Sunday, May 27, 2018

Fairy Tale Media Fix: Beauty and the Beast (1987).

Part two of our look at the Cannon Movie Tales!  That’s right, back to Cannon Films.  The same people who gave us Superman IV: The Quest for Peace  and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 favorite Alien From L.A. (sigh).

This time, we’re looking at an adaptation of one of the fairy tales that has probably had the most decent screen adaptations.  I mean, I don’t have any numbers or statistics right here, but I’m pretty sure “Beauty and the Beast” is close to the top of that list.  The only tale that I can imagine having more good adaptations would maybe be Cinderella (fun fact: Cannon Films never adapted Cinderella).
The Cannon Films version of Beauty and the Beast came out in 1987.  It stars Yossi Graber as Beauty’s father, John Savage as the Beast and in the marquee role, Rebecca De Mornay as Beauty.  Pretty much all these Cannon Movie Tales had one “marquee” star.  They didn’t spend much money on anything else, but they did spend a lot on at least one bit of casting per film.

Here’s a trailer:
Hey, anyone notice with fairy tale films that sometimes they just tell you the whole plot.  Like, the Disney Cinderella remake did the same thing.  I think this could have to do with the culture of comfort and nostalgia that’s built up around them.  The people making the movies fully expect you to already know the story, so they don’t worry about spoiling anything.

Anyway, the story follows a streamlined mix of the Villeneuve and Beaumont versions.  It starts off with Beauty (not Belle in this version, though it means the same thing) as the daughter of a wealthy merchant.  She also has four older siblings who lean on her for any number of things.  Things are fine until one of her father’s ships is lost at sea.  Now much less wealthy, they move to a smaller house and start a new life.  Beauty is okay with this, but her siblings are absolutely wretched about it.  The father finds out that his ship has returned.  He promises gifts, including a rose for Beauty.  He rides off only to find the ship has been sold.  He finds the Beast’s castle, steals the rose, has to offer up his daughter . . .

You know what?  It’s the story of “Beauty and the Beast”.  If you’re here, you probably know that story.  I don’t even know why I bothered trying to summarize it.

The real question is how did they adapt this story?

Well, narratively, it did okay.  It was faithful and the story didn’t seem to drag.

Technically, it was . . . off.

It’s things like make-up, sets and actors that really skewed it.

In terms of actors, there are some worthwhile performances.  Yossi Graber  who plays Beauty’s father does a decent job.  Rebecca Demornay, the only well-known actress in the production, puts in a solid performance as Beauty.  But John Savage just doesn’t have the kind of presence I’d want from either the Beast or the Prince, and he does play both throughout the film.  The films adopts the old Villeneuve device of having Beauty dream about meeting her prince every night.  Savage doesn’t really sell “charming prince” and try as he might, he doesn’t quite give us the combination of nobility, sadness and intimidation you’d expect from the Beast.  The make-up, which seems like almost good Beast make-up but not quite there, doesn’t help.  I’d blame it on the era and the culture’s interpretation of the Beast not evolving yet, except it was the ‘80s.  The same era that gave us Ron Perlman’s TV Beast.

As for locations and sets, it’s a mixed bag.  The thing with the Cannon Movie Tales is that they’re all filmed in and around Tel Aviv, Israel.  Sometimes this is really obvious and throws off the whole “European folk tale” feel.  Other times, it’s used really well.  For example, in this movie you can see Belle’s father riding across a stretch of desert to get to the Beast’s castle.  I think this works really well.  It underscores how distant Belle is from her family.  However, the castle he gets to is . . . surprisingly small.  I mean, it looks no bigger than a regular suburban house when you first see it.  The set for the inside of the castle actually seems bigger, giving it this unintended TARDIS effect.

Then there’s the music.  Again, it’s not great.  It’s also not awful.  The melodies are nice, but the lyrics can sometimes be a little cringe-y.  Sometimes they’re accompanied by some interesting imagery like dancing statues.  Here’s an example:

I'm going to wrap the whole thing up soon, but I thought I'd spoil one thing.  The whole thing ends like most cinematic adaptations of Beauty and the Beast do, with Beauty seeming to be a little confused and disappointed that the Beast changed back into a prince.  I don't know why that seems to be the case with almost every "Beauty and the Beast" film adaptations.  If anyone has any theories, please let me know.

Anyway, the thing with the two Cannon Movie Tales I’ve reviewed thus far seems to be that they're really middle-of-the-road.  They’re not awful, but they’re not really good either.  They’re just flawed.  But I think that feeling comes from the fact that in our culture we're used to seeing fairy tales get adapted in any number of ways with any number of budgets.  Though, there are movies in this series that are bad.  Trust me, we're getting to those.

Anyway, on to the next one!  I should note that the poll gadget no longer exists here on Blogger.  So, the next vote will have to happen on social media.  Look for @FolkTaleGeek on Twitter or the Fairy Tale Fandom page on Facebook.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Four-Color Fairy Tales: Grimms Manga Tales

Ladies and gentlemen, the most bishonen-y take on classic fairy tales you could possibly find!  Or, at  least, the most since Dictatorial Grimoire.

Grimm’s Manga Tales is a collection of fairy tale retellings by manga artist Kei Ishiyama.  Along the way, she gives all the tales in question a manga “twist”.  Sometimes it’s depictions of magic and the supernatural that more reflects how they’re depicted in Japanese popular culture, but mostly it seems to be attitudes towards romance, gender and sexuality as they’re depicted in shoujo manga (note: “shoujo” means “girl” basically.  Comics for girls).

The stories adapted are “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Rapunzel”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “The Two Brothers”, “Snow White”, “Puss in Boots”, “The Frog Prince” and “The Singing, Springing Lark”.
But let’s get back to that word I used before:“bishonen”.  Pronounced “bee-show-nen”, the word basically translates to “beautiful boy”.  The basic definition is “a young man whose beauty and sexual appeal transcends the boundary of gender and sexual orientation”.  In general, bishonen characters are drawn as slight of build with long, flowing hair and limbs, with delicate features and big, expressive eyes.  Basically, they are drawn with traits that would normally be drawn on women.  Bishonen characters tend to be very popular among girls and women in Japan.  Perhaps it’s because they serve to break down some otherwise rigid social barriers and gender stereotypes.

So, in the version of “Rapunzel” in this manga, the child that is traded away for vegetables and grows into a beautiful adult isn’t a girl, it’s a boy.  Yes, a male Rapunzel complete with absurdly long ponytail.  A lot of the other elements are the same, just gender-swapped.

And in “Hansel and Gretel”, Hansel is a beautiful boy and the witch is a rich lady who wants to support him as a kept man.

And when the princess in “The Twelve Huntsmen” disguises herself as a huntsman, the huntsman is . . . you guessed it . . . a bishonen.  One that her prince feels an undeniable connection to, thus making him question a few things.

There are other stories in there too.  There’s a “Frog Prince” which is more of a “Frog Princess”.  There are versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Puss in Boots” that cast both the wolf and Puss in ways that are more like manga depictions of the yokai of Japanese lore.  There’s also a bittersweet version of “Snow White” in which one of the dwarfs falls for her.

But in the modern world we’re in and the social climate we’re in, it’s probably the bishonen stories that stand out the most.  Society (or at least American society) is questioning just how solid or ingrained qualities like sexuality and gender identity really are.  That might be for the best, too.  It’s good to question things.  Especially things that seem like they’ve simply always been the way they are.
The fairy tale world is far from separate from all this.  One story that’s really caused a buzz lately is a graphic novel titled The Prince and the Dressmaker which is a fairy tale inspired story in which the titular prince doesn’t exactly conform to traditional gender roles.

And right now, there are probably some people reading this post who are feeling weirded out by the whole concept and the fact that things they thought were hard and fast rules of society aren’t anymore.  And that’s okay, actually.  Being weirded out is fine.  It’s just important to remember that just because something’s outside your comfort zone doesn’t mean it’s wrong, bad or fundamentally immoral.

As for Grimms Manga Tales, I think it’s a decent collection of fairy tale adaptations with twists.  I think it does what it sets out to do very well.  It may not be my favorite book of retellings, but it’s far from the worst one I’ve ever read.  I’d especially recommend it to people who like stories that question or subvert the usual gender dynamics in fairy tales.

Until next time.