While orphans are often considered to be some of the most disenfranchised people-groups in the world, there certainly seem to be a large number of them as main characters in several films. Granted, this is an artifact of a few different genres, most of which want to give the protagonists enough flexibility to go on adventures without being tied down to a home life. Even the ones who do have guardians either don’t have the best ones (as in the “step-mother” archetype) or experience tragedy again when these guardians are also killed. Despite the number of orphans decreasing in the real-world due to better survival rates for parents, somehow the stories of orphans always seem to find interested audiences. Some may fault the writers of these stories for this common ploy, but if it keeps working over centuries of writing, there must be some merit to it. This week’s two films feature orphans as their main characters.
Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events
Length: 108 minutes / 1.8 hours
In part because there are fewer orphans in the world than there used to be, fewer authors are using them in their stories. That being said, there are still several notable literary orphans, the most famous of which is Harry Potter. With the rise in the popularity of superhero movies, we also find many of their main characters are orphans as well. In fact, some have given Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) the facetious title of “Orphan Fight.” Even Marvel superheroes have this trait as well, including Spider-man and Captain America. This trait isn’t even constrained to American comic books, as the long-running Japanese manga, Naruto, had its eponymous character orphaned during a disaster that affected his home village. While many of these orphans have no siblings, one notable group of orphans is the Baudelaire children of Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004).
After the mysterious death of their wealthy parents, the Baudelaire children find themselves in the care of their unscrupulous uncle, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). When the children narrowly avoid an accident with a train, they are taken to live with their other uncle, Dr. Montgomery Montgomery (Billy Connolly). Through unfortunate circumstances involving his beloved reptiles, Dr. Montgomery is killed, and the children are then moved to live with their Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep). Olaf appears again and lets some ravenous leeches kill Josephine. With the children now under his control again, he puts on a play about a wedding with the eldest child, Violet (Emily Browning). Unfortunately, the play is not an act, and Olaf now stands to inherit the children’s bequeathed fortune. Fortunately, the two younger Baudelaires save their sister from her marriage while also learning of the source of the fire that killed their parents.
Length: 153 minutes / 2.55 hours
To many, it may seem strange that orphans are as musical as they appear in cinema. We can certainly blame Disney for this oddity. I know I wouldn’t want to sing in the tragic circumstances of an orphan, but time-and-again we find Disney princesses (as well as other main characters animated by them) cheerily singing despite their lack of parents. This is probably because many of the Disney stories are pulled from fairy tales, where parents often died from a variety of factors. Even Disney’s most recent success, Frozen (2013), features two women orphaned by a shipwreck that killed their parents. Outside of Disney, there are still examples of musical orphans, including that of Lil’ Orphan Annie, who has had many musical adaptations. But, above all these is the most famous orphan of all: Oliver Twist. The musical adaptation in 1968 won Best Picture, as well as five other Oscars.
Oliver Twist (Mark Lester) has a difficult life as an orphan. After asking for more food at the orphanage, the owners sell him into the service of an undertaker. When he gets in trouble, he’s locked in the basement only to escape and head to London. Once in the big city, he becomes involved with a gang of pickpockets and thieves. Wrongfully accused of a crime, Oliver is almost sent to prison were it not for a bookseller who witnessed the crime and could exonerate the orphan. The victim decided to bring Oliver home in the process. Unfortunately, even though Oliver now lives in a life of relative luxury, his past comes back to haunt him. Some of the thieves find Oliver and force him back into stealing. Meanwhile, his benefactor goes about trying to prove that Oliver is the child of a niece of his. Tragedy ensues as a friendly barmaid tries to help Oliver escape the clutches of the thieves, but justice eventually prevails.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 outstanding orphans