Thursday, August 22, 2019

Animation Short: "Iron Hans" by Xun Wang (& Comparison of the Prince with Finn of "Adventure Time")

Since #FolkloreThursday is due to talk about wild men, wild women and wild places on August 22, 2019, we thought it was high time we posted this animated short, telling the fairy tale of Iron Hans.

It was created by animation student Xun Wang (aka Bunnyisgood) for her MFA thesis project, with posts on her process still able to be seen on a dedicated blog HERE. Finished in 2013, it was beautifully designed in collaboration with illustrator Eleanor Davis, and the narrator (Jon Avner) did a wonderful job, with his rough, mature voice.
The short film animates approximately half of the fairy tale, up to when the prince joins the wild man and runs into the dangerous woods, but make sure to continue to watch, as still scenes decorating the credits tell the rest of the story through to the end.


Iron Hans (2013) by Xun Wang adapts traditional animation techniques to retell a classic Grimm Brothers fairy tale of the same name. In collaboration with the illustrator Eleanor Davis, Wang’s poetic animation of flowing 2D drawings transports the viewer to the comfortable dream-like ritual of the nightly bedtime story.
We were not surprised to learn the film did well critically, becoming an Official Selection for The Melbourne International Animation Festival, and garnering another Official Selection for the Golden Orchid International Animation Festival, a semi-finalist for an Adobe Design Achievement Award, and two international student animation wins. All were well deserved!
Some scenes from this animated film have also been used in a short contemporary video, with lots of other clips, discussing Robert Bly's book Iron John - A Book About Men. It includes the reading of some extracts, explaining how Bly sees the fairy tale as a mirror for the maturation boys must undergo to become balanced men - a key part of which is accepting and becoming comfortable with his inner 'wild man'. It's an interesting video, worth the watch and the book is recommended.
We've included the video, "Iron John by Robert Bly - What's Missing in Modern Man", below. It's entertaining yet clear and full of contemporary references, and a quick 8-ish minutes worth your time (there are some other fairy tale references in there too):

We have to mention one very important pop culture tie in that we couldn't help but be reminded of while rewatching the animated short, and that is of the character of Finn in the long-running, fantastic cartoon series Adventure Time.
Adventure Time touches on many myths and fairy tales over the course of the series, sometimes very obviously, sometimes obliquely, but it's clearly telling fables for a purpose, and part of that purpose is the "hero-boy named Finn" a.k.a. "Finn the Human" finding his way in the world and growing into a man.
Clearly, there is no coincidence that Finn has the name he does (think Fionn mac Cumhaill, also known as Finn McCool), and it does require that he succeed at extraordinary and heroic feats for him and his friends to survive. While there are many episodes of Adventure Time that could be paralleled to the Prince's journey in Iron Hans, and it could be extrapolated that, instead of a golden ball, Finn has his golden (yellow) magical dog, (we checked, the parallel holds up!), there is one aspect of Finn that almost broadcasts his journey to manhood and that is of Finn's long golden hair.
Like the prince in Iron Hans, whose hair becomes golden when he accidentally lets it dip into the Wild Man's special spring water (a "no-no", with the results just as telling as the bloody key in Bluebeard, though the punishment is almost the opposite... another subject for another time!) Finn hides his hair under a white eared-cap for much of the series, revealing his long golden locks only at specific moments. Though there are times when it's used like the princess does in the Goose Girl - for distraction - Finn's hair is usually a symbol of taking responsibility or successfully overcoming (yet another) rite of passage. The importance of a moment isn't ever in doubt when Finn's hair appears. Just as in fairy tales, it's clear that hair is a very important symbol in the storytelling. The first glimpse of Finn's hair, doesn't happen until the second season, thirty-six episodes in, and it's a very dramatic reveal:
During the course of the series, there is even a "wild extension" of Finn that eventually splits off from him into a separate person, then-called Fern, that's nature-like, wild and acts like an alternate Finn with a more instinctively destructive nature. Fern struggles with identity issues once he appears and is separated from the original Finn, but clearly remains an external aspect of him. It's a pretty interesting exploration of growing up.
After ten+ seasons over eight and a half years, the widely-loved Adventure Time recently had its series finale (September 2018), something of a challenge with the "winding path (that) led us from small-scale whimsy to intergalactic adventure, building up dense layers of mythology, making for hours worth of wiki-reading", to quote Forbes, but it wrapped up the main thrust of the show well; that of a boy searching the wilds of the world, and himself, to figure out who he was and where his place was to be, as he grew from boy to man. The final episode even delivered a symbolic resolution for Fern, Finn's doppleganger, by using him to bookend the beginning of the series in an unexpected, unique and very satisfying way. Even more interesting, the finale didn't 'finish', exactly, except to imply that they (as the character BMO says) "lived their lives" and the adventure continues -  a very fairy tale ending indeed.

For a contemporary equivalent of the Iron Hans tale, Adventure Time - and the character of Finn in particular - makes for a fascinating case study.

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