The re-imagining of the fairy tale

Princess Aurora stood in front of giant thorns.

Ask anyone in 2014 what a good fairy tale is, and they will probably point towards the works of Walt Disney – and rightly so. Classics such as Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, or in more recent times Frozen, capture the hearts and minds of children and adults alike all over. But what if they aren’t what they seem? Would you believe me if I told you that Frozen started out as a brutal tale about an evil witch kidnapping children?

The Snow Queen is a classic tale that was written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1884, and at its heart it is a tale about good and evil, from the perspectives of two children. Although Frozen is based on this classic, it certainly tells a different story. In The Snow Queen, the titular character is the evil villain, however in Frozen the same character is the beautiful queen called Elsa, who treats her powers as a curse. The Snow Queen is a benevolent, powerful and dangerous being to be feared, yet Elsa is a misunderstood woman who, after all, only needed the love of her sister to stop chaos ensuing. There are common themes through both representations, but ultimately one thing can be seen – time has changed this classic fairy tale.

Elsa using her ice magic.

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What used to be a dark tale of good vs. evil is now a light-hearted flick (with comic relief snowman included). So what has changed? Do today’s audiences only want these fairy tales, and are the dark morals of old stories not appreciated any more? Looking at the latest details for Disney’s Maleficent, perhaps the darker side of these fairy tales has not been lost to the ages.

Thought of as one of the most sinister Disney villains, Maleficent is fairly unknown. During Sleeping Beauty she is pretty horrible, cursing the poor Princess Aurora to die before her 16th birthday. But, low and behold, good triumphs evil and the Princess is saved by the handsome Prince Phillip, etc etc. In Maleficent, however, it looks like the tables could be turning. Disney are returning to deliver the untold story of one of the most iconic villains to date in a retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty, but from the perspective of Maleficent.

Snow White, the Huntsman and Ravenna.

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There really is true potential here to turn the iconic fairy tale back into the darker fantasy tales of old. And this isn’t the first time this has happened. The classic story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was once re-imagined as the action film Snow White and the Huntsman, which shifts the focus away from the comic relief dwarves and onto the grittier side of things. And again, in the 2011 horror re-imagining of Red Riding Hood, the classic fairy tale was given a dark twist. This time, the wolf is actually a werewolf and preys on an entire town.

Should the classic fairy tale formula be left alone? The original tales of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm definitely had darker elements to them, but the majority of modern re-tellings are much lighter and happier in tone. Do people want these versions, or should we be looking to the past for inspiration? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

This week in history: 28th April – 4th May

Sergio Leone and a poster for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
Bing Crosby with a pipe.

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This week’s TWIH post celebrates the life of a certain Spaghetti Western legend, and showcases the births of two fantastic actors.

On the 2nd of May, 1901, Bing Crosby was born in Tacoma, Washington. He started out singing in a band called Musicaladers. From then, he stormed the US, hitting his musical peak with his 1941 cover of White Christmas. His acting career was plentiful as well, with greats such as White Christmas (1954), Going My Way (1944), and The Bells of Saint Mary’s (1945).

The actor Daniel Day-Lewis was born on the 29th of April, 1957 in London. He has starred in a number of critically acclaimed films such as My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007) and Lincoln (2012). He is best known for his use of method acting. For example, in the filming for My Left Foot, in which Day-Lewis played the role of the Irish artist Christy Brown, he spent almost the entire film shoot in a wheelchair.

And now, on to a sadder note. On the 30th of April in 1989, the great western director, producer and screenwriter Sergio Leone passed away. He leaves behind a legacy of many fantastic Spaghetti Western films, and is renowned for his use of extreme close up shots combined with lengthy long shots. A selection of his best and most critically acclaimed films follows:

The Last Days of Pompeii (1954), The Colossus of Rhodes (1961), the Dollars Trilogy, and Duck, You Sucker! (1971).

Who framed Roger Rabbit?

A stunned Bob Hoskins looks at the beautiful 'toon' Jessica Rabbit to his right
A stunned Bob Hoskins looks at the beautiful 'toon' Jessica Rabbit to his right

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One of my fondest childhood cartoons is not your usual Sleeping Beauty, or even the 90s classic Fairly Odd Parents (although both are undeniably fantastic), I actually have fond memories of watching the 1988 classic Who framed Roger Rabbit on an old video tape over and over.

Who framed Roger Rabbit is a fantasy comedy film, part live action, part animated ‘toons’. Starring the late Bob Hoskins alongside Christopher Lloyd as well as Donald Duck, Betty Boop and Tweety Bird. In the 1947 alternate reality cartoon characters are living beings and spend their time recording TV shows just as human actors do (see below).

Bob Hoskins stars as Eddie Valiant; a heavy drinker who resents toons since his brother, Teddy, was killed when a toon dropped a piano on them. He is reluctantly hired to investigate rumours that Jessica Rabbit is having an affair with Acme. Roger Rabbit, Jessica’s partner, is distraught when he sees Valiant’s photographs of Jessica playing ‘patty-cake’ with Acme. He runs away which makes him prime suspect when Acme is found murdered the following day.

The rest of the film follow Eddie, Roger and Jessica trying to find the real killer along with Acme’s will which is believed to leave Toontown to the toons – otherwise it will be sold to Cloverleaf Industries. All while trying to steer clear of Jude Doom (Christopher Lloyd) and his toon disolving‘Dip’.

It’s an interesting mixture of comedy and action; entertaining as a child but equally as interesting when watching a decade later (especially seeing as you now understand the adult references).

Produced by Walt Disney Studios in Elstree Studios, Hertfordshire, the live action for Who framed Roger Rabbit was of course filmed without the cartoons and took seven months. To overcome the issue of toons realistically interacting with live action props, the makers of the film used motion control machines operated to move the props in the desired way. Sometimes the same effect was achieved using string.

Full sized rubber models of Roger Rabbit were used during filming so that the actors could understand how large their co-star was. Betsy Brantley stood in for Jessica Rabbit during filming, you can see her in Jessica’s performance scene in the picture below. She was removed in post-production using a split-screen device and then animation was drawn on top.

A young woman (Betsy) stands in the spotlight in a dim bar, performing as Jessica Rabbit, her male co-stars stare in awe

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Animation was led by Richard Williams and married with the live action in post-production. The process took 14 months and was done using cels (transparent sheets on which are hand-drawn animations are drawn) and optical compositing. The animators would draw on animation paper over black and white prints of the live action scenes.

This film is a classic and a must see; a comedy that never tires and my favourite performance from the late Bob Hoskins.