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Hollywood's New Fractured Fairy Tales

Thompson on Hollywood By Carrie Rickey | Thompson on Hollywood March 4, 2013 at 11:50AM

"For a story truly to hold a child’s attention, it must entertain him and arouse his curiosity. But to enrich his life, it must stimulate his imagination; help him to develop his intellect and to clarify his emotions; be attuned to his anxieties and aspirations; give full recognition to his difficulties, while at the same time suggesting solutions to the problems which perturb him….In all these and many other respects….nothing can be as enriching and satisfying to child and adult alike as the folk fairy tale." --Bruno Bettelheim
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Nicholas Hoult in "Jack the Giant Slayer"
Nicholas Hoult in "Jack the Giant Slayer"

"For a story truly to hold a child’s attention, it must entertain him and arouse his curiosity. But to enrich his life, it must stimulate his imagination; help him to develop his intellect and to clarify his emotions; be attuned to his anxieties and aspirations; give full recognition to his difficulties, while at the same time suggesting solutions to the problems which perturb him….In all these and many other respects….nothing can be as enriching and satisfying to child and adult alike as the folk fairy tale." --Bruno Bettelheim

The good Dr. Bettelheim, an educator and psychotherapist of severely disturbed children, wrote the book ("The Uses of Enchantment," 1975) on the deeper meanings that reside in fairy tales. He noted how through their overt and covert meanings fairy tales could communicate both to the uneducated and the sophisticated, which make them the ideal source material for mass entertainment.

Does this explain the current Hollywood fairy tale-revival? (See "Shrek," "Ella Enchanted," "Enchanted," "Ever After," "Mirror, Mirror," "Red Riding Hood," "Snow White and the Huntsman" and the new release, "Jack the Giant Slayer." Coming soon is "Malificent," told from the perspective of Sleeping Beauty’s nemesis and starring Angelina Jolie. Just yesterday were reports that Emma Watson, Harry Potter’s Hermione, is being courted to play Cinderella.)

Filmmakers as disparate as Walt Disney ("Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"), Michael Powell ("The Red Shoes") and Jean Cocteau ("Beauty and the Beast") already knew this. Fairy-tale collectors -- Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm -- were the subjects of biopics. Still,  before "Shrek," Disney –whose sanitizing of folk tales, particularly his “insipid” Cinderella, irritated Bettelheim -- was one of the few Hollywood filmmakers to mine fairy tales as a narrative natural resource. (Because fairy tales are stories that have multiple versions, a producer doesn’t have to pay for book rights, another plus.)

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This article is related to: Features, Jack the Giant Slayer, Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror Mirror, Red Riding Hood


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