Friday, June 6, 2014

Guest Post: Elizabeth Eckhart on Maleficent

I'm very happy to have Elizabeth Eckhart back with another guest post! This time she discusses the new Disney movie Maleficent!

Many people have grown up hearing the stories of the Grimm brothers, whether they’re aware of it or not. The German duo is infamous for their dark fairy tales preaching morality and punishing the wicked, however, many of those stories were slowly changed and reinterpreted over time into the much more child-friendly versions most of us are familiar with today. In fact, one of their most famous stories, Sleeping Beauty, is undergoing another reinterpretation in the new film Maleficent, which is hitting theaters this weekend. In honor of the film, let’s take a look at some of the other interpretations of famous Grimm stories.

Little Red Riding Hood

This European folk tale was originally published by French author Charles Perrault as Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (meaning little red cloak/cape) in 1697. His version was very moralized, so much so that he even finished the story with a warning to little girls to not listen to strangers. The Grimm version was undoubtedly influenced by Perrault's version, but the little girl and her grandmother are instead saved by a huntsman looking for the wolf's skin. They also wrote a sequel, where the townspeople trap and kill wolves based on their knowledge of the wolves’ moves from the first encounter. However, both versions were modified and watered down by the brothers in later publishings far before it became the well-known story it is today.

                Of course the story has been adapted even further by different authors and artists, the most recent of which is the 2011 film Red Riding Hood starring Amanda Seyfried. It’s also a featured plotline on the NBC television series Grimm which is based off of the brothers’ stories (both the series and film are streamable online or available on demand through your cable provider). In addition to adaptations on screen, there’s the extremely popular musical Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, which incorporates not only Little Red Riding Hood but also themes from other fairy tales as well. And, of course, there is Hungry Like The Wolf by Duran Duran, which is said to have been inspired by the wolf in the story.

                The tale has even been transformed into YA lit, with titles such as Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakely-Cartwright and the more gory, popular interpretation, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce which follows a one-eyed werewolf slayer named Scarlet.

Snow White

                While Snow White’s modern popularity is obviously credited to Walt Disney thanks to his internationally known animated version of the fairy tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Grimm Brothers were telling this story long before Disney was. Their original publishing of this German folk tale was in 1812, and their version was largely copied by Disney for his film adaptation. In fact, it is the Disney fairy tale adaptation that remains most true to its original story.

                The numerous similarities between the two include an evil stepmother consumed by vanity, a magic mirror, seven dwarves, a huntsman, a poisoned apple, and a glass coffin. Like most Grimm fairy tales, the brothers’ tale included some elements that were excluded from later adaptations, including the fact that the Queen requested Snow White’s liver and lungs to eat, not her heart, the fact that the Queen tried twice to kill Snow White before giving her a poisoned apple (one of the times she disguised herself as a seamstress and pulled Snow White’s corset so tight she fainted), and finally that the evil Queen’s final punishment was to wear red hot iron shoes and dance until she died.

                The latest film adaptations of this classic story both came in 2012 when two films that built off Grimm’s story were released; Mirror, Mirror with Lily Collins and Julia Roberts follows the original for the most part, while taking a much more saccharine approach to it, while Snow White and the Huntsman starring Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron takes many liberties from the original story – such as the Raven Queen being able to transform into a flock of birds.

                The book version of Snow White and the Huntsman received poor reviews, but so far Maleficent’s novelization seems to be faring better. Other written renditions based on Snow White are Six Gun Snow White, where the heroine’s tale is transported to the Old West, and Snow White And Rose Red, which is a renaissance version by Patricia C. Wrede.


                This is yet another example of a folk tale making its way around Europe and taking on new forms. The story of Rapunzel was first recorded in 1698 by French author Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force under the title Persinette. The Grimm brothers published their version, called Rapunzel, in 1812, which helped solidify it as a classic fairy tale.

                It took Disney a while to tackle this classic fairy tale; their version, Tangled, came out in 2010, and goes far more off plot compared to the original story than past Disney adaptations ever did. The stories both include the trademarks, like Mother Gothel, Rapunzel being trapped in a tower, and, of course, her long hair, but that’s more or less where the similarities between the two end.

                In the original, Rapunzel is sold by her parents in exchange for her father not being punished by Gothel (who is a witch) for stealing from her garden to feed his pregnant wife’s cravings. Eventually Rapunzel is courted by a stranger, but it’s a prince, not a thief like in Disney’s film. Also, in Grimm’s tale Rapunzel becomes pregnant, which is why Gothel then cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and banishes her to the woods. Gothel then tricks the prince to climb the tower again – he then jumps from the tower and is blinded by the thorns below. However, he eventually finds Rapunzel (with their twin children) and her tears cure his blindness.

                The most famous modern literary adaptation is Cindy C. Bennett’s Rapunzel Untangled and Alex Flinn’s more traditional The Towering.

Thanks Elizabeth for your commentary!

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