Thursday, March 9, 2017

Guest Post: 'Five Fairy Tale Films & Their Forgotten Beginnings' by Diamond Grant

Every year we find ourselves watching feature films based on classic tales throughout the seasons, some of which relate better to winter, others more fitting for summer. It's inevitable we'll discover new fairy tale films as part of our culture.

By the time most people hear about fairy tales, they've been turned into huge cinematic films, but we often forget their humble beginnings. Some of the most popular and loved films that have made their way into most families’ favorite collections all started as lesser-known fairy tales.

Some stories were adapted or loosely based upon original tales and characters from writings, while others stayed truer to the story that not. It's worth paying homage to where these beloved films originated, and to possibly learn some lesser known facts of how they made it to the big screen.

Let's start with one you probably know well, both as film and tale. Will we still be able to surprise true fairy tale fans here with some forgotten facts? Let's find out!

The Little Mermaid
Disney's 'The Little Mermaid' development art

We're all familiar with the feature Disney film The Little Mermaid. Not so many know it started out as a lengthy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen. A master storyteller, Andersen's stories are the source for many of the household fairy tale films we've all come to adore today. The film stays true to the written story in many of the main parts; however, there are some differences between the tale and movie that are startling.

The comedic characters Sebastian, Scuttle and Flounder, while great additions to the film, do not appear in the original, although the little mermaid is described as being so friendly with the fish of the sea that they would eat out of her hand, much like stereotypical land princesses who are friendly with forest creatures. Less well known is that in Andersen's tale the little mermaid ultimately discovers she needs a soul (apparently merpeople aren't gifted with them) so she can avoid a foamy death after living for 300 years in the sea. To win the love of a human is the only way she's able to gain an immortal soul. In the film, she spots Eric, whom she falls for after seeing him for the first time but there's no complication of needing a soul. She'd be happy just to have legs - and Eric, of course. Ursula, who tempts Ariel with this possibility, is portrayed in the film as a witch who has her own agenda and actively wants to make life difficult for the mermaid. In the fairy tale the sea witch is the conduit of fate.
Disney's 'The Little Mermaid', Triton's Kingdom development art
Disney's 'Aladdin' development art

This well-known film and character originate from a lesser-known book of tales entitled One Thousand and One Nights, later referred to as Arabian Nights. Oddly, the story of Aladdin only appeared in the editions after the first European translation was made by Antoine Galland between 1704 and 1717, which has led some to believe he created the character and his story.

In the original works, a woman named Shahrazhad (or Scheherazade) used her wits and creativity to delay her inevitable execution as she told the tale of Aladdin, and many others, to King Shahriyar. Each night, she told him part of the story, and because he wanted to hear more, he kept her alive.

The Disney film uses character traits and ideas from popular movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Thief of Baghdad, for their version and, reinforcing these tropes is set in Arabia, while the original was set in China. Whether or not Aladdin was Chinese remains a mystery!
Disney's 'Aladdin' development art
Chicken Little
Disney's Chicken Little (2005) concept art

In the original tale of Henny Penny, the main character, more commonly known in the US as Chicken Little, expresses and justifies her fears. The most popular Disney adaptation of Chicken Little is a science-fiction sequel that came out in 2005. Foxy Loxy becomes a bully instead of a rival and both Chicken Little and Foxy Loxy switched genders. Chicken Little is now a little boy and Foxy Loxy is a girl.

Not many know that before this quirky CG retelling, that there was a 1943 Disney adaptation which was manufactured at the request of the United States government to disgrace, and discourage Nazism and what it stood for.

(If you weren't aware of this before it will make watching Chicken Little again quite a different experience, won't it?)

The Princess and the Frog
Disney's 'The Princess and the Frog' development art
The Princess and the Frog was derived from the book The Frog Princess, a middle school novel written by E.D. Baker, who used ideas from the original Frog King (better known as The Frog Prince) fairy tale. The film caught the attention of many because it was the first Disney movie to include a black princess.

The moral of the story differs between tale and film. The fairy tale can be seen to suggest that you can get what you want in life even if you don't deserve it. The movie altered this to be a more suitable and uplifting for todays viewers, showing you can get what you want if you work for it.

The prince transformation differs greatly too. In the tale, the frog is thrown violently at a wall, which releases him from his enchantment, whereas in the movie, the frog turns into a prince when he is kissed. A nice little nod is given to this story's origins in the form of a fairy tale book that's read aloud in the film, retelling a more modern and familiar version where the frog must be kissed - giving the frog his reason for seeking a princess in the first place.
Disney's 'The Princess and the Frog' development art
Disney's 'Frozen' character development and design
Now a part of mainstream Western culture, the film Frozen is a family favorite. But where did it really come from? Most fans know by now that Frozen originates from the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Snow Queen. What's less well known is that The Snow Queen is a segmented story, with seven unique 'episodes', each illustrating problems and solutions the heroine must face on her journey to save her friend. Differing from the movie, the tales' main characters are Gerda and Kay, who are like brother and sister though not blood-related.

It's also worth mentioning that in the original material, there are no trolls. The only similarity is the goblin (also described as the devil) who created the evil mirror that shatters, a sliver of which pierces Kay's eye and freezes his mind and heart. In an interesting parallel between movie and tale, in the fourth section of The Snow Queen, Gerda is told a story of marriage by a raven, about a princess who was fixated on getting hitched. In the film, Anna is very keen to marry Hans, so it's possible to see similarities in morals and lessons of the two versions.

Disney's 'Frozen' development art
Watch or Read?

Has dipping into the details on these classics given you a thirst for binge-watching these films? You can watch them on Netflix or use a U.S. connection if you're outside the country and desperately want access. Keep an eye out for the similarities and differences mentioned in this article; you can see where Hollywood has been creative or strayed from the original works and decide whether you like it or not.

It's also great fun reading the tales to see just how differently you interpret the stories. What your mind creates from the creativity of words will be different to what you see on screen. It also gives you an insight of how film manufacturers would have gone about deciding what to put in their movies and how to take the most entertaining and essential parts out to animate them.

Have knowledge on some differences between original works in fairy tales and movies? Or some cool information on where fairy tales were born? Leave a comment below.

Diamond Grant is a fairy tale enthusiast who enjoys reading original works and watching feature films. She also likes uncovering differences between versions of fairy tales, opening up a discussion as to which are more entertaining.

Thank you for being our guest writer today Diamond!

Would you like to write a fairy tale focused guest post for Once Upon A Blog? We'd love to hear from you!
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1 comment:

  1. Walt Disney's groundbreaking animated film version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the 1930's literally exploded US box offices. The Grimm's Brother's second version of Little Snow-White, provided Walt Disney with basis of his inspiration. In retelling Little Snow-White, Walt Disney too met the challenges of audience-induced, story-adaptations. One was meeting North American and European cultural standards of what a socially acceptable marrying age is or should be. Legal sex at the age of seven wasn't going to make it by today's standards. The former, publicly torturous death by dance got artfully re-crafted into death by nature via a one way ticket over a mountainous cliff fueled by a striking touch of lightning. Walt Disney also added his infamous signature adaptation of the Prince's magical kiss used to awaken Snow White, his soon to be bride, from an enchanted sleep. A touch of romance surpassing Grimm's rendition of an angry servant carelessly slamming the glass coffin; intentionally or unintentionally.