#313. Grimm Fairy Tales

With the resurgent popularity of fairy tales having reached its apex a few years ago, it was interesting to note that many of these children’s stories were collected together by only a handful of people. Originally, these stories were meant to scare children into obeying their parents, but over time they evolved into less violent plotlines. While we might consider Hans Christian Andersen to have penned many of these classic fairy tales, like The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Snow Queen, and The Ugly Duckling, Andersen actually came after the Grimm brothers. Despite not necessarily being the original authors of their collected fairy tales, these brothers were the first to bring these stories together in a single, cohesive format. This week’s two films highlight a few adaptations of these Grimm fairy tales.

The Brothers GrimmThe Brothers Grimm
Year: 2005
Rating: PG-13
Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours

Most people will know that the fairy tales we are told when we are children aren’t real. The characters and scenarios that once taught a lesson were manufactured for education on how to behave. Once they were collected together and written down for commercial purposes, these fairy tales became quite a bit more entertaining and much less terrifying. But what if these stories were based on something that actually happened? It has been said, “write what you know,” so if these Grimm brothers had actually experienced some of these fairy tales, it would then stand to reason that they would know about them and know how to transcribe them into a written form. This is the interpretation taken by the Terry Gilliam-directed film The Brothers Grimm (2005), combining together a number of known themes and motifs from the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales.

Both the Grimm brothers, Wilhelm (Matt Damon) and Jakob (Heath Ledger) don’t believe in supernatural forces. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from tricking villages out of their savings to rid the area of curses and witches. So, it comes to their surprise that a village where young girls are vanishing is actually due to a real paranormal entity. The evil Queen (Monica Bellucci) holed up in her tower has been absorbing the youth and beauty of many girls over her 500-year lifespan by drinking their blood. Each time the ceremony is performed, twelve girls are needed. With ten girls missing already, the Grimm brothers find that one of the girls of the village is the daughter to the werewolf woodsman (Tomáš Hanák) who has been placed under the Queen’s curse. In breaking his curse, Will manages to fall into an enchanted sleep that only Jake can reverse.

TangledTangled
Year: 2010
Rating: PG
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

In 1937, Disney began their long history of adapting fairy tales into feature-length animated movies. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) was pulled from the Grimm fairy tale about Snow White. Even though they used fairy tales from other sources (like Hans Christian Anderson), they would return to these classic stories for many years to come. Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and The Princess and the Frog (2009) were all influenced at least in part by the fairy tales the Grimm brothers collected centuries ago. Up until 2010, these movies had maintained similar titles to their Grimm counterparts. What would have normally been titled Rapunzel ended up being renamed Tangled (2010). They took a similar naming convention three years later with Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen being titled Frozen (2013) and five years after that with the upcoming Gigantic (2018).

Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) has lived for more than 500 years due to a plant she found that was grown from a single drop of sunlight. Since this plant has restorative powers, the nearby kingdom searched for it in order to save the Queen, who was ill during childbirth. Consequently, the flower’s powers were transferred into the hair of their daughter: Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), whom Gothel kidnaps and hides in a solitary tower. Years later, Rapunzel wants to see the world, unaware that her uncut hair is the only thing keeping her “mother” alive. As fate would have it, rogue thief Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) finds this hidden tower and uses it to escape some palace guards. Rapunzel uses the opportunity of her first and only visitor to escape the tower to see the lanterns being released on her birthday in memory of her kidnapping. Will she find out who she truly is before Gothel captures her again?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great Grimm fairy tales

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#287. Emily Browning

What’s interesting about child actors is watching them grow up on screen. As mentioned a few weeks ago, sometimes they seem to grow up too fast (like in the case of Jennifer Connelly’s more adult roles). Of course, this phenomenon always leaves the audience with the sense of loose familiarity. They’ll ask themselves, “Isn’t that ‘so-and-so’?” only to find out that the completion of puberty can sometimes drastically change an actor or actress. Depending on how committed to acting they are, these child actors will sometimes undergo a hiatus to finish schooling before committing their careers to acting. Because of this hiatus, the change can seem just that much more extreme. Of the number of child actors still acting today, Emily Browning has moved into the role of a more serious actress almost seamlessly. This week’s two films highlight recognizable films on either side of her hiatus.

Sucker PunchSucker Punch
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours

A lot can happen in seven years. A sixteen-year old girl can grow up into a twenty-three-year old woman in that time. However, with a number of starlets at that age, it can be easy to interchange them. For instance, Emily Browning was chosen to be the main heroine of theTwilight series, but turned it down, thus opening the role to Kristen Stewart. On the other side of this exchange, she has replaced a number of actresses in a number of films. From replacing Mia Wasikowska in Sleeping Beauty (2011) to replacing Ophelia Lovibond inSummer in February (2012), Browning has stood in and made the roles her own, thus making it seem like she was meant to play these roles as the first choice, instead of the second. One of the first films after her school hiatus, Sucker Punch (2011), saw her replace Amanda Seyfried in the main role of Babydoll, but I don’t know if I could ever envision anyone else in that role.

Wrongfully imprisoned in a mental institution, Babydoll (Emily Browning) imagines her new home as a brothel where her fellow inmates are dancers for high rollers. For her first dance, she hallucinates a world filled with giant robotic samurai, but she also meets a Wise Man (Scott Glenn), who tells her that there are four items to an escape, as well as a fifth, unknown item. With each subsequent dance, she hallucinates a different scenario to help her gain the items. From steampunk war trenches to obtain a map to killing a dragon to obtain fire to disarming a bomb on a train to obtain a knife, most of these items are obtained without incident. However, the knife operation was botched and one of her friends died. Finally understanding that the fifth item is a selfless sacrifice, it is revealed that the whole scenario was a pre-lobotomy vision in Babydoll’s brain.

Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events
Year: 2004Lemony Snicket's: A Series of Unfortunate Events
Rating: PG
Length: 108 minutes / 1.8 hours

Before she went back to school to complete her education, Emily Browning already had a number of films under her belt. While the one she is most known for was the one released prior to her hiatus, Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), wasn’t nearly as dark as her other films. From Ghost Ship (2002) to Ned Kelly (2003) to Darkness Falls (2003), these films were decidedly more dramatic or horrific than the more family-friendly fare of Lemony Snicket. This is what makes a recognizable role a bit of a problem. Just because an actress appeared in a film that made her name recognizable, doesn’t mean that the rest of her filmography fits in that genre. If anything, Lemony Snicket was an outlier in a career that has since become much more serious and much more adult.

The eldest of the Baudelaire children, Violet Baudelaire (Emily Browning), holds their small family together after their parents’ deaths. Along with her younger brother, Klaus (Liam Aiken), and baby sister, Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman), Violet outsmarts their closest relative, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), who is only interested in them because of the money he could inherit from them. In a series of unfortunate events, including a near-miss with a train, the poisoning death of an uncle, a violent hurricane, the leech-related death of an aunt, and a play with false pretenses, the children manage to survive only to be found by Count Olaf again and again. In the last event, he manages to marry Violet and is thus entitled to the fortune of her parents. Fortunately, at the same time, the two younger Baudelaires discover the origin of the fire that killed their parents while also saving Violet from her marriage.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 of the best from Emily Browning

Bacon #: 2 (Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events / Meryl Streep -> The River Wild / Kevin Bacon)

#036. Dreamworks vs. Disney

Anyone from an economics background could tell you that a monopoly does not induce a spirit of creativity. If one group controls the entirety of an output, what motivation do they have to be innovative? Disney has been the epitome of feature-length animated features for almost a century. Other animations studios may have come and gone, but Disney remained. This monopoly over the animated film market was finally challenged in 1998, when the fledgling studio known as Dreamworks released its first full-length animated feature, Antz. This was a firm stand against Pixar (a Disney subsidiary) and it’s 1998 film A Bug’s Life. Now that computers have made it easier to do feature-length animated films, more studios have stepped up to try and take on the Disney giant. While Dreamworks has seen varying levels of success, they have held their own against the Disney empire and still continue to release films to this day. This week’s two films highlight some representative works of both sides of this animation battle.

How to Train Your Dragon
Year: 2010
Rating: PG
Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours

Being the new kids on the block, Dreamworks took a while to really find what works in an animated film. While Disney and Pixar focused on story and plot, Dreamworks tended toward gags and franchising. Their first real hit came in 2001 with Shrek, which took Best Animated Picture in the Oscars, heralding their arrival as an animation studio. Even though Dreamworks tends to rely on sequels (generally going out to 4 films) and high profile voice actors, it wasn’t until 2010 and their release of How to Train Your Dragon that they really were able to get down to the root of a great film: story. Even though Dreamworks hasn’t really done many classically animated films (for which Disney is well known), they came in on the ground floor of the fledgling computer generated imaging (CGI) animated films, which really gave Disney a run for its money.

How to Train Your Dragon is definitely a departure from the standard Dreamworks fare, which saw a definite shift in 2008 with Kung-Fu Panda. It seemed that in 2008, they finally grasped what computer animated features could be capable of, and fully utilized that to provide a very action packed film. With 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon, the action and spectacular visuals were there, but fused with a great story; which comes as no surprise as it was directed by the same duo that gave us Disney’s Lilo and Stitch. Themes such as “Brain over Brawn” and “Anti-discrimination” were definitely deeper than the simplistic plots that seemed to dominate the Dreamworks landscape. As Dreamworks continues to grow and mature, I look forward to the films they’ll create to compete with Disney and Pixar.

Aladdin
Year: 1992
Rating: G
Length: 90 minutes / 1.5 hours

Even though Disney initially used Pixar as their CGI powerhouse, they’ve gradually been able to make these types of films, for which this year’s Wreck-it Ralph looks like a pure Disney classic. And yet, if there’s one thing that Disney has been known for, it’s the classically animated films of the 20th Century. These feature-length films were certainly impressive when you come to think about what goes into making 90 minutes of animation, all drawn by hand. And yet, with 50 animated films, Disney has seen various levels of success over the years, which helps to evolve the studio to match changes in society, while still holding to a high standard of quality.

Aladdin is definitely in the short list for my favorite Disney films (along with Tangled and Sleeping Beauty). I think this is partly due to the protagonist and main focus being on a guy, instead of a princess, for which Disney set the standard. In fact, Aladdin flipped that format on its head by having the street-rat pursuing the princess Jasmine, with whom he had fallen in love, instead of focusing on the princess longing for true love and waiting for her prince to appear. This also provides an interesting twist to the prince/princess formula, since it enforced the importance of riches and background instead of true love, which shouldn’t be restricted by such societal boundaries. Aside from its non-traditional Disney approach, Aladdin is still a fun film filled with action, adventure, comedy, love, and magic. All the elements that have made Disney successful in the past.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 animation powerhouses