#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.

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


#312. Crossovers

Popular culture has created a lot of memorable characters over the years. Most of the time, these characters exist in their own, unique universes. However, every once in a while these universes are shown to be part of a larger, more complex universe. In combining these universes, the characters are allowed to cross over into the realms of other famous figures. Usually, these crossovers are possible because an overarching company owns the rights to the characters at large. From Marvel and DC’s respective cinematic universes to Disney’s Kingdom Hearts and Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. video game series, fans love to see their favorite characters interacting together. Even the Hannah-Barbara universe (which gave us The Flintstones meet The Jetsons (1987)) knew this back in the day. This week’s two films look at some character crossovers.

Van HelsingVan Helsing
Year: 2004
Rating: PG-13
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

During the first golden age of cinema in the 1930’s, Universal found success in bringing some of the world’s monsters to life. All the famous Halloween staples like Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), and The Wolfman (1941) are part of the Universal Studios repertoire. It’s no wonder that these characters spawned numerous sequels and crossovers back in their time. Even today, films like Hotel Transylvania (2012) capitalize on their shared universe. Of course, while this animated film is more comedic, Universal brought out their monsters almost a decade earlier in the action-packed Van Helsing (2004), tying them all together via the titular character, who himself was based off the vampire hunter found in the Bram Stroker novel, Dracula. Of course, with the current popularity of cinematic universes, look for these monsters to be rebooted in the near future.

After Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) neutralized the threat of Mr. Hyde (Robbie Coltrane) in the bell tower of Notre-Dame Cathedral (likely also a reference to another famous hunchback), he is sent by the Vatican to Transylvania to kill Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). Intel they have received from Igor (Kevin J. O’Connor) informs them that Victor Frankenstein (Samuel West) is collaborating with Dracula to bring a horde of dead vampire children back to life. Upon finding Frankenstein’s monster (Shuler Hensley), Van Helsing learns that the reason Dracula’s experiment failed was due to the missing monster. The werewolf (Will Kemp), one of Dracula’s lackeys, also learns this information and runs off to tell his master where the reanimated monster has been hiding. Unbeknownst to Dracula, the Vatican has just learned how to defeat the immortal vampire and lets Van Helsing know before their final showdown.

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

Much like Shakespeare in Love (1998) revealed the fictional inspiration for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, The Brothers Grimm (2005) delves into a potential origin story for the famed fairytale founders. Both the TV shows Once Upon a Time and Grimm have taken the numerous Grimm fairytales and combined them into their own shared universes, the former of which did so via their Disney interpretations. Stories like Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and Rapunzel (via Tangled (2010)) all received their Disney treatment over the years. These films don’t even touch on Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rumpelstiltskin, all of which reside within the same Grimm fairytale universe. With these stories in mind, seeing their potential origins in The Brothers Grimm helps to give an idea of the brothers’ inspirations.

Con artists Wilhelm (Matt Damon) and Jakob (Heath Ledger) Grimm soon find themselves out of their depth when they discover that an actual supernatural threat has been causing the girls of a remote village to disappear. An immortal Queen (Monica Bellucci) has been stealing the girls’ youth via an enchanted mirror. While she cannot leave the tall tower where she lives, a werewolf huntsman (Tomáš Hanák) does her bidding. In helping to rid the huntsman of his werewolf curse, Will becomes entrapped by the Queen’s magic, leaving Jake to shatter the magic mirror and releasing the youthful energy trapped within it. Even with the Queen defeated, the girls of the village remain trapped in a state of slumber. It’s up to Jake to kiss the last of the twelve girls in order to wake them all up and break the last piece of the curse. With the adventure over, the brothers mull over the idea of writing down their adventures.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 conglomerations of characters

#229. Terry Gilliam

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about animators after many years of viewing their work on YouTube, amongst other places, it’s that they are perhaps the most dedicated and artistic people around. Anyone can paint something, but when you have to paint that same thing over a million times, you make sure you know precisely what you are doing and what you want to do. And while there are plenty of amateur animators out there, the classically trained ones tend to stand out. Because animation can give you the flexibility to view things in whatever way you want, sometimes the best animators are the ones who have been educated in film so that they know the rules of traditional camera angles and shots and will then know how to obey or break those rules in their animation. While this week’s two films are not animated, they were directed by former animator, Terry Gilliam.

Year: 1985
Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

Very early on in his directing career, Gilliam set his artistic style and has stuck to it ever since. Perhaps due to his extended time working as an animator, many of his films are quite fanciful, filled with bizarre settings and characters. Even the most mundane of occupations can suddenly be given an artistic theme to differentiate it from an even more imaginary world. It’s easy to animate these crazy realms, but to achieve the same effect in live-action can be a bit more difficult. Nevertheless, Terry Gilliam has shown that it can be done with such films as Time Bandits (1981), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), 12 Monkeys (1995), and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). This being said, while adhering to his style, his most controversial title was Brazil (1985), mostly due to the director’s vision not matching up with what studio executives wanted to release.

Working in the bureaucracy of the most banal of government positions, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) often finds himself daydreaming, imagining a more classical world where he is able to save the archetypical damsel in distress. When he is put on task to fix a mistake that led to the unintended death of an innocent man, he runs across Jill Layton (Kim Greist), the very same woman he had been fantasizing about. Even though they have never met, Sam knows they are meant to be together, even if she is hesitant. Transferring to another governmental position, Sam now has the access to Jill’s records and an opportunity to learn more about her. Unfortunately, the government soon comes after her, confirming her fears. Sam comes in and saves the day, but they are soon captured and tortured. While Gilliam’s ending is a bit depressing, the two do manage to escape, even if the reality is false.

Monty Python and the Holy GrailMonty Python and the Holy Grail
Year: 1975
Rating: PG
Length: 91 minutes / 1.52 hours

I have written earlier of Terry Gilliam’s work in animation, so I would be remiss if I did not mention his work with Monty Python. Those who have seen the television show, Flying Circus, will recognize Gilliam’s work in the oddball cut-out animations that often act as scene transitions between skits. When the comedy troupe made the transition to the big screen, Terry Gilliam was right there with them, co-directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) with fellow Python player, Terry Jones. While his iconic animation appears at a few points in the film, the traditional story of Arthurian legend was put on its head in the most amusing of fashions. Perhaps this was why, years later, Gilliam decided to direct another film based on stories from childhood, The Brothers Grimm (2005). Needless to say, Holy Grail stands as Monty Python’s crowning achievement.

King Arthur (Graham Chapman), riding alone with his squire, Patsy (Terry Gilliam), sets out to gather knights join him at Camelot. After collecting a handful of men, he dismembers the Black Knight (John Cleese) and arrives home, only to reconsider when he realizes that it is a “silly place”. At this point, heaven opens up and God commands them to find the eponymous Holy Grail. After an unsuccessful attempt at a French-controlled castle, the group splits up to cover more ground. As each member faces the challenges of the Knights who say Ni, a Three-Headed Giant, an Amazonian castle filled with women, and an unwanted wedding in Swamp Castle, they soon find they are no better off than before. Reforming the group, they find Tim the Enchanter (John Cleese) and proceed to face a deadly rabbit, Beast of Aaargh, and a perilous quiz before finally coming upon the Grail in the French castle again.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 terrific Terry Gilliam titles

Bacon #: 2 (Monty Python and the Holy Grail / John Cleese -> The Big Picture / Kevin Bacon)