IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

A Grimm look at fairy tales

Can Terry Gilliam’s film capture the darkness of those original tales? By Mary Beth Ellis
/ Source: contributor

So there’s this rumor going around that Hollywood is running out of ideas. I can’t say I agree. I think “Dukes of Hazzard II: When Large Orange 1969 Dodge Chargers Collide” is a can’t-miss.

Now they’re digging around in classic fairy tales for inspiration. We now have before us “The Brothers Grimm,” the story of the German story-collecting brothers, Wilhelm and Jacob.

As a recovering English major and history minor, let us pause for a moment as I pre-twist my face into an enormous cringe. Cultural themes in 19th century literature and historical aspects of Teutonic oral tradition… yes, we can totally trust Matt Damon with these. Heath Ledger is also involved, which makes me feel better, because if Heath emotes something, it is so.But there is more to good movie-making than historical accuracy, and because Walt Disney has since officially licensed whimsy, there is little room left for director Terry Gilliam, who decided to create a fairy tale about the brothers themselves. I stand in awe of Terry, who is very open about his apparent decision to research the Grimm Brothers via VH1’s “I Love the 1820s,” and takes great pride in committing major errors of continuity and biography. “We even got their ages wrong,” he bragged in an interview on the movie’s web site. “We’ve got Will as the older one and Jacob as the younger one, it’s the other way around, I just checked it out a couple of weeks ago.” Ohhhhhhhh, why check? Don’t check these things! Age is just a number! Names are negotiable! Just ask Will!“Nazis,” Gilliam adds at another point in the interview, “knew how to build good studios.” Ah.What the movie does appear to accurately reflect is the fact that the original Grimm fairy tales go to very dark places, darker even than all 121 minutes of “Gigli” combined. We are talking chopped-off feet and the death of baby goats and one story — I cannot wait to read this one at bedtime to my baby nephew — entitled “Godfather Death.”

A Grimm look at happily ever afterWhy do we need fairy tales, anyway?  Don’t we have “Fear Factor” as a cultural mirror in which to preen ourselves as we prepare for the closeup of ourselves eating sheep intestines?  In the days of the Grimm brothers, fairy tales were meant as adult entertainment, and I do mean adult:  An early French version of Little Red Riding Hood has the wolf ordering a striptease.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. on the "Let's Be Cops," red carpet, Selena Gomez is immortalized in wax and more.

Much as Little Red Riding Hood twirling around a brass pole would fit right in with Must See TV in the early 21st century, perhaps sanitized fairy tales now function as an ideal towards which to wander.  Actual life involves treadmills, company picnics and tartar-control toothpaste; we like to hear every now and then that a nice girl from a Jerry Springer-esque family landed a prince with a good steady job and a summer castle in Napa.

Bear in mind this is all coming from a person who had cake batter for breakfast this morning, but I enjoy planning my future wedding.  Much of it is fairy-tale based.  My left hand is very bare, but the white dove-drawn crystal coach is already on reserve.

But if little girls were presented with the non-Disneyfied versions of the Grimm tales, the wedding industry would absolutely circle the toilet.  The evil stepsisters of Cinderella, for example, hacked off toes and heels so that they might fit the heroine’s magic slipper. Which I have considered while struggling into a particularly fine pair of rhinestone stilettos, but I imagine that large trails of blood issuing from the bridal party tend to make for less than optimal dance floor conditions. I would like to hear the Celine Dion soundtrack single for this moment.It might please you to know that at Cinderella’s wedding, pigeons pecked out the stepsisters’ eyeballs. Awesome. I bet nobody would cross me on the colors of the envelope invitations if I had me a pair of attack pigeons, although this might cut down on shower attendees.

Singing mice need not apply
Snow White?  You know how the evil queen sent the huntsman out into the woods to kill her and bring back her heart in a box to be sure she was dead, and he killed a boor or a bear or an insurance salesman or something and brought back its heart instead?  You know what the original evil queen did with the heart?  She aaaaaaaaate it. She sat down at a table, found a white wine compatible with human organs, picked up a knife and a fork, and ate it.  That’s not a ride I necessarily want to experience at the Magic Kingdom.Also, the real Snow White was an idiot. The dwarves enticed her into their home by announcing that — and this is a direct quote — “If you will take care of our house, cook, make the beds, wash, sew and knit, and if you will keep everything neat and clean, you can stay with us and you shall want for nothing.”  Well, sign me up.

In the original story, the evil queen effectively kills Snow White twice before the poisoned red apple does its work.  She also bought ribbon lacings and a toxic comb from the queen in the same disguise, and each time the dwarves came along and sighed and took away the lacings and removed the comb and sat Snow down to explain that she might want to switch Avon ladies. 

But the next day:  Knock-knock!“Who’s there?”“The old peddler woman who pre-poisons all her merchandise but was totally just kidding the last two times she tried to kill you!”“Oh!  Come on in!”

The original Snow White was a seven-year-old at the time of the story, and she laid around in her glass coffin for several years before the prince showed up, which ratchets up the Ew Factor a couple thousand notches.  There’s just no whitewashing that.

You should also know that Rapunzel, translated from the original German, means “corn salad.”  I hear Marv Albert is playing her in the movie version.

Freelance writer Mary Beth Ellis runs, where she regularly tracks her complete inability to drive.