Friday, April 29, 2011

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1972)

My first thought was to wonder why Alice's dress looked so much like Alice's dress in the Disney version. A quick date check revealed that this came out just over 20 years after the Disney version. So the question is... did William Sterling's version deviate in any OTHER ways from the Disney film?

Well... it's live action. And the frame story involves Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) taking three little girls out for a picnic, where he tells the story of Alice in Wonderland. Which... I have to admit, turned me off of the film right away. More for the creeping staring than the content, although in context it's not very reassuring, either.

Aside from that... call me a product of my era, but I found the pacing extremely difficult to deal with. This film sticks pretty close to the original story, which is to say--all the cruel nonsense is present. But this Alice laughs through the whole thing, so at least she's not scared....

This movie is almost more worthwhile for the antique special effects. If you enjoy that kind of thing, this is one to check out. And if you like the pure nonsense of the book, this is a respectable version. Otherwise, I'd pass it up for something else.

You CAN watch it for free, on hulu, and the bright costumes and music might appeal to children more than they appealed to me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sleeping Beauty by Cannon Movie Tales

Another entry in the Cannon Movie Tale collection, Sleeping Beauty takes a loooong look at the difficulties of giving birth to a princess. In fact, the buildup to the princess being born, and the Christening/gift-bestowing, take up the majority of the movie, leaving about 20 minutes for Rosebud, age 16, to prick her finger, fall asleep, and get rescued.

The Queen (Morgan Fairchild) is so sad that she can't have a child, until one day an troublemaking elf, determined to redeem himself, conjures up a fertility potion (which the King almost drinks because the Queen won't tell him what it's for). After much rigmarole involving the gathering of ingredients, and with a nod to Rip Van Winkle and other fairy tales, the princess is at long last born. The King and Queen invite everyone in the land to come celebrate their daughter's birth, but when the cook goes to prepare the meal, he discovers that there aren't enough golden plates for all the fairies, so they knock the Red Fairy off the list (cause nobody's ever heard of her).

Everyone gathers, as you would expect (except the wisdom fairy dawdles for some reason, which of course turns out to be for the best). I have to say--the wealth fairy? What a rip off. The King and Queen are already rich. That's the fairy they should have dissed.

So then the Red Fairy shows up, all fiery and devil-like, and curses and cackles. Then the White Fairy gives her gift, the modification of the curse, and takes off without answering any questions, in spite of the king calling after her for help. The elf who helped the queen get pregnant whispers to her to burn all the spinning wheels. Which they do, in the hope that it will help.

Fast forward 16 years (at an hour into the production) and Princess Rosebud is in the garden, singing about flowers. Her nursemaid comes and finds her and lets slip that although the kingdom is in tatters now, they used to make cloth! For some reason, nobody has the idea to trade for any kind of clothing until Rosebud suggests it. So the king and queen go off on an expedition for cloth, leaving Rosebud alone with her nursemaid and all her guards and the elf to watch over her.

She immediately gets into all kinds of trouble:

And pricks her finger, falls asleep, the White Fairy puts the castle to sleep, and a random wandering prince shows up and rescues her, 100 years later. The end.

I had, ahem, a couple issues with the pacing of this version of Sleeping Beauty: a whole lot of build-up for very little character development, particularly of Rosebud and the... prince... Prince... somebody. Even so, it's good light entertainment if you want something to watch with the kids or something that doesn't require your entire attention. It's fun to watch for the occasional reference to other fairy tales, and although none of the musical numbers are particularly strong, they aren't bad, either.

The DVD isn't currently available in Region 1 formatting, although you can get it in Region 2 formatting on amazon. However, you can watch it for free on hulu, and most things are worth watching at that price!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Wide-Awake Princess by E. D. Baker

The Wide-Awake Princess is just so fun. I don't even know another word for it. Well, "good" is another word that describes it pretty well, but it doesn't really tell you anything.

Princess Gwendolyn is, as we all know, cursed to prick her finger and die on her sixteenth birthday. And of course, the curse is modified, so the story goes. But when her parents have a second child, their attempt to prevent any more curses has an unexpected result: Annie's fairy gift is that NO magic can touch her, good or bad.

So when the castle population does succumb to the curse, Annie is left, wide-awake, with the threat of 100 years of sleep not sounding too good, if she wants to spend any more time with her family. Instead of waiting around for a prince to show up and kiss her sister, Annie sets out on a quest through the neighboring kingdoms, with the help of a guard who was running errands when the fateful finger-pricking occurred.

I loved the magical-gifts-run-amok in Ms. Baker's world: all the nobility in the land was so fairy-blessed they couldn't do a thing without their magic. Annie's view of the world without magic was startling and funny, as she saw things that others had hidden by means of magic. The collection and variety of princes she collected was entertaining, as well.

This was a quick and, dare I say it again, fun read, aimed at middle-grade readers, but with enough references and humor to be amusing to fairy tale lovers of any age. I will definitely be checking out Ms. Baker's other books.

Check out E. D. Baker's site and other works here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli

This might be my new favorite book by Donna Jo Napoli. (Although Crazy Jack still holds a dear place in my heart.) This is the retelling of a Sicilian version of Bearskin, which is also somewhat obscure though at least familiar to those of us who have a solid handle on The Complete Brothers Grimm.

Don Giovanni loses his home and his possessions after a massive wave destroys the city he grew up in. He wanders about for a bit before a run-in with a demon or devil, in which the dark creature offers him a wager: an endless purse, all the money he could desire, but in return, he must not bath, change clothes, or clean himself in any way, for three years, three months, and three days. At the end of his rope, Giovanni accepts, hardly understanding what he is getting himself in for.

With thought-provoking philosophy on loyalty, persistence, and the value of wealth, and a nice dose of history, I'd call this one of Napoli's most successful retellings. Well worth reading, especially if you've enjoyed her other work.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fairy Tale Mashup Week: Castle Waiting

One of my favorite formats is the fairy tale mashup: an author takes two or more favorite fairy tales and mixes them together, with unpredictable or unusual results. So this week I thought I'd highlight some of my favorite mashups, some old and some new. If you haven't read many of this format, these are the ones I would recommend starting with.

Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger on a spindle and sleeps for 100 years. Then she's awakened by her Prince's kiss and falls madly in love with him at first sight, and is carried off to his palace to be his bride.

So what happens to the castle? The kingdom remnants have slipped away... there's nothing much left to rule, but here is this castle and the servants who were asleep with the princess for 100 years. What are they to do?

Linda Medley explores the question in her beautiful graphic novel, Castle Waiting. This collection brings together the first 12 issues of the Eisner Award-winning series. This is one of those books that you can just immerse yourself into, the drawings as compelling as the writing, the story spun slowly out so that even as the action moves on, the character's past is revealed in tantalizing tidbits. With engaging nested stories (for those who like that style), this book ends up including multiple tales, all with fairy-tale flavor, feminine empowerment in a range of forms, and some wonderful offhand references to other stories.

The artwork is gorgeous and creative, a far cry from the "cartoony" feel of some comic books, so if you haven't read any graphic novels before, this might be a good one to try. Altogether, Medley portrays her story well, both in words and images, for a delightful exploration of Sleepy Beauty's castle. I'm looking forward to Volume 2.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fairy Tale Mashup Week: The Stepsister Scheme

One of my favorite formats is the fairy tale mashup: an author takes two or more favorite fairy tales and mixes them together, with unpredictable or unusual results. So this week I thought I'd highlight some of my favorite mashups, some old and some new. If you haven't read many of this format, these are the ones I would recommend starting with.

Let me just start with: Awesome.

This is the first book in Jim C. Hines' Princess series, featuring a Cinderelle, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty who will have you completely rethinking your Disney versions. These ladies are based on their original prototypes--that is to say, Cinderella (Danielle) can talk to birds, and Snow White's (Snow!--don't ask her if you can call her by her real name!) nemesis is her own mother, not a stepmother. And you probably know what happened to Sleeping Beauty (Talia).

I was beyond impressed with this. It's fast-paced, funny, and interesting, without losing sight of the characters and giving all three of these girls a lot more depth that they usually get. If you haven't read it, please give yourself the opportunity to enjoy it!

There are now two sequels, with another coming out soon. This has been one of my favorite series of all time, both for the fairy tale aspects and for the consistency of the writing and storytelling from one book to another. I cannot wait to read the new book.

Jim C. Hines also has a blog that's great reading.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fairy Tale Mashup Week: Glasgow Fairytale

One of my favorite formats is the fairy tale mashup: an author takes two or more favorite fairy tales and mixes them together, with unpredictable or unusual results. So this week I thought I'd highlight some of my favorite mashups, some old and some new. If you haven't read many of this format, these are the ones I would recommend starting with.

I am especially excited to tell you about this book because the author, Mr. McIver, has been a long-time member of my fairy tale community on LiveJournal. We've had quite a few talks about fairy tales and folklore, so I am just thrilled to see his storytelling in action here.

The story starts as several fairytales begin to act upon one another, with often hilarious results--as, for example, Reggie King decides to take out Snowy White (in a nicely done gender reversal) to be the bonniest man in Glasgow--and he hires none other than Ella McCinders to get the job done.

I won't give too much away, but I will tell you that this is one of the funniest adaptations I've ever read, mixing stories and rearranging the elements to fit McIver's own Glasgow. I giggled out loud frequently, and the Cinderella ball scene is my favorite every Cinderella dance. Also: Best Frog Prince Ever.

McIver's penchant for telling stories is apparent in his prose, which is excellent for reading aloud. As an American reader, I had to sometimes slow down to read the Scottish dialect, but even then it wasn't so heavy that I had trouble understanding it.

This is still only available in America through intermediates on marketplace, but it IS available, and for an excellent price for a trade paperback. I highly recommend this for anyone who likes mixed up fairy tales and funny retellings. I hope you'll check it out!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fairy Tale Mashup Week: The Book of Lost Things

One of my favorite formats is the fairy tale mashup: an author takes two or more favorite fairy tales and mixes them together, with unpredictable or unusual results. So this week I thought I'd highlight some of my favorite mashups, some old and some new. If you haven't read many of this format, these are the ones I would recommend starting with.

I was really hesitant to read this when I heard about it, because I am wary of books about children that claim to be for grown-ups. Not that that's a recipe for failure, by any means, but it made me set it aside, mentally, until it popped up again in my life in the form of my friend Annamarie.

Annamarie is not a BIG reader. She loves books about horses, and fairy tales where everything comes out okay in the end. I have recommended a lot to her; she had never returned the favor--until The Book of Lost Things. Which she insisted emphatically that I read. And dragged me to a bookstore, and bought it for me, and put it in my hands, and sat me down, and forced me to read the beginning so that I would be hooked and read it right away.

Which I did, nearly in one sitting. And oh my. What an excellent recommendation.

This is the story of David, a 12-year-old boy who's just lost his mother. When his father remarries and has another son, David retreats into his books and fairy tales, but gets much more drawn in than he expected.

And, oh, the references and rewritings. With many stories twisted into new shapes (including a Beauty and the Beast where the Beast is the woman--and the Beauty does not free her from her spell--and a Sleeping Beauty where the sleeper awakens every night and is more of a danger to the princes than any thorns ever were), David explores a new land where the greatest danger will be the ones he calls from his own imagination.

Try to figure out who the villain is (from fairy tale tradition) before the reveal at the end. (Yeah, I totally did.)

This is still one of my favorite books.

I do recommend the paperback edition with the red cover, as there's a section of notes at the back of the book, with Connelly's thoughts on the fairy tales he used, as well as original versions of the tales.