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Mari Ness

Fiction and Excerpts [3]
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Fiction and Excerpts [3]

Warner Bros.’ Three Merrie and Looney Versions of “The Three Little Pigs”

Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs was an instant legend among animators, then just starting to develop their craft. It also was an instant legend among film studios, who saw that for once, a cartoon could be a bigger draw than the main feature.

Naturally, rival Warner Bros had to get into the action, with three different cartoon takes on the three little pigs.

And equally naturally, their first take was a direct slam and parody of their great rival.

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A Folktale Saves Technicolor: Disney’s Take on “The Three Little Pigs”

In 1917, film color processor Technicolor wowed audiences with some of the first moving color images ever projected on screen. But after that initial triumph, things proved a bit wobbly. Their second method, Process 2 Technicolor, which used two strip negatives in red and green to create a color image on screen, had at least solved the problem of needing to find skilled projectionists who could align the images correctly during film performances (a failure of the Process 1 Technicolor), but failed in nearly every other respect. Process 2 created images that were easily scratched, film that could (and often did) fall through projectors, and colors that could be kindly described as “pale,” “somewhat off,” “unrealistic”, or in the words of unkinder critics, “awful.” Undaunted, Technicolor went to work, created an improved Process 3—which projected moving specks onto the screen. Not only did this distort the images; audience members assumed they were looking at insects.

Perhaps understandably, audiences did not rush to see these colored films. So, with the Great Depression still lingering, several film studios considered dropping the costly color process altogether. By 1932, Technicolor faced potential ruin. But the company thought they had a solution: a new three strip color process that could provide vibrant colors that could, in most cases, reproduce the actual colors filmed by the camera. The only problem—a tiny tiny tiny problem—was that the process wasn’t quite ready for film yet. But it might—it might—be ready for cartoons.

They just had to find someone interested in a bit of experimentation.

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The Story of a Bear of Very Little Brain

In August 1921, author A.A. Milne bought his one year old son, Christopher Robin, a teddy bear. This did not, perhaps, seem all that momentous at the time either for literary history or for large media conglomerate companies that used a mouse and a fairy as corporate logos. But a few years later, Milne found himself telling stories about his son and the teddy bear, now called “Winnie-the-Pooh,” or, on some pages, “Winnie-ther-Pooh.” Gradually, these turned into stories that Milne was able to sell to Punch Magazine.

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Family Tradition and Destiny: Pixar’s Coco

When director Lee Unkrich first pitched the idea of an animated film focused on a Mexican protagonist, it was not a completely new idea for either Pixar or parent company Disney. Disney, after all, had released the goodwill tour film Saludos Amigos, a live action/animated attempt to introduce United States viewers to South American cultures, as far back as 1942, and followed that up with The Three Caballeros (1945), a deeply weird escape from World War II horrors, and, decades later, The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), which had a llama speaking with the distinctive tones of David Spade.

So, ok, it was mostly new—and even that was still more than Pixar had managed in its 18 previous films, beyond releasing a film featuring its protagonists travelling to South America (the 2009 Up) where they encountered Christopher Plummer, and having Buzz Lightyear briefly burst into Spanish during Toy Story 3. True, Pixar’s Ratatouille and Brave had at least explored non-American settings and accents, and the animation studio had sent its talking cars around the world in Cars 2. Still. Pixar and Disney both agreed that a touch more diversity would probably be a good thing, and gave Unkrich the go-ahead to start developing a film then tentatively titled Día de los Muertos.

[Read more]

Questionable Scholars and Rhyming Pigs: J.O. Halliwell-Phillipps’ “The Three Little Pigs”

As I noted in part one of this “The Three Little Pigs” discussion, many of the first recorded versions of this tale lack something most fairy tale lovers would consider rather essential to a fairy tale about pigs: pigs. Oh, other aspects of the tale were there—the predator, the three houses made of different building materials, and the final death and entrapment of the predator.

Pigs, not so much—possibly why these pig-free tales tended to languish in near obscurity in academic works.

Fortunately, one scholar—James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps (1820-1889)—had the sense to record a rhymed version for children, saving the tale for posterity.

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Politics and Fairy Tales: Early Versions of “The Three Little Pigs”

Recently, author Chuck Wendig got into a minor spat on Twitter with another Twitter user who insisted that stories do not have to be political. As an example, the Twitter user mentioned “The Three Little Pigs.”

My screams probably could have heard on the other side of the ocean.

So, even though Chuck Wendig already did a good job of explaining just why this story is perhaps not the best example of non-political storytelling, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a more in depth look at the tale here and its history. Even though I HATE THIS STORY. And even though many early versions don’t even MENTION pigs at all…

[Read more]

The Fairy Tale Trials of Younger Sons: “The Golden Goose”

Sometimes I’m astonished that so many youngest sons—especially third sons, or seventh sons—make it out of fairy tales alive, or don’t decide to just walk out of the fairy tale, deciding they’ve had enough abuse. I mean, sure, many of them end up married to lovely princesses, ruling over half a kingdom—though given that many of them have also barely met their brides before marriage, and have little to no training in administration, I find myself kinda wondering just how well they’ll do as kings.

And then of course, there’s everything that happens to them in fairy tales, with “The Golden Goose” as perhaps the shining example.

Forgive the pun.

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Three Films and This World Still Makes No Sense: Pixar’s Cars 3

“Lesson one. You’re old. Accept that.”

I don’t like the Cars franchise.

Especially the film part of it.

There, I said it.

What started out as a vaguely creepy and not really all that well thought out if genuinely good looking film about anthropomorphic cars turned into a yeah still creepy and not all that well thought out if genuinely beautiful film about spy cars in its second installment and, in its third installment, into a seriously creepy and definitely not all that well thought out if spectacularly beautiful film about anthropomorphic cars turning old and getting slammed with clinical depression and look, gorgeous, color drenched images of U.S. landscapes can only do so much.

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A Perfect Start: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s / Sorcerer’s Stone

Before the movies.

Before the merchandise.

Before the theme park, looming over—seriously—the local Muggle high school right across the street in Orlando.

It was just a book, starting with a sentence about people who wanted desperately, frantically, to be normal.

What a perfect start for a series about people who aren’t normal at all—and a book about wanting desperately, frantically, to belong.

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A Gender-Bent Fairy Tale of Economics: Christoph Martin Wieland’s “The Philosopher’s Stone”

German writer and poet Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813) was the son of a pastor and received a thorough education and grounding in the classics, training that Wieland used to enter a literary and intellectual life. This included journeys to various literary salons in Germany and Switzerland, as well as stints as a philosophy professor, occasional tutor to royalty, and academic journal editing. He and his wife, Anna Dorothea von Hillenbrand, enjoyed an apparently happy marriage that resulted in fourteen children. That perhaps explains why Wieland never lost his love for fairy tales—and even tried to write a few gender-bending fairy tales of his own.

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Abuse and Revenge in Grimms’ Fairy Tales: “The Juniper Tree”

In stark contrast to the long, intricate tales penned by other literary fairy tale writers, in particular those practicing their arts in French salons, most of the fairy tales collected and published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are quite short—in many cases, easily squeezed into just one or two pages, or even just a few paragraphs. One major exception: “The Juniper Tree,” one of the longest tales in the original 1812 Children’s and Household Tales, which also happens to be one of the most horrifying tales in the original collection.

[Warning: cannibalism, child abuse, and a ghost ahead.]

Fairy Tales in Conversation: “Princess Minute and King Floridor” by the Comte de Caylus

Anne Claude Philippe de Tubières-Grimoard de Pastels de Lévis, comte de Caylus, marquis d’Esternay, baron de Branscac (1692-1765), generally known by the considerably shorter name of Comte de Caylus, not only had the enviable honor of having about the longest name yet of anyone discussed in this series, but also of being the grandson of a first cousin of Madame de Maintenon, known to history as the second, secret wife of Louis XIV. This in turn ensured that he and his mother had access to the very cream of French society—and the French salons, where fairy tales still remained a prime source of amusement.

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A Fish Out of the Ocean: Finding Dory

Given the success of Toy Story 2, it was perhaps not surprising that Disney started making plans for a sequel to the even bigger blockbuster success Finding Nemo before that film even hit theaters. Growing tensions between Disney and Pixar during and after Finding Nemo’s release meant that Disney’s original plan was to produce and release the sequel without Pixar’s involvement. After Disney acquired Pixar in 2006, however, all Disney animation came back under the control of John Lasseter, who cancelled the plans for a Disney sequel to Finding Nemo, but kept the idea of a Pixar sequel open. If, that was, writer/director Andrew Stanton could be persuaded to come back on board.

That was a pretty big if. Not only was Stanton already fully booked with work on Wall-E, Toy Story 3 and a live action film, John Carter, he was also less than excited about the concept of churning out sequels for every single Pixar film. Sure, Toy Story 2 had been a critical and financial success, and Cars 2 had been….well, it had made money and sold quite a few toys, but Stanton—perhaps thinking of Cars 2— wanted a better reason for a sequel than “make more money.”

[Read more]

The Dangers of Propaganda, Flattery, and Violence Towards Cats: “Prince Desir and Princess Mignone”

Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont is best known to English readers for her compact retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” which, with a few small edits from Andrew Lang, became the best known version of that tale, and more recently, the basis for a film that brought in more than one billion dollars at the box office even though Angela Lansbury failed to appear in it.

But Madame de Beaumont—frequently desperate for cash—did not content herself with writing just one fairy tale. She wrote seventy books, including Le Magasin des Enfants (1756), a collection of didactic fairy tales aimed at older children. In “Beauty and the Beast,” she stressed the need for girls to distinguish between appearances and reality. In another tale in the collection, “Prince Desire and Princess Mignone,” she took another look at this theme—this time, warning against the dangers of flattery and self-deception.

It all starts with an attempt to harm a cat.

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Fairy Tale Towers and False Brides: “Maid Maleen”

As we’ve previously discussed here, the practice of locking women up in towers of one sort of another was not exactly unknown in the European Middle Ages and Renaissance. In some cases, the women entered willingly, interested in pursuing a religious life—out of either genuine religious devotion, or interest in the opportunities offered by cloisters, which included education, culture and the opportunity to avoid the risks of childbirth. In other cases, the women did not enter willingly at all, but found themselves forced into prison and death. Some for crimes they committed; some for purely political reasons; and at least two because if you’re going to marry six women but not do that all at once you have got to hurry up the process by imprisoning and then executing them in towers.

Not at all surprisingly, this historical reality bled into fairy tales. Rapunzel and its variants are probably the best known, especially after a certain recent movie, but equally interesting is a story of a maiden imprisoned not by a witch, but by her own father: Maid Maleen.

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