the beans and they  grow into a giant beanstalk.  Now, here’s where the story alters a little.  Jack does indeed climb the beanstalk.  However, upon hearing that there is a hen that lays golden eggs at the top, the selfish Mr. Dinklepuss joins him.  Also, rather than hiding and stealing from the giant, they find themselves prisoners of the giant and all sorts of schtick results.  There are some exploding eggs, resulting from when Jack feeds some hens gunpowder.  There’s some matchmaking for the prince and princess who previously got captured and don’t know who each other is.  Finally, there is an escape attempt involving trees being used to catapult people over a wall.  Now, as you can probably guess the giant and his housekeeper (replacing the giant’s wife found in many versions of the story) are played by Buddy Baer and Dorothy Ford.  Now, there aren’t any big special effects in this production.  Buddy Baer as the giant is just as tall as, well, Buddy Baer.  Maybe about 7 feet.  This may seem kind of weak sauce, but let’s remember that putting aside technical limitations, height for giants has never been standardized.  At one point in history, a 7 foot tall man may have been called a giant.  Heck, lets look at this illustration by Arthur Rackham:

The giant is only twice as tall as his wife, who looks to be an average size human.  Yet, in some versions of the story, regular people are practically the size of bugs by comparison.

Getting back to the movie itself, it’s really not a bad little film.  There are some songs, as many family films of the time had.  They’re not fantastic, but they’re not bad either.  As for Costello’s performance as Jack, he doesn’t come across as a typical hero.  However, that’s what makes it work.  While “Jack and the Beanstalk” is a fairy tale, traditional English “Jack Tales” are often fool stories about a foolish boy whose actions defy traditional logic yet comes out okay in the end.  I have to say, other than maybe the version from Into the Woods, there are few versions that capture the essence of “Jack as fool” quite as well as Costello’s version.  It’s not to his detriment, either.  While he may be a fool most of the time, he also proves himself uncommonly brave and resourceful at other times.  It’s just what you’d want in a Jack.

Jack and the Beanstalk isn’t any kind of landmark film when it comes to fairy tale inspired cinema.  It didn’t redefine any genres or anything.  I also can’t say that it’s Bud and Lou’s best film.  However, it is a fun little family-friendly romp with a classic comedy duo.  I won’t say run out and see it, but it could be worth a watch if it pops up on Turner Classic Movies or something.  I don’t know what to say to finish this off, so I’ll just say something that I’ve always wanted to say:
Heeeeeeeey, Abbooooott!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Visit Scenic Chelm!

Well, summer’s here and pretty soon it’ll be time to think about heading out on vacation.  But why go to all those typical vacation spots like the beach or the amusement park?  Instead, why not visit scenic Chelm?  That’s right, Chelm!  This little village is located in one of the loveliest parts of rustic Poland.  Steeped in rich, Jewish tradition, Chelm is a one of a kind vacation spot.  Legend has it that two angels were once walking in the area of Chelm.  One carried a jar full of wise souls and one carried a jar full of foolish souls.  One day, unused to the rocky terrain of the mountains around Chelm, one of the angels tripped and spilled his jar right in Chelm.  Ever since then, the people of Chelm have possessed a very unique character.

Here in Chelm, enjoy traditional, rustic cuisine.  Enjoy the local music scene.  See unique sights like the world’s first and only indoor sundial.  Visit the salt fields where only the finest salt is grown.  See the hill of Chelm, which the residents of Chelm pushed from its previous location (though, some reports vary).  Interested in spirituality and religion?  Visit our synagogues and enjoy the wisdom of our local rabbi.  Did you know that the temple at Chelm has the most unique shoyfer (ram’s horn) around?  Some uninformed visitors even think it looks like an old boot.

However, the greatest asset of Chelm is its people.  Come and be astounded by their traditions and wisdom.  The people of Chelm are so wise, gentle and appreciative of beauty that they refused to let a sick man ruin the pristine snow with his footprints as he walked to the hospital.  Instead, four men put the sick man on a board and carried him there instead.  The officials in Chelm are so wise and invested in justice that when a live fish slapped a man with his tail, they knew they had no choice but to sentence it to death by drowning.  But don’t just listen to me!  Listen to these satisfied visitors:

I went to Chelm on vacation and had a great time enjoying the local food and attractions.  However, I had a small crisis when I lost my room key in the hallways of the inn.  What did the good folks of Chelm do?  They helped me by looking around outside under the streetlights where the lighting was better.  What a great bunch!  I tell you, the Chelmites are my kind of people.

                                                                                    Gotham, Nottinghamshire, England

I went to Chelm for a long weekend and brought my cat Fraulein Fluffypaws with me.  The attractions were superb, the food was delicious and the people were so nice!  One day, Fraulein Fluffypaws got away from me and climbed up onto the roof and I couldn’t get her down.  The fire chief of Chelm came up with a fantastic plan: set the building on fire and my cat would eventually leap down to safety.  Fraulein Fluffypaws did jump over to some neighboring houses along the way, but we only had to burn down three houses before Fraulein Fluffypaws came back down to me.  I’m very thankful to the people of Chelm for their hospitality and for getting my little kitty back to me.

                                                                                      Schilda, Germany

So this year when everyone else is out at the beach, camping or enjoying overpriced amusement parks, come enjoy the hospitality of Chelm and its many attractions.  You’d have to be a fool not to!

This message paid for by the Chelm Tourism Board.