Monday, February 28, 2011

Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête

Since Beastly, based on Alex Flinn's book, is coming out this Friday, I thought I'd take this week to look at some of the previous incarnations of Beauty and the Beast in cinema, starting with Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête.

First of all let me say: this is a beautiful piece of cinematography, and if you haven't seen it, what are you waiting for?

We meet Belle with some Cinderella-esque sisters, complaining and leaving Belle to do all the housework after their father's financial misfortunes leave the family in difficulty. Belle has a persistent suitor, Avenant, but she's not interested because she doesn't feel she can leave her father. Of course, as we all know the story, when it turns out that she must leave him to save his life, she does, going to live with the Beast in his enchanted castle. They don't really... fall in love, they just spend a lot of time together, have some strange smoky encounters, and when she goes home and sees him dying in the mirror, she realizes she loves him.

Now, I have to take it somewhat with a grain of salt, based on what it was made. I don't think there's any way this screenplay would have gotten greenlighted in today's movie-making world. (I could be wrong...) There are bits of the story that don't really seem to fit into anything, like the Beast's smoking hands (it's unclear if this is because he feels guilty about killing, or if it's part of the magic powers he has).

Aside from some minor confusion, though, the story is familiar, and as I said, the film itself is just beautiful, full of rich costumes, delightfully archaic special effects, and the written plea at the beginning to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the magic.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Snow White and the Seven Samurai by Tom Holt

If you like Terry Pratchett or Jasper Fforde, Tom Holt might also be up your alley, filled with what I like to think of as British humor--rather dry and self-referential.

Our story begins with the wicked Queen's mirror, but when the Queen steps out for a moment, three kid-hackers break into the fairy tale reality and quickly set everything amok when they crash the Mirrors (computer) system.

With plenty of puns and loads of fairy tale references, though mostly well-known tales, this is an enjoyable read. The story is a bit disorganized and the ending is not as fully satisfying as I hoped it would be. However, seeing the stories come together and clash is always one of my favorite things to do, and this book is chock-full of that. If you like mashups of multiple stories, this is a fun one.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Snow by Tracy Lynn

Another installment in the Simon Pulse "Once Upon a Time" series, Snow is Tracy Lynn's retelling of Snow White. It's also one of my favorites of the series, of the ones I've read, with a little more complexity and steadiness of character than I've seen in some of the others.

After the death of her mother, Jessica is largely ignored by her father, so spends her childhood mostly running loose on their estate. Until, of course, her father marries again. As Jessica grows older, her stepmother's jealousy grows stronger, finally putting Jessica in mortal danger.

Lynn has some creative changes to the story, such as Jessica running away to the city instead of the forest, and her alteration of the dwarves, and ideas about the mirror and the other magic are transformed into more of a science-fantasy than a purely magical story.

This, like the other books in the series, is a very quick read, and definitely enjoyable for a fairy tale afternoon.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Red Riding Hood, 1988

It's like someone read the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and said, "Why is this called a fairy tale? There's no fairies in this story! I'm gonna make a version with fairies!" And behold, you have Red Riding Hood bookended with fairy appearances in this 1988 film version by Cannon Movie Tales.

Aside from that, though, there's actually a fairly interesting (if slow) plot about Red's parents and uncle, and a deal with the devil for the "power of the wolf."

This is one of those musicals where, for some reason, I just can't see the songs coming. I'm not sure what it is about them, but suddenly--oh, looky there, we're singing again.

With solid, if not stunning, performances by Amelia Shankley (Linet/Red), Isabella Rosallini, Craig T. Nelson, and Rocco Sisto, this version borders on the campy (okay sometimes it's a cheese fest) but is mostly fun and one you can share with the kids without worrying that it's going to be too scary.

It's available on hulu for free for the time being, you can watch it here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Mermaid's Pendant by LeAnn Neal Reilly

This is Leann Neal Reilly's first book, a modern retelling of The Little Mermaid.

I went into this really wanting to like it... but I just could not get through it. The beginning is very slow. Skimming ahead, the writing mostly seemed like heavy-handed edification: the message was more important than the story.

While I love the concept -- moving past the "happily ever after" of the fairy tale to the struggles of real life and love -- I couldn't bring myself to finish it.

I'd be interested in knowing what other people thought of it, outside of rave reviews. If any of you have finished it, please do comment!