Saturday, January 29, 2011

Disney's BATB: What might have been

Walt Disney himself had wanted to do Beauty and the Beast, but never got around to it. The first Disney ideas for the fairy tale came in 1983, involving a prince who was turned into a "large, furry, catlike creature" as punishment for scaring animals. Later ideas came from the Cocteau film, with Belle offering Beast water in her cupped hands and a falcon pretending to be stuffed as the sidekick.

In 1988 the screenplay writer for Disney's Oliver & Company and Rescuers Down Under, Jim Cox, submitted two treatments. Setting it in 15th century France, he kept the original tale's two sisters and added three suitors. He introduced the enchanted objects, but they were silent. The candelabra was an homage to Cocteau (which I totally called!)

Cox also wanted the father as an inventor, since it would add humor in the interactions between himself and the objects, as he would assume they were inventions as well. The objects "stumble over themselves in their efforts to please" Beauty. At the end of her first day, "the fantastic images of the day coalesce into a musical dream": hello, Be Our Guest. The suitors and sisters come to attack the Beast and steal his treasure, and are transformed into animals that reflect their faults after Beauty transforms the Beast with a kiss.

The studio liked his ideas enough to play around with them more. Gen LeRoy added Grefoyle, a powerful wizard, who changes Anton, one of three princes, into a beast for poisoning his older brother in order to gain the throne. Christian is the kind youngest prince who gets Belle, a tomboy and practical joker. But Anton gets a magical heart stone and gives Christian the beastly appearance. Belle rescues Christian from the dungeon and they fight Anton together, who falls off a cliff, but Christian's still a Beast. He frees Belle from their betrothal, but she sticks with him, saying, "I've become very fond of your furry're like a big, cuddly cat." Her commitment transforms him to his former shape.

Linda Woolverton was chosen to rewrite this script, which had strayed too far from the classic. Linda initially took the story to the year 1709, but decided that period was too dull. This version involved one sister as well as an imposing aunt, who wants Belle married to the Marquis Gaston.

An early concept for Gaston

There's also a music box, that had once been Belle's mother's, which is destroyed on Maurice's way to the castle. He ends up magically sent home, and Belle travels back to the castle on a magical flying chair and the aunt suggests Gaston attack the castle and claim Belle back. This rewrite was rejected because the action is mainly pushed by the aunt and not Belle or the Beast, and the aunt was close to the wicked stepmother of every other fairy tale in the world. Moments of humor occured at the wrong times, interrupting the potential emotional impact.

The story kept evolving. One idea for the opening sequence involved a seven year old prince rejecting the enchantress in disguise (which could explain why, originally, Lumiere sang "For ten years we've been rusting" in Be Our Guest, though the Beast was not yet 21. In the musical version and newer dvd versions the prologue changed from the rose blooming until the Beast's 21st year to "for many years".) The music box became a sidekick at one point, who communicated musically, but this was eventually discarded altogether; replaced by a cute teacup. The part of Chip was originally just one line, but the other writers liked Woolverton's idea and Chip ended up being the token cute child character.

Belle's music box

For more detail on the evolution of the movie plot, behind the scenes facts and stories, and lots of pictures of concepts for characters and settings, read Tale as Old as Time: the Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast, by Charles Solomon.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mother love...and hate

A friend the other day told me of a story that is apparantly found in many cultures (I believe her source was Ravi Zacharias, but I don't know anything more specific than that.)

There was a young man who fell in love with a beautiful woman. He wanted to marry her, but she gave him a horrible condition: to prove his love for her, he must bring her his mother's heart.

The young man was tormented by this request. He loved his mother, but also was enchanted by this beautiful young woman and desired her hand in marriage. Eventually he decided to kill his mother and ran through the forest, carrying her heart to his beloved. The sun was almost down, and he tripped, the heart flying. Panicked, he looked frantically for the heart, knowing he had to find it before dark. He finally did, and on picking up the heart, it said, "Son, are you hurt? Are you all right?"

My friend's telling of the story ended there, I don't know if it goes on. The point of the story is clearly the bond of mother love, despite abuse she suffers from her children. This story struck me as being a direct contrast to tales such as Snow White, for two reasons:

1. In Snow White, the mother orders her daughter's heart (or other body parts, depending on version) to be cut out, from jealousy. (Yes, it was originally a mother and not stepmother). Here it's the daughter figure asking the same request in a generation reversal, but we can only suppose it's for the same reason.
Disney will market anything, even the infamous heart box-but calling it an heirloom box will ease any apprehensions, right?

2. Fairy tales are well-known for their very strained same-sex familial relationships. Mothers and daughters nearly always hate each other, same with sisters. So mother love apparantly only applies to sons but not to daughters. I'm trying to think of horrible mother-son relationships and can only think of Juniper Tree. But then there are mothers that are equally horrible to children of both sexes, such as the mother in Hansel and Gretel. So while it is refreshing to see a tale that shows a mother that loves and even extravagantly forgives, it still promotes the idea that mothers and daughters can never be friends. Thank you Snow White and Rose Red for being the rarity...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hans Christian Andersen autobiography

"Autobiography was an obsession for Andersen. At age 25, he embarked on a trip, and left instructions for the publication of his first autobiographical sketch should he fail to return alive. In 1855, at age 50, he wrote his first official autobiography; in 1863, he continued his life story."

The Fairy Tale of My Life was Andersen's complete autobiography. Other Amazon reviewers loved this book, but from the little bit I read I got the impression that he was a bit obsessed with himself, a notion which was confirmed by the above bit of information (from the back book cover) and maybe even the title he chose. The book is long-over 500 pages of small type. Normally I'm not the type to be afraid of long books (translation: I'm ashamed to admit if I'm scared off by long books) but I also try not to force myself to finish books I don't enjoy when there are so many out there that I would, so I quit after several pages.

So that's my lame review of a book I hardly read. I personally wouldn't recommend it to any but hardcore Hans Christian Andersen fans, but again, not everyone agrees with me. Anyone else who has read portions or the whole thing is welcome to contribute their opinion in the comments.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Let them eat cake

When I was first told about, I was like, that's stupid, who wants to look at pictures of cakes? But then you read it and it's kind of addicting. Go to this post for a collection of beautiful Disney Princess cakes, like this one:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

For the Fairy Tale Princess in your life...

When the Clock Strikes Midnight

What BIG Teeth you have...

Beast and the Beauty

For a girl who loves things dark and magical and isn't afraid to make a statement, ChYMieRa has some wonderful jewelry inspired by fairy tales, as well as mythology, classic fantasy, vampires, and other subjects that tend to be loved by fairy tale lovers.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jim Henson at Museum of Science and Industry

Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry currently has a special Jim Henson exibit through Jan. 23. The exibit itself was great-it showed his early career, lots of storyboards and original puppets, but then ended abruptly after Dark Crystal. I was disappointed I wouldn't get to learn more about the Muppet movies or my beloved Labyrinth.
The Muppets are no strangers to fairy tales. Jim had done an early commercial with a Hansel and Gretel theme, where the children survive the horrors of the furnace because of some fabric product they were promoting.

The characters also did Frog Prince and Hey, Cinderella:

And I've already shared Muppet Theatre Classic Fairytales, and Surlalune has featured many Muppet News Flash Fairy Tales.

The Museum of Science and Industry is also home to Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle. Pictures from the website; read about it there or in my archives.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Disney BATB fans, brace yourselves

Comic from here

Disney's Beauty and the Beast was my first love, and it got me interested, later, in the history of the tale, and that led to the history of fairy tales themselves, and ultimately to this blog among other things. I find this comic funny and am able to laugh at things while simultaneously loving them.

May I just point out though, that fairy tales are often criticized for being too simplified and black and white. Disney's BATB (not the original French tale) shows a rare thing in that a character is able to change, but this isn't the first time I've seen it criticized for promoting abusive relationships. Either the critics don't believe characters are capable of changing, or that the Beast shows sufficient evidence of doing so in the span of the family friendly cartoon. Personally, I think the fact that he allows Belle to leave, thinking she'll never come back and that he's sealing his doom as a monster for life out of love her her, is plenty of evidence.
But I'm biased, and I first saw this movie when I was 4, and therefore have never been very objective about it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tam Lin and Beauty and the Beast

If you follow Surlalune, which you really should if you are interested in fairy tales-this is only my hobby, but it's her career-she'll give regular links to Fairy Tale Reflections at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles. I read most of them over myself, but only link the ones to here that have to do with Beauty and the Beast.

Gillian Phillip wrote on Tam Lin-a story of a man who was captured by fairies-read the post for a complete summary of the tale. She draws parallels to BATB: "for instance, there's the forbidden forest and the rose motif; the threatening inhuman figure with whom the heroine falls in love; his former identity as a noble young lord; and the fact that the heroine must go through dangers and horrors to rescue him. (There's a theory that Beauty & the Beast is a later bowdlerization of the Tam Lin story, leaving out the sex. I've always rather liked the Disney version more than their other 'fairytales', not least for its gutsy heroine, but it's difficult to imagine it including ravishing among the roses followed by pregnancy...)"

I'd never heard that theory about BATB being taken from Tam Lin, but it's really as closely related as Cupid and Psyche is, the usually credited "ancestor" of the tale.

To further whet your appetite for the whole post, Tam Lin features gender role reversals, also like BATB-the male is effectively the helpless one and must be rescued by the female lover. She also discusses faerie beliefs in Scotland, even relatively current ones.

Illustration by Charles Mikolaycak. At first glance you'd think it was of BATB, right? But it's from Jane Yolen's Tam Lin

The Snow Maiden: A Spring Fairy Tale

The Snow Maiden is a Russian tale that was set to music first by Tchaikovsky, then made into an opera by Rimsky-Korsakoff.

The tale itself is along the veins of the stories of seals, selkies, mermaids, or any other inhuman girl who lives on earth and has trouble with her love life. The Snow Maiden is the daughter of Spring Beauty and Grandfather Frost, and wants to go live with the villagers. The man she loves (Lel) loves another, while she does not love the man who loves her, (Mizgir,) which makes Mizgir's former lover, Kupava, jealous...but she ends up with Lel.

Mizgir still loves the Snow Maiden, and after seeing how happy Lel and Kupava are, the Snow Maiden decided she wants to truly be able to love (apparantly her affection for Lel before didn't cut it.) Yet as the Snow Maiden declares her love, a ray of sunlight appears, and she melts. Everyone is horrified, but it ends the fifteen year long winter under which the villagers had suffered.

The moral of all these stories appears to be that inhuman girls and mortal men can never stay together. Whether these were propogated by men who had been rejected and were feeling sorry for themselves, or women who hated the thought of being chained down, or by people who truly believed in superhuman creatures who were prone to romantic longings but did not belong with mortals, I don't know; but this type of tale is found all across Europe.

The excerpt above is from Rimsky-Korsakoff's opera. Below is from Tchaikovsky's incidental music to the same tale. This movement, Dance of the Tumblers, is very popular:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Before Goldilocks was Goldilocks

I started subscribing to Faerie magazine not too long ago. The latest issue has an article on the history of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, which is an extension of the information that can be found on surlalune. Goldilocks is a fairy tale I probably wouldn't have researched on my own, so I was glad to see it in the magazine and learn a little about its history.

The earliest known manuscript of this tale was a little illustrated book done in 1831 by Eleanor Mure made for her nephew's birthday. The story was referenced in 1813 as well so we know it's been around since before then.

The older tales we know of centered around the bears themselves, and the intruder was actually an old woman. The bears are the protagonists and the intruder the antagonist (reasonably so, when you think about it). Robert Southey's 1837 version of the story (which for years was thought to be an original invention, before the Mure version was discovered) includes all male bears, whose voices were represented by different fonts. Note to the music teachers of the world: you can use this fairy tale as a lesson plan with kindergarteners by having them learn about high and low sounds, and associating high with small and low with large.

Mure's tale has the bears attempting in vain to murder the old woman-their inability to do so probably because she was a witch.

The switch from evil old woman to adorable little girl was began with Joseph Cundall in 1850, who, when explaining why he made the change, wrote that the tale was better known as SILVER-HAIR (although the illustrations to his tale show a little brunette), and that there were plenty of stories with old women (although, I would assume there were also already plenty of tales with little girls).
The name "Goldilocks" was first used in 1904 and made popular when the version by Flora Annie Steel and illustrated by Arthur Rackham appeared with the now-famous name in 1918. Gradually the three bears became a family and narrators became more sympathetic with the little girl. Sometimes she was punished, but the name of the tale is revealing, because it used to be called "The Three Bears" and is now known simply by "Goldilocks." To some, the little bear is the real protagonist. The change of sympathy from bears to little girl reminds me of the reversible verses from Marilyn Singer's excellent, excellent "Mirror, Mirror" (Buy it now. No, seriously):

the headline read.
Next day
Goldilocks claimed,
"They shouldn't have left
the door
She ate the porridge.
a chair.
"Big deal?
They weren't there."

They weren't there.
big deal?
A chair
ate the porridge.
the door.
"They shouldn't have left,"
Goldilocks claimed.
Next day
the headline read:

Heiner mentions a related tale from 1894 in which the trespasser is a fox or vixen-the term "vixen" could have explained the transition from fox to a woman.

Illustrations: Anne Anderson, Arthur Rackham

Sunday, January 2, 2011

James Thurber's Little Girl and the Wolf

Another interpretation of LRRH where Little Red shoots the wolf instead of being the victim-only this one is not quite as modern, being from 1940. Therefore it might not be quite as feministic as reflecting a time when America had just gotten through a Depression and was on the verge of war; people were disillusioned and not as naive, as the moral indicates.

"One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother. Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food. "Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?" asked the wolf. The little girl said yes, she was. So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood.
When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother's house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.
(Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be)"
From Fables for Our Time by James Thurber, New York 1940
Text available here, image by Wendy D. Stolyarov