This may be out of left field but I can’t stand Walt Disney. And not because of the anti-semantic stories, although that would be reason enough.
Walt had a tendency to turn magical fairy stories into crudely drawn, over-coloured spectacles. The wondrous Winnie-the-Pooh was turned from a classic threadbare playmate into an orange lump. The sort of bear won at the fairground after shooting ducks, complete with a too-small red sweater. But that’s nothing to what he did to Snow White and Cinderella. Snow White was made many decades ago now but there was never an excuse for her singing voice. Do you remember when she was getting water from the well and washing steps or something? It sounded like my granny on acid. Sorry, Granny but you weren’t famous for your singing voice. And I’m not suggesting you ever took acid. Undoubtedly the best (in my opinion) version of Snow White was by the Grimm Brothers.
It starts with a Queen sitting sewing at a window. She pricks her finger on the needle and three drops of blood fall on the snow outside the window (not sure how she manages this but stick with me). The Queen gazes at her blood on the white snow and says, “I wish I had a daughter with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as the ebony window frame.” We all know the story from here. As a child the image of the beautiful Queen and the blood on snow, the ebony of the frame stayed in my memory clearer than it would have if I had seen them in some animated show.
I also adored the image of the ugly sisters in Grimm’s Cinderella, cutting off their toe and heel in order to squeeze their oversized feet into the glass slipper. The prince discovered their deception, which was pointed out to him by a couple pigeons in a nearby tree, and saw blood pouring from the glass slipper.
I take exception to the ‘they all lived happily ever after’ phrase. I’ve always been a bit perverse in not liking happy endings. They are two-dimensional and lack depth. Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ ends with the mermaid tragically giving up her prince so he can marry a normal girl and live a normal life. Not Disney. The Mermaid, you guessed it, married the prince and lived happily ever after. Even produced a sequel about their daughter.
Disney sanitised the Grimm’s and Andersen fairy tales, among many others, and made all the pretty heroines and handsome heroes interchangeable. You may not agree but I also think the bright colours of his films are too intense. They make a child’s real life pale in comparison.
There are others making animated characters and computer generated villains with the same head-turning-colour storyboards but they haven’t, on the whole, bastardised the old fairy tales from Germany and Denmark, Russia and China. Or anywhere else in the world. Baba Yaga the witch who lived in a house built on chicken legs. The Aboriginal tale of how fire was stolen from the red-breasted cockatoo. I loved ‘The Tinder Box’ by Hans Christian Andersen and my eldest son’s favourite story is by the Grimm’s; ‘The Youth who could not Shudder’. Perhaps you have your own favourite fairy stories and remember having them read to you.
I’ll climb down and put away my soap box. And live mostly contentedly, occasionally irritably, sometimes sadly. But definitely not ever after.