Review: Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess

Over the weekend I saw Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess which was playing as part of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). I meant to get this review up Saturday afternoon/evening so that I could encourage Seattle readers to see the film Sunday afternoon, the only other time it is playing. But visiting family left me with limited time and energy to get this review written and posted.

Ivan Tsarevitch et la Princess Changante is a French film written by Michele Ocelot. It consists of four short stories, tied together by the overarching story of a young boy and girl putting on shows of these stories in a dilapidated theater, helped by an old theater technician. Summaries of the four stories, quoted from the SIFF website, are below.

A young girl who lives in a monster-fearing underground community gains the courage to face her fears and challenge her society in “The Mistress of the Monsters.” A poor Persian boy becomes apprentice to a powerful enchanter, only to learn of his dastardly ulterior motives in “The Sorcerer’s Pupil.” A put-upon ward on a pirate ship outsmarts his captain during a stop in India in “The Ship’s Boy and His Cat.” And the son of a dying Russian tsar races against time to find a cursed princess in “Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess.”

“The Mistress of the Monsters” is my favorite. A few lines of dialogue that are repeated throughout the story have stuck with me. The girl is scared to face the monsters and leave behind the only world she has known and says to the rat who is helping her, “But I’m scared.” The rat’s response: “Okay. Go on.” Characters pushing forward and continuing to “go on” even when they’re scared or otherwise feel like they can’t is one of my favorite narrative themes. My only complaint about this story is that the girl is faced with a love interest moments after leaving her underground home. The audience doesn’t much of anything happen between the girl and her prince, and I think the story could have done without that small thread.

“The Sorcerer’s Pupil” is my least favorite. The animation of magic throughout this story is fun. But overall, this story just didn’t do as much for me as the others did.

“The Ship’s Boy and His Cat” is my second favorite. It’s a simple story, but a good one. And one of the main characters is an adorable cat, which is a surefire way to get me excited about a story.

“Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess” is the most intricate of the stories, both in terms of story and animation. It’s a beautiful finale to the film. The themes of greed and self-centeredness are very timely.

The animation style of this film is absolutely stunning. Silhouetted characters and die-cut sets made the animation just as enchanting as the stories. I wish I spoke better French; reading the subtitles took away from the time I could focus on the beautiful animation.

I very much enjoyed this film, and I hope it will be easily available for me to rewatch.

 

 

On Retelling Fairy Tales

I am by no means an expert in retelling fairy tales, but as I’ve spent close to three years working on various fairy tale retellings, I think I do have a bit of authority on the matter. Fairy tales, since their inception are told and retold and retold again, different each time it is told. I love fairy tale retellings, even the ones I don’t particularly enjoy. Each retelling can tell us quite a bit about the teller, and I find that fascinating.

There’s a lot I could talk about on the subject of fairy tale retellings; in this post I’m going to focus on my retelling process. It is perhaps better to say that some of my stories are inspired by fairy tales, rather than retellings, as my plots are sometimes unrecognizable from the original, save for a few themes.

My process isn’t the same every time I write something inspired by a fairy tale, but it usually follows a somewhat similar trajectory. First I identify which fairy tale I want to work with. Sometimes I know I want to weave two or more fairy tales together from the beginning, and sometimes I start with just one. I read the fairy tale and take note of any themes, characters, settings, or plot points I want to include in my story. When I have finished reading the story I take my notes and arrange them into the beginnings of an outline. Sometimes this outline is very sparse, and sometimes the plot is more complete. I fill in any holes; sometimes I look to another fairy tale (or two) to help me with this, but sometimes I don’t. When I feel like I have enough of an outline, I start writing. Sometimes, as I write, I’ll come up with ideas for other fairy tale themes/characters/settings/plot points I can include. During the writing process, aspects often shift around, get added, or get cut. Sometimes I start writing with a very vague idea, but I tend to do better when I have more of an idea of where I want the story to go. Depending on the length of the story, the need for an outline differs. The longer the story, the bigger the need for an outline.

And that’s about it! If anyone is interested in posts on other aspects of fairy tales or writing, let me know!

Review: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Note: This review contains spoilers. If you have not seen the film yet, and would like to remain unknowing about how it is different from the animated film, it is probably best to stop reading right now.

I went to see Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast yesterday. I went in the middle of the day, and there were only six or so people in the theater. After the film was over I sat myself down in a nearby coffee shop and made some very messy notes about my thoughts and reactions. This blog post is based on those notes, expanded into paragraphs and fleshed out a bit. These thoughts are kind of all over the place and not at all in chronological order, because I’m still processing. I cleaned up/condensed/moved around some of my notes to make my thoughts more coherent.

I have to admit that I teared up when Belle sang “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere.” This line always gets me because I want her to have her adventure so badly, and I hate that she feels stuck. I was not, however, expecting it to actually make my eyes water with emotion. So. I’ve heard complaints about this shot being very similar to the beginning of The Sound of Music. I totally see the connection, but for some reason I don’t have a huge problem with it.

“Be Our Guest” was a huge disappointment. Usually this musical number fills me with joy and makes me want to get up and dance with full live-theater-show-on-Broadway enthusiasm. But not this time. I was not impressed with the singing, or this scene in general, which is why I was so disappointed. I was a bit upset when Cogsworth joined in the fun, because it seemed very out of character.

“Be Our Guest” always makes me question how many members of the castle staff there were to be caught up in the curse. Because there are a lot of animate plates and cups and silverware, but none of them have faces. If I’m remembering correctly, there were some references to other movies in the visuals of this scene, and they annoyed me, because I feel like this movie should have stood on its own more. I know this makes me hypocritical, because earlier I said I didn’t have a problem with the The Sound of Music reference, but for some reason the references here annoyed me when the The Sound of Music reference didn’t.

In general, I really appreciate all of the extra backstory we were given of Belle and her parents, as well as the backstory we’re give of the Beast and his parents. While audience members of the animated film assumed that the missing parents were dead, it was nice to have it acknowledged in this version, and that the characters were affected by the deaths. And seeing the curse be put in place in the prologue was great too. I much prefer this to the animated version.

Speaking of the curse; I have some thoughts on the Enchantress. I really like that the Enchantress sticks around after the prologue. I have more sympathy for her, and I understand her and her motivations a bit more. But, I would still love to know more about her and why she decided to curse the Beast. I get that she wanted to teach the Beast a lesson since he was so selfish and unkind, but it still seems extreme to pull the castle staff into it by curing them too, as well as erasing memories from the villagers. I have to commend the actress who played The Enchantress/Agatha; her performance was very powerful, and she didn’t even have any lines.

So, the thing I was most riled up about before seeing the film: LeFou being gay. I was upset when they announced this, because if they really wanted to have positive representation, they should have had Cogsworth be gay, and Lumière be bi. LeFou’s character wasn’t a train wreck in the way I anticipated, and he did change sides at the end. And I get that standing up to Gaston could have brought serious repercussions for LeFou. I get why he was scared to stand up to Gaston. But I really would have loved to see him admit that Gaston left Maurice for dead. The villagers in the tavern would have intervened if Gaston lashed out in that moment.

And perhaps the villagers would have been slower to follow Gaston to the castle. I also understand that LeFou was pining after Gaston, which contributed to why he didn’t stand up to him sooner. Watching LeFou pine after Gaston was utterly painful. Also, the “exclusively gay” moment was so quick that I almost missed it. It was great to see LeFou dancing with another man, Stanley, but again it was very quick and I think it was made out to be a bigger deal than it actually was.

Speaking of Stanley. During the fight at the castle Madame Gardrobe dressed up the three guys in dresses. Two of them run off screaming because they found wearing dresses embarrassing, but Stanley smiles straight to camera with a look on his face that implies he enjoys wearing a dress and makeup. I can’t tell if this was done for laughs, or if it had good intentions behind it. No one in the theater when I saw the film laughed during this part, but one person did clap excitedly. There were only about six of us in the theater though, so I don’t know what sort of reactions would have happened if there were more people.

Also, it kind of bugs me that the castle staff is named after what their cursed forms are. They had lives before the curse and “Chip” and “Madame Gardrobe” and “Lumière” and “Cogsworth” are all somewhat strange names, and oh so very convenient to their cursed forms.

Some of the singing was disappointing. As mentioned above, I was not impressed with “Be Our Guest.” The music/singing during the prologue didn’t sound super great to me either. This could have partly been because I felt like the prologue was too fast paced. I get that they wanted to move on to the main part of the story, but they could have slowed it down just a bit, and I think I would have enjoyed it more. Emma Watson’s singing was better than I expected it would be, which I’m happy about, because if Belle’s singing wasn’t pleasant it would have been a huge bummer. The “Gaston” song was also a bit of a let down. At some points, when the entire tavern was singing there were too many voices and not enough enunciation, and it was hard to understand what was being sung.

The library was super impressive, but not as impressive as the animated one. Belle’s excitement at all of the books was very cute. The way she sort of giggled excitedly and covered her mouth when the Beast turned his back was so great. This scene was especially touching because in the village she only had access to like six books.

In this version Gaston was even more despicable than he was in the animated version. It’s clear that being in a war had an affected him in some way, and I don’t want to diminish the pain being at war can cause people, and the effects it has on people. The movie suggests that Gaston actively enjoyed being at war, that he enjoyed the fighting and killing. He clearly has anger issues, which when combined with his past in a war setting, makes me think that PTSD could come into play. But I do get the impression that Gaston’s anger and taste for violence preceded his time at war. And, at any rate, PTSD may explain Gaston’s anger and certain actions, but it does not excuse anything. Gaston left Maurice for dead, tied to a tree in the woods that house vicious wolves. He continued to pursue Belle after she turned him down. His mistreated LeFou. Any ridiculous aspects of Gaston from the animated version were stripped away here, and I hate Gaston so much more in this version. And I hated him A LOT in the animated film.

In the lead up to the release of the film, Belle’s yellow dress got a lot of negative reactions. And while I never hated the dress like some people did, I never loved it either. But it moved really nicely when she danced, and that’s the most important thing to me.

When I look at my notes about the “Tale As Old As Time” ballroom scene, all it says is “damn, dance scenes always get me.” You would be hard pressed to find a scene that takes place in a ballroom with dancing and pretty clothes that I don’t like. However, I was upset with how much screen time was dedicated to showing off the pretty ballroom. Yes, it’s a pretty ballroom, but I think that the focus should have stayed on Belle and the Beast.

I really like that the village was called “Villeneuve.” It’s a nice little nod to the original story’s author. (Unlike with Frozen, where they took original author’s name and gave it to the asshole. I only bring this up to say that I was pleasantly surprised, both that they gave a nod to the original Beauty and the Beast author (whom most people forget about/are unaware of) and that the nod was a nice one. I mean yes, the villagers in said town aren’t the nicest people to Belle and Maurice, but that’s not the village’s fault.)

I enjoyed the new songs. “Evermore,” the song Beast sang stands out most to me. I really like that the Beast has a song to sing that is all his own, because it gives him much depth. It’s definitely a different vibe than the song the Beast sings in the Broadway musical; both are good songs, but I get why they couldn’t include both, as each song characterized the Beast in a slightly different way. I also really enjoyed “How Does a Moment Last Forever.” It’s a really bittersweet moment, and Kevin Kline performed it very well. “Days in the Sun” is also nice, though my least favorite of the new songs.

I really enjoyed how Maurice’s character is more fleshed out. It’s much more clear that he cares about Belle a lot, and that he wants to take care of her and protect her. The father-daughter relationship was so much stronger in this version.

The final scene was enjoyable for the most part. Belle’s dress was very pretty. And there was dancing, so you know I enjoyed it. But. Belle’s line of “How would you feel about growing a beard?” made me cringe. It’s hard for me to put my finger on why, exactly, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the fact that the whole movie (at least how I view it) operates on the fact that Belle breaks the curse because she loves the Beast for his personality, not his looks. So to have physical appearance brought into it like that just didn’t sit right with me.

I really like the conversations between Belle and the Beast that were added to this version. They illustrated the connection between them, and made it much more believable that Belle fell in love with beast. Although I suppose the fact that the Beast’s face is much more human-like than it was in the animated version helps with this too.

The look/aesthetic of the movie was very pretty and nice to look at. And that’s all I really have to say about that.

In the final scene and the credits I finally felt the emotional connection I was waiting for the entire movie. I’m sure nostalgia played a huge part in this. I went into the theater with such a low bar that the movie did rise above it, but only because of certain parts/aspects I did enjoy (and nostalgia). Overall the movie was just “meh” for me; some parts I loved, some parts I hated, but it didn’t enchant me.

Thoughts on The Little Mermaid

“The Little Mermaid” is perhaps my favorite fairy tale; it was the initial jumping off point for my college capstone, and if I had to cite an all-time favorite fairy tale, it would be this one.

Published in 1837 by Hans Christian Andersen, this story follows a little mermaid on her quest to obtain an immortal soul. In the world of this story, merfolk do not have souls. Merfolk can live for three-hundred years, but when they die their body turns into sea foam and they cease to exist. Humans, on the other hand, live much shorter lives, but when they die, their soul continues on in the afterlife. The little mermaid, when she finds out this piece of information, longs for an immortal soul just as much as she longs for the love of the prince, if not more.

The sea witch’s conditions are deterring, but the little mermaid takes them anyway. Drinking the potion that will transform her tail into legs will hurt, and every step on those legs will feel as if knives are boring into the soles of her feet. To get a soul, the little mermaid must marry the prince, but if the prince marries someone else the little mermaid will die a mermaid’s death and turn into sea foam and cease to exist. And then there’s the payment: the little mermaid must give up her tongue, and therefore her ability to speak.

The prince does marry someone else. He marries the princess from a neighboring kingdom, who he believes is the woman who saved him. The night after the wedding the little mermaid prepares for her quickly approaching death when she is given a second chance: if she wants to live all she has to do is stab the prince, let his blood drip onto her feet, and her legs will transform back into her mermaid tail. The little mermaid almost does this, but when she’s standing over the sleeping prince, she can’t make herself hurt him.

So she throws herself into the sea, prepared to die. But she doesn’t. Instead, she becomes a daughter of the air, a spirit who can gain access to heaven after doing good deeds for humans for three-hundred years. She gets her soul after all. The little mermaid gets her happily ever after. It may not be the happily ever after most readers hope for, but I find it much preferred to a happily ever after in which the little mermaid marries the prince.

Because the prince doesn’t treat the little mermaid very well. He calls her his “my silent child” and the bed he gives her is a pillow outside his door. Because the little mermaid cannot speak, the prince is able to assume what she is thinking, and he is often wrong. All of this leads me to dislike the prince much more than I dislike any other character. Even the sea witch tries to tell the little mermaid that transforming into a human is a bad idea. I like that this story has no overt antagonist.

Hans Christian Andersen often aspects of his own life and wrote them into his fairy tales. Andersen was attracted to both men and women, and some scholars argue that “The Little Mermaid” was written in response to Edvard Collin, a man Andersen was attracted to, getting engaged to a women. Different scholars say different things about the exact relationship between Andersen and Collin, but it remains very plausible that Anderson was indeed heartbroken by Collin.

“The Little Mermaid” is a beautiful story that I thoroughly enjoy revisiting.

The full text of the “The Little Mermaid,” for those interested in reading it, can be found here.

Thoughts on The Snow Queen

“The Snow Queen” is one of my favorite fairy tales. It’s one of the stories I used as inspiration for my thesis in college (a story which has now turned into a novella I’m still tinkering with). It’s not as well-known as some other fairy tales, which is a shame, because it’s a beautiful story.

The story of “The Snow Queen,” told simply, is the story of a girl named Gerda who goes on a journey to find and save her best friend, Kai (or Kay, depending on whih translation you look at), who has been put under a spell by shards of a magic mirror and kidnapped by the Snow Queen. Along the way she encounters: an old lady who wants to keep Gerda for her own (and succeeds for a time); some talking crows; a kind princess and prince; a group of traveling thieves, including a little girl who takes a strange interest in Gerda; a reindeer; and two women who give Gerda shelter. With the help of those she meets along the way, some luck, and her own persistence, Gerda is able to find Kai, break the spell on him, and take him home.

(Anyone interested in reading the full text can do so online here.)

The most well-known retelling of “The Snow Queen” is Disney’s Frozen. The plot and cast of characters from Frozen deviate widely from “The Snow Queen;” a lovable reindeer and platonic love saving the day are the two biggest similarities. And while Disney is allowed to retell fairy tales how they’d like, I did have some frustrated when I went into Frozen expecting a story I love and hold dear, and was presented with something completely different instead.

There are many things I like about “The Snow Queen.”

There is no romance. Gerda and Kai’s relationship is completely platonic, they love each other like siblings. While romance is not at the center of every fairy tale, it was certainly a big player in the fairy tales I grew up on, so reading “The Snow Queen” for the first time was like a breath of fresh air.

It’s a story about a girl saving a boy. And yes, there are other stories, other fairy tales, that involve a girl saving a boy. But as with the romance, I grew up exposed to more stories about males saving females than the other way around.

I think perhaps my favorite part of “The Snow Queen” is that it’s a story about a girl who doesn’t know how strong she is. Gerda doesn’t know she’s going to be able to find and save Kai, but she sets out anyway. Gerda is weak in some moments; when Kai teases her she cries. But she is strong too. When Kai is kidnapped and no one knows, and instead assumes that he has drowned in the river outside of town, Gerda confronts the river and demands her best friend back. It’s small moments like this, Gerda pleading with a body of water, that stick out to me.

While “The Snow Queen” is not perfect, I enjoy it very much, and I want other people to enjoy it too.

Fairy Tale Recommendations

This is by no means a complete list of my favorite fairy tale books, movies, and websites, but I thought it would be fun to share a few of the things I’ve been enjoying most lately. If people are interested, I can do more of this in the future.

The Hans Christian Andersen Center is a website put together by The University of Southern Denmark that has bibliographical information on Hans Christian Andersen, as well as full texts of all of his fairy tales.

SurLaLune Fairy Tales is a website that hosts 49 annotated fairy tale texts, as well as many other fairy tale resources.

Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s Beauty and the Beast is surprisingly hard to find in at its full and unabridged length. This beautiful edition came out recently.

The Fairy-Tale Princess: Seven Classic Stories from the Enchanted Forest is a gorgeous book with retellings by Wendy Jones and artwork by Su Blackwell. Blackwell does papercut sculptures that are absolutely delightful.

Beauty and the Beast by Megan Kearney is a webcomic that is perhaps my favorite Beauty and the Beast retelling I’ve come across. Start the comic here, or order print copies here.

Unburied Fables is an anthology of fairy tale retellings with LGBTQIA+ protagonists. There isn’t a story is this collection that I dislike, and 50% of the profits are donated to the Trevor Project.

Ever After is a film that is one of my favorite Cinderella retellings.

 

Thoughts on Beauty and the Beast

Ever since the final theatrical trailer for Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast was released, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this fairy tale that I love so much.

In 1740 Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve published a novella length fairy tale, the first recorded story titled “Beauty and the Beast.” It is fair to say that Villeneuve was probably inspired by the Cupid and Psyche story “The Golden Ass,” which was written by Apuleius sometime between 158 and the 180s AD. Villeneuve’s novella is much longer than most traditional fairy tales, and drags on far too much for most people’s liking. In 1756 Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont published a shorter version of the story, which became much more popular than Villeneuve’s novella. Today, most people aren’t aware of Villeneuve’s story.

I wish that more people were aware of Villeneuve’s story; it’s my favorite of all the “Beauty and the Beast” stories I’ve come across. I grew up on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and it still hold quite a lot of nostalgic value. But now that I’ve spent so much time looking at fairy tales critically, to pull out the bits I like to incorporate into my own fairy tale retellings, it is impossible for me to ignore the aspects of Disney’s retelling (and Beaumont’s, and Villeneuve’s original) that don’t sit right with me.

The biggest reason I prefer Villeneuve’s “Beauty and the Beast” over Disney’s or Beamont’s is the backstory given to show how the Beast was cursed to be a beast.

In Disney’s prologue we are told that Beast is a beast because he refused to give shelter to an enchantress disguised as an old hag. It seems like an okay scene on the surface (in my childhood I never found anything wrong with it), but when looking at it closer I have some questions.

  • Why is the Prince the one to open the door? Surely there is a servant to do that, just in case the person at the door is looking to harm the royal family.
  • And where are the King and Queen? Not around, from what I can tell; it seems logical that they would be making the decision about letting in a visitor, not the Prince.
  • I also wonder about the Enchantress’ motivation. She says she’s looking for shelter, but I don’t buy it. She has magic strong enough to disguise herself and put a curse on the Prince that not only affects him, but everyone else in the castle as well. But she doesn’t have enough power to build herself shelter? That doesn’t make sense; which leads me to believe she gets joy from cursing people who aren’t nice to her, in situations she forces upon them.
  • In the song “Be Our Guest” Lumière sings “Ten years we’ve been rusting,” which means that if the curse ends on Beast’s 21st birthday, it was put on him when he was 10 or 11. The Prince doesn’t look 10/11 in the animation of the prologue, so it’s hard to know exactly how old Disney intended him to be.

Disney tries to paint the Beast as a bad guy deserving of the curse put on him. But if he truly was 10 or 11 when the Enchantress knocked on the door late at night, can we really blame him for turning her away? Especially if his parents and all other guardian figures are gone or unwilling to open the door and take the responsibility away from a child. When looked at this way, the Beast is a victim.

In Villeneuve’s version the Beast being a victim is much more overt. When the Prince was young, his father died. A neighboring kingdom, with which the Prince’s kingdom had fought with for many years, planned to attack and take over the kingdom while it grieved the King’s death. The Queen, guessing that an attack was coming, led her army into battle. She left the Prince in care of a fairy she knew and trusted. This fairy became like a second mother to the Prince while the Queen spent years in battle defending the kingdom. The Prince grew up, and came of age. The fairy realized she has romantic and sexual feelings for the Prince. She made advances at him, but he was not interested in her the way she was interested in him. She was like a second mother to him, after all. The fairy got mad, and cursed the Prince; she turned him into a beast because he didn’t reciprocate her feelings. The Beast is a victim.

Disney’s live-action remake is coming out in March, and I don’t quite know how excited to be. Because, as stated above, I have a lot of nostalgic attachment to the Disney animated film. And, given what I’ve seen in trailers and the few things I’ve read online, it looks like changes have been made for the better. But I’ve been let down by Disney too many times to be flat out excited. I’ll have to wait to watch the movie to see how I feel.

My mind keep returning to the thought that the Beast is a victim. The Beast is a victim, and I think it would be useful for us to stop thinking about “Beauty and the Beast” being the story of love transforming bad people into good ones. Instead (at least to me) it’s the story of companionship and friendliness reminding a victim that people can care about him and not give him outrageous punishments for his “wrongdoings.”

There’s a lot more I could say about Beauty and the Beast, so I’ll have to return to the topic at some point. But this is enough for now.