Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Fun with Fairy Tales

To cheer myself up since I've been battling a cough and losing since I returned from London, I went to see Enchanted last night. Can I say it was absolutely adorable and not just because Patrick Dempsey has the most perfect hair on the planet. Seriously, he should be cloned, or donate his body to science after his death, so that scientists can figure out why his hair is no amazing. And the rest of him is not bad either. Move over Matthew McConaughey, Patrick Dempsey (along with Hugh Jackman) makes a perfect romantic comedy hero. He may not have that twinkle in his eye the way Josh Lucas did in Sweet Home Alabama, but he's decent, and kind, and sexy and you just know that he would care about your satisfaction in bed.

Umm, where was I? Oh yeah, about the film. The basic premise is that Disney took every fairy tale cliche put in a blender and came up with the plot of Enchanted. I'm not say that's a bad thing. The animated sequence at the beginning of the film reminded me of the animated classics from the 1950's.

And then when the evil Queen Nerissa, played by Susan Sarandon like she's having the time of her life, banishes Giselle to New York City, the movie really takes off. Amy Adams is so perfectly cast as Giselle. She manages to be sweet and earnest without being cloying and annoying. You don't want to hit with a cluebat for not knowing what anger is. And I loved her making her dresses out the living room curtains. Patrick Dempsey's character doesn't believe in love because his wife ran off and left him and their adorable daughter Morgan who wants to believe in fairy-tales, despite her father giving her a book on important women for her birthday instead of say a Little Mermaid DVD. Speaking of which did anyone else get that his secretary was played by Jodi Benson who was the voice of Ariel in Little Mermaid?

The biggest weakness in the film is the character of Robert's girlfriend played by Idina Menzel. First of all, I thought it was a waste to cast her and not even give her a chance to sing at the end. Two, she really doesn't have much of a character. We hardly see her and you have no idea if she's supposed to be the evil girlfriend or the female equivalent of the Bellamy (the Bellamy is the character that Ralph Bellamy played in a series of romantic comedies where he was the decent boyfriend who got dumped by the heroine, usually for Cary Grant).

The other reason that I wanted to see Enchanted is because I went to a roundtable at the Philoctetes Center on Friday about fairy tales. The genesis for the roundtable seems to have come from recent article in Time, entitled "The End of Fairy Tales?" In the article, the author James Poniewozik refers to Shrek and other recent fairy-tale films and writes, "This is a new world of fairy tales: parodied, ironized, meta-fictionalized, politically adjusted and pop-culture saturated. . . . What these stories are reacting against is not so much fairy tales in general as the specific, saccharine Disney kind, which sanitized the far darker originals."

I was excited to see that Donna Jo Napoli, who is a YA author was going to part of the panel, but I have to say that I was a little underwhelmed with the discussion this time. There was very little talk about how fairy tales have been transformed in different ways, particulary for adults. This panel did kind of talk about the sources of fairy tales but it was sort of haphazard. I loved Donna Jo Napoli's story about the Inuit and their traditions as well as the Sicilian storytellers that she's met. Apparently in Europe as well as among the Inuit, they don't censor the stories if children are around.

A lot of the talk centered around the definition of fairy tales, myths, and bible stories, and the violence in fairy tales and how they might affect children. Truthfully I never found fairy tales any scarier or violent than Saturday morning cartoons. Most fairy tales seem to have a moral center, or a warning. Look at Hansel & Gretel, getting lost in the woods, and being taken in by the witch. Talk about what happens when you talk to strangers! or Cinderella? That story still has resonance given how many families nowaways include a step-parent.

I really wanted to ask the panel what they thought about fairy tales being interpreted in erotic literature, paricularly Angela Carter's Company of Wolves which reimagines the story of Little Red Riding Hood as a young girl's sexual awakening. Her grandmother tells her stories warning her about the dangers of men, disguised in this case by comparing them to werewolves. And we can't forget Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty trilogy, which turns the fairy-tale on its head, since Sleeping Beauty doesn't end up with the Prince, but has to go through various trials and sexual situations until the end. And now Nancy Madore and Cathy Yardley are turning to these fairy-tales. My question was whether or not the sexuality was always there under the surface and re-telling the stories as erotica is just illuminating that.

Unfortunately I got cold feet. Most of the panel had multiple degrees, and here I was bringing up sex! I just had this feeling that I was going to go down as that chick who asked the sex question. Seriously I should have been brave enough to ask the question. It might have actually livened up the discussion a bit. Certainly it would have been different. Sometimes I think I let myself be initimidated too much. I just had this feeling of a sign lighting up over my head saying 'Intellectual Lightweight.'

I also wanted to bring up Bill Willingham's series of graphic novels called Fables which I recently discovered. In his version, the Fables actually live in a parallel universe as it were to ours, until their homelands are taken over by the Adversary and they are forced to flee to our world where the human fables live in Fabletown and the non-human Fables are forced to live upstate on the Farm. I just loved the way that he turned the stories that we knew as children on their heads. I've written about this series before but they are amazing. Just the notion of Prince Charming being the same guy who married Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, and turning out to be a charming cad who can't hold a job was brilliant. And the Big Bad Wolf redeeming himself and becoming a sort of anti-hero in a way.

I think we're addicted to fairy-tales because there is a certainty to them, we know how they are going to turn out, but at the same time if they don't, we can reimagine them in our heads to how we want them to turn out. Certainly in erotic literature, the women are much more active participants than they tend to be in classic fairy-tales where they spend most of their time waiting to be rescued by the Prince.

Thanks for reading,


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