Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Before they became the special property of children, fairy tales used to belong to everyone. Sitting around the fire, folks of all ages listened to stories about Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, and their fairyland kin. Then in the Nineteenth Century they became children’s literature when Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published a famous collection of the tales and re-branded them Kinder und Haumärchen (“Children’s and Household Stories”) and--with considerable help from Walt Disney--the very young were appointed special guardians of these stories. The little tykes didn’t stand a chance.
There have been many adult poachers, among them writers who have had their way with the tales and retold them for mature audiences--see, for example, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Anne Sexton’s Transformations. Other have ransacked them for laughs (Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods) or fodder for psychoanalysis (Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment). In the last few months, however, two films have appeared that suggest the fairy tales are now being co-opted by teens and goths: Beastly and Red Riding Hood.
In truth, this phenomenon of co-opting children’s stories into y.a. films is a contemporary phenomenon. Consider Spike Jonze’s film version of Where the Wild Things Are where the youngster Max from the picture book has put on a few years and now suffers from adolescent moodiness brought on by his parents’ divorce and the film’s punk rock soundtrack. The same can be seen in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland where the title character is no longer a carefree juvenile and a girl in a pinafore but (as played by the towering actress Mia Wasikowska) a nineteen-year-old concerned about her future.
Read Jerry Griswold on "Beastly" and "Red Riding Hood" in Parents' Choice:
Read Maria Tatar on these films at her blog Breezes from Wonderland:
Read Beth Accomando at her blog Cinema Junkie: