ONCE UPON A MOVIE SCREEN: FOUR FAVOURITE FAIRY TALES AND THEIR DISNEY FILM ADAPTATIONS
ANGELIKA M. OFFENWANGER
Integrated Studies Project
submitted to Dr. Jolene Armstrong and Dr. Joseph Pivato
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts – Integrated Studies
July 2014 Table of Contents Abstract...... 1
The Beginning: Once Upon a Time There Was a Story...... 2
The Power of Fairy Tales...... 4
"Cinderella": From Ashes to Palace...... 8
"Sleeping Beauty": Enduring Through the Spell...... 17
Interlude: Disney As Folktale...... 24
"Beauty and the Beast": Transforming the Animal...... 27
"The Frog Prince": A Transformation Tale Transformed...... 37
And the Stories Live Happily Ever After...... 46
Works Cited and Consulted...... 49 Offenwanger 1
"Cinderella", "Sleeping Beauty", "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Frog Prince" belong to the list of perennially favourite fairy tales, important parts of the canon of Western folklore.
The reason for their popularity is the underlying story of each tale, which is empowering for its audience. Viewers and readers are able to experience the plot of a story through identification with the protagonist. These fairy tale plots are inherently empowering through their base story of the transformation from a spell-bound or oppressed existence to radiant happiness, a transformation that is either experienced or effected by the young woman who is the protagonist of the story. Fairy tales are re-told in myriad ways and often change significantly in detail during this process; however, each of the versions retains the key plot elements while adapting to the time and place of its telling. The example of these four fairy tales shows that the Baroque and
Romantic fairy tale collectors—Charles Perrault, Mme de Villeneuve, Mme de Beaumont and the Brothers Grimm—adapt their versions to their culture as much as the Disney company does with their films. The Disney variants of the fairy tales take their place alongside the older written versions as a form of modern American folklore, disseminating the tales to today's audiences. Offenwanger 2
The Beginning: Once Upon a Time There Was a Story
Sleeping Beauty is alive, and her home is in Pennsylvania. According to a 2012 news report (Breyer), Nicole Delien, a seventeen-year-old girl in the Eastern United States, goes through periods in which she sleeps for up to nineteen hours a day, including one episode of sleeping for sixty-four days at a stretch. She suffers from Kleine-Levin Syndrome, a very rare condition that causes hypersomnia. Not surprisingly, the disorder has also been dubbed Rip Van
Winkle disease or, more commonly, Sleeping Beauty syndrome. Much like the slumbering princess of the fairy tale, Kleine-Levin patients cannot be properly roused until the episode of hypersomnia, which comes on suddenly and irresistibly, has run its course. The disease most commonly affects teenagers, causing them to miss out on large parts of their life as they literally sleep their youth away; over and over, the media accounts of Kleine-Levin-Syndrome sufferers assert that their life is no fairy tale. Fortunately, the disease tends to resolve itself spontaneously; adolescent-onset patients are often cured by the time they reach thirty ("Kleine-Levin
Syndrome"). If it was not for the hundred-year duration of Sleeping Beauty's slumber, one might almost assume that the fairy tale was telling the story of a royal Kleine-Levin sufferer.
Rare as the condition is, the immediate association of a young person who is sleeping for weeks at a stretch with the fairy tale attests to the popularity of the story. "Sleeping Beauty" is one of the tales German folkloristics calls Lieblingsmärchen, Favourite Fairy Tales (Uther 118), a relatively short list of fairy tales which are ubiquitously known in Western society; the list also includes the other three tales which form the subject of this paper: "Cinderella", "Beauty and the
Beast", and "The Frog Prince". All of these stories have been told and re-told in a myriad of Offenwanger 3 ways, from straightforward reprintings of the Grimms', Perrault's or Beaumont's versions, through novel-length adaptations, to movies which started with the nineteenth-century beginnings of film-making and are still some of the biggest box-office draws today. For example, at the time of this writing two multi-million-dollar live-action fairy-tale film productions are being talked about, one newly released, one forthcoming: Kenneth Branagh's
Cinderella with a star-studded cast of British actors in the roles of the 1950 Disney1 film is promised for 2015, while May 2014 saw Disney's Maleficent, a much darker-toned retelling of the 1959 Sleeping Beauty which turns the older story on its head, making the wicked fairy the sympathetic main character and the king the evil antagonist.
With these movies the Disney company is reinventing, or at least revisiting, two of its biggest successes. The animated films have enjoyed unabated popularity since their release; in fact, Disney's films have come to dominate viewers' understanding of the tales. As far as much of North America is concerned, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella are blonde, have angelic singing voices, wield a duster with great expertise and consort regularly with small animals, while their highest ambition is to find a prince to marry. This view of femininity is the exact reflection of the decade in which the films were produced, the time of the idealisation of the role of wife and mother. Disney's 1991 Beauty and the Beast also taps into its time's cultural concerns and has become a definitive version of the fairy tale, while the studio's 2009 "Frog Prince" film tells a story which, though different from the written variant of the fairy tale in most of its details, presents the same underlying message as the older versions.
Even in the twenty-first century, the 1950s Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella are still eagerly watched by young girls, although few of them would state as their life's dream the hope Offenwanger 4 for a husband and a household full of small children, and the turn-of-the-millennium films
Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Frog were a hit with audiences from the moment of their release. The main reason for the unabated popularity of the films is found in the strength of the underlying fairy tales themselves, stories which have endured through centuries and gone through many incarnations in that time. Disney's American twentieth-century film adaptations join French Baroque tales and German Romantic folk versions in telling stories which have an enduring power, which, in fact, are empowering. "Cinderella", "Sleeping Beauty", "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Frog Prince" are tales of transformation, stories which give hope to their audience that such a transformation can take place in the viewers' or readers' own lives.
The Power of Fairy Tales
Fairy tales, in common parlance, stand for unrealistic escapism, unobtainable perfection, and magical solutions. How can any such story be an instrument of empowerment? The answer lies in the nature of story itself and its function in human development. Brian Boyd, in his book
On the Origin of Stories, speaks of art as "cognitive play [which] augments our capacities so that we can, at least in the domain on which each art focuses, efficiently produce ideas or actions"
(95). One of the ways the art of story does this, Boyd claims, goes right down to the level of biology: "Mirror neurons, whose function was discovered only in the early 1990s, fire when we see others act or express emotion as if we were making the same action and allow us through a kind of automatic inner imitation to understand their intentions and attune ourselves to their feelings" (104). In other words, humans have the capacity to experience the experiences of Offenwanger 5 others by proxy, merely through watching or hearing of them. Engaging with story is a human tool. Janice Radway, in her influential 1984 study Reading the Romance, looked at the functions of love stories and concluded that romance novel readers use the act of reading as "combative and compensatory" (211). In a similar vein, Susan Elizabeth Phillips states in "The Romance and
Empowerment of Women" that engaging with the standard romance novel plot—a woman wins the love of a powerful man, thereby bringing his strength under her control—serves as a tool of empowerment in presenting the reader with the possibility of power. "Creating a fantasy world is one of the primary functions of all popular fiction. The mystery novel gives us a world of perfect justice, the western a world with no moral ambiguities. And the romance novel gives us two empowered and integrated human beings" (58). The fairy tale, as well, gives us this world of perfect justice, and at the same time one with empowered human beings and without moral ambiguity. "It is striking to observe", Radway states, "that this partial account of romance reading, which stresses its status as an oppositional or contestative act ... is not far removed from the account of folkloric practices elaborated recently by Luigi Lombardi-Satriani and José
Limon" (211). Though romance novels are not fairy tales (and fairy tales not automatically romances), the fairy tale serves similar functions for its audience.
As Radway and Phillips show for the readers of romance novels, audiences do not automatically and uncritically accept the messages which seek to reinforce the dominant ideology of the time of the piece's writing, or, as Stuart Hall puts it, they do not necessarily fall in with the "dominant-hegemonic position"—"decodings do not follow inevitably from encodings" (59). Audiences interpret the work, and can arrive at a "negotiated code or position"
(Hall 60) in which they filter the material and choose how to put it to their own use. Where the Offenwanger 6 fairy tale is concerned, folkloristic scholars such as Marina Warner and Jack Zipes have pointed to its power to be used as a utopia, a means of subversion of the hegemonic order, in spite of its apparent support of the dominant ideology. In what Stanley Fish calls "interpretive communities" (483), audiences communally build a horizon of expectation: "A literary work ... does not present itself as something absolutely new in an informational vacuum, but predisposes its audience to a very specific kind of reception" (Jauss 23). The horizon of expectation which is present in any reading of a literary work is especially powerful in fairy tales, as they are often the first works of literature introduced to young children; by the time children are grown, they are a firm part of a particular interpretive community with regards to the tales. Linda Hutcheon, in dealing with film adaptation of literary works, coins the term "knowing audiences" for viewers who are familiar with an adaptation's hypotext: in engaging with the adaptation, she says, we can "allow the [previously known text] to oscillate with what we are experiencing. In the process we inevitably fill in any gaps in the adaptation with information from the adapted text" (121). In the case of fairy tales almost every audience is a knowing audience with a well- established horizon of expectation. Fairy tale audiences go into the experience of engaging with the tale with a pre-established view of what the story will be, and are not necessarily uncritically agreeing to and being led along by the dominant ideology presented.
Assuming such uncritical viewing is a mistake Jack Zipes makes when he castigates Walt
Disney's animated films as insipid products of the culture industry, mere tools of hegemonic oppression:
The power of Disney's fairy-tale films does not reside in the uniqueness or
novelty of the productions, but in Disney's great talent for holding antiquated Offenwanger 7
views of society still through animation [...] The diversion of the Disney fairy tale
is geared toward nonreflective viewing. Everything is on the surface, one-
dimensional, and we are to delight in one-dimensional portrayal and thinking, for
it is adorable, easy, and comforting in its simplicity. (Fairy Tale as Myth, Myth as
Fairy Tale 95)
Apart from Zipes' assumption that viewers are unable to see past the "adorability" and
"antiquated views of society" to deeper themes, one might almost think that the renowned folklorist had not read Max Lüthi when he wrote those lines. According to Lüthi, "one- dimensionality" and what he terms "depthlessness" are two of the most crucial characteristics of the folk tale, part of the form of the folk tale which lends it its peculiar power (The European
Folktale: Form and Nature). The fairy tale, Lüthi states,
is literature of what ought to be (Seinsollensdichtung), but not in the sense that it
presents us with a merely possible world which, in contrast to real world, is the
way it ought to be, and which the real world is measured against. The folktale
does not show us a world that is in order; it shows us the world that is in order. It
shows us that the world is the way it ought to be. At one and the same time, the
folktale is Seinsdichtung, literature of being, and Seinsollensdichtung, literature of
what ought to be. (Das europäische Volksmärchen: Form und Wesen 82)2
In Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales, he says: "The fairy tale portrays, in a wider sense than is generally realized, a harmonious world. The confidence from which it flows is transmitted to both those who tell it and those who hear it. Thus, it is no wonder that not only children come under its spell, but that it repeatedly exerts its charm over adults. It gives not Offenwanger 8 only pleasure, it gives form and inspiration" (57), and further: "It is more than mere wish- fulfillment literature. The religious historian Mircea Eliade once said that the hearers of fairy tales, without being aware of it, experience a sort of initiation not unlike that in the customs of some primitive peoples" (59). The crucial word here is experience: just like Radway's and
Phillips' romance lovers use their novels for empowerment and Boyd's fiction audiences learn by means of mirror neurons, the readers and listeners of fairy tales experience the power of transformation.
However, the experience is not the same for everyone, and can vary from version to version of the same story—fairy tales change. As Lüthi phrases it, "the individual compilers
[dress] the fairy tale in the garb of their time, and the tension between the inner form and the outer garb of the fairy tale can be particularly fascinating for those with fastidious tastes" (Once
Upon a Time 34). There is no such thing as the "Cinderella" or "Beauty and the Beast" story, or the one definitive "Sleeping Beauty"; to put it another way, each retelling is the original.
Perrault, Villeneuve, Beaumont, the Grimms, and Disney have each told these stories in their own way, which warrants closer attention.
"Cinderella": From Ashes to Palace
"Cinderella" is probably the best-known fairy tale of them all. Though there are no survey figures to show that practically everyone knows the basic outline of the story, the ubiquitousness of its idea and the sheer numbers of adaptations in circulation tell their own tale: the catalogue of my public library returns 167 titles on just a simple search for the name without Offenwanger 9 even including adaptations of the story under a different title (a similar search for "Snow White" gives 116 hits, which include a number of items about snow or the colour white, while "Sleeping
Beauty" yields seventy-one titles, among them nonfiction books on improving one's beauty sleep). A look at the tale's history shows that not only has it been around a long time, some versions of it are found on every continent. D. L. Ashliman presents twenty different versions on his Folktexts page, including two Native American ones ("Snow White" has six versions,
"Sleeping Beauty" three), and he links to a book by Marian Roalfe Cox, published in 1893, which analyses 345 variants of the story. Susan Ohmer states that "folklorists since the 1890s have identified over 700 versions of the tale. The story is thought to have originated in China in the ninth century, and manifestations of the narrative have been traced through Europe, Africa,
Russia, the Near East and Polynesia" (231). The crucial plot point of the tiny slipper which fits none but the heroine reveals the story's Chinese influence; according to Warner, the tale of Yeh- hsien was first written down around AD 850, and "the way it is told reveals that the audience already knows it: this is by no means the Ur-text" (202).
The fairy tale is Aarne-Thompson-Uther (ATU) Tale Type 510A, "Cinderella" or
"Persecuted Heroine". The key feature in Type 510A is that a girl is displaced from her rightful position in the family, reduced to the status of servant and abused. The situation turns around with the aid of magical helpers and the girl is elevated to wealth and high status, generally through marriage to a prince. It is a rags-to-riches, ashes-to-palace story. However, the other important feature of the story as it is best known in the Western world is the lost slipper in the aftermath of the ball. The specific "Cinderella" variants within the broader "Persecuted Heroine" category tell the story of a girl whose father marries as his second wife a woman with two Offenwanger 10 daughters. They treat the girl as a servant and make her sit in the ashes of the kitchen hearth
(hence her name, Cendrillon, Aschenputtel or Cinderella—Cinders-girl). The prince gives a ball, the stepsisters go, while Cinderella has to stay behind. Her magical helpers provide her with the means to attend the ball, unrecognised by her family, where she captures the prince's attention.
On leaving the ball, she loses her exceptionally small shoe, which is then used to identify her as the prince's chosen bride. Stepmother and -sisters, undue servitude, magical helpers, the ball, the lost shoe, betrothal to the prince: those are the elements of "Cinderella".
There have been numerous adaptations of "Cinderella" in this form beyond the canonical tellings by Perrault, the Grimms, and Disney. To mention a small sampling, bypassing the vast number of children's picture books which include such gems as Chickerella and Cinderella
Skeleton: there is Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, a young adult novel in which Ella finds that being a princess is not all it was cracked up to be. Along similar lines, Philip Pullman's middle-grade novel I Was a Rat! tells the story of Roger, who was turned from a rat into a page boy for Cinderella, missed the re-transformation, and now has to cope with living as a boy, just as the princess can no longer turn back to being a kitchen maid even though the prince turned out to be a disappointment. Gail Carson Levine's young adult novel Ella Enchanted creates a reason for Ella's letting herself be abused by her stepmother and stepsisters: she is under a curse of obedience and therefore at the mercy of any direct command. The latter two novels were adapted as film, I Was a Rat! in a 2001 television series by the BBC, Ella Enchanted in a feature film, released in 2004. They join the already large number of "Cinderella" movies which began with
Georges Méliès' silent one-reeler of 1899. The best-known of live action films in America is the
Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel or Tri orísky pro Popelku (Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella) has the status of cult film; it is shown every Christmas on television, and its filming locations have become popular sightseeing destinations.
Three Hazelnuts takes as its source text a Czech variant of "Cinderella" which is close enough in plot to the Grimms' telling that the film reads as an adaptation of the latter. The
Disney animated film, on the other hand, is like most English adaptations of the story primarily based on Perrault's version of the tale, which is included in his 1697 fairy tale collection Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals (Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé) or Tales of Mother
Goose (Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye). Perrault's stories are suffused with the spirit of the
Baroque. Cinderella's stepsisters wear ruffles and pleats, one of them has a red velvet gown and the other a diamond stomacher, and they buy their face patches from a fashionable modiste.
Cinderella's father is a gentleman, and her fairy godmother provides her with courtly transportation to get to the ball. At the ball, all the ladies present take a good look at her gown and hairdo, "hoping to have some made next day after the same pattern" (68), and the prince gives her treats of oranges and citrons, which she, like a magnanimous noble lady, in turn passes on to her sisters.
By contrast, the Grimms' tale, first printed in 1812, has a bourgeois setting. Cinderella's father is just "a rich man", rather than a "gentleman" of high social standing; the images of the tale are not of an elegant chateau with full-length mirrors in parquet-inlaid bedchambers, but a burgher's house with a dovecote and a pear tree in the garden, in walking distance of the churchyard (which Cinderella visits three times each day) and the king's castle. Cinderella's Offenwanger 12 servant work is that of a dirty drudge, a kitchen maid, rather than the ladies' maid's work
Perrault's heroine has as her chief duty. She has to pick lentils and peas—peasant food—out of the ashes of the hearth, and her magic assistant is not a fairy with a wand, but prosaic birds which help her do her dirty work before providing her with a ball gown and golden slippers.
Charles Perrault sets his "Cinderella" in his own world of the seventeenth-century French court; 120 years later, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm have the story taking place in their own environment of an early-nineteenth-century German town. Another 130 years on, Walt Disney makes his Cinderella a 1950s American middle-class girl. For everyday housework, she wears a swinging skirt and ballerina flats, puts her hair in a becoming loose ponytail, and ties a scarf around her head when she goes to feed the chickens; her ball gown, the magnificent creation of the Fairy Godmother, seems to have sprung straight from Christian Dior's 1950 collection of haute couture. However, it is only Cinderella herself who belongs to the American middle class.
The setting of the film is the Continental Europe of the 1880s. All other women wear ball gowns with bustles—hugely exaggerated with a ludicrous wobble in the case of the two stepsisters— while the King, Grand Duke and Prince are decked out in the ceremonial uniforms of the Austro-
Hungarian empire, with the two older men sporting the exaggerated moustaches typical of
Victorian gentlemen. The Prince, however, is clean-shaven, with a neat 1950s haircut, and in spite of his epaulettes rather reminiscent of Cary Grant. In a world of a fairy-tale Victorian
Europe, he is the perfect match for 1950s American Cinderella.
Disney's Cinderella is 1950s American in more than her looks. She is, in fact, the perfect little housewife and mother. She looks after the mice and the other animals of the household with maternal care, using the rat trap not to get rid of vermin, but to capture naked mice in order Offenwanger 13 to civilise them with a suit of clothes and instructions on how to behave properly (Wood 37).
Even though the audience is told that Cinderella's work is dirty drudgery, what is shown is a neat, clean young woman who competently cooks, serves food with extreme elegance (carrying one breakfast tray in each hand and balancing the third on her head with the grace of a ballerina), sews her own dresses from a book of patterns, and cheerfully sings while washing an already- shining floor. Cinderella is the embodiment of what Betty Friedan calls the Feminine Mystique:
"Millions of women lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife, ... smiling as they ran the new electric waxer over the spotless kitchen floor. They baked their own bread, sewed their own and their children's clothes, kept their new washing machines and dryers running all day. ... Their only dream was to be perfect wives and mothers" (61). Cinderella's signature tune is a song about believing in dreams. Even though she will not tell her bird friends what the dream is ("'Cause if you tell a wish, it won't come true"), the longing glances she casts out the window at the castle on the horizon tell their own story
(Wood 34). The wish is articulated, however, not by Cinderella herself, but by the King, who wants a wife for his son to give him grandchildren. Watching the number of young ladies parading by the Prince without any sign of interest on the young man's part, he grumbles: "There must be at least one who'd make a suitable mother—uh, a suitable wife!" American women's
"highest ambition", Friedan says, "[was] to have five children and a beautiful house, their only fight to get and keep their husbands" (61). The only time, indeed, that Cinderella shows any fight is when her hope for the Prince is threatened. On hearing that the Grand Duke is coming to find the girl the Prince loves, she simply walks away from the work her stepsisters are piling on her; when her stepmother then locks her in her room, she rattles the door handle and shouts out loud. Offenwanger 14
There is a decided difference in the level of agency the three Cinderellas show. The
French Cinderella, for the most part, cries a lot. She never asks to go to the ball, never articulates her wish; in fact, it is she herself who voices the idea that she is not fit to attend the dance.
Drawn by her tears, the Fairy Godmother waves her wand, and Cinderella is driven off in the carriage with the strict injunction to return at midnight because then her finery will vanish as magically as it has appeared; Cinderella obeys. The Grimms' Cinderella, by contrast, has agency.
In spite of her oppression, this young woman takes action. The hazelnut tree which houses the magic doves is planted and tended by her. When it comes to the day of the ball, she begs her stepmother to be included; when the stepmother gives her the punitive task of picking lentils out of the ashes as a condition of her going, she calls the doves to her aid:
You tame pigeons, you turtledoves, and all you birds beneath the sky, come and
help me to pick
The good into the pot
The bad into the crop. (122)
As soon as the family leaves for the ball, Cinderella goes straight to the hazelnut tree, and again she asks. Unlike Perrault's Cinderella, who passively accepts everything the Fairy
Godmother chooses to bestow on her, the Grimms' heroine knows what she wants:
Shiver and quiver, little tree,
Silver and gold throw down over me. (124)
She puts on the dress, and makes her way to the castle on foot. Not having been given a curfew, she decides herself when to leave the ball, and literally runs away from the Prince. On the first day she jumps into the dovecote to escape his pursuit, on the second she climbs the pear tree, but Offenwanger 15 only to immediately jump back out the other side, go back to the hazelnut tree, and return her finery. The burgher's daughter gets around on her own two feet, dresses and undresses herself, and tidily puts away her clothes, while the French court lady is driven in a carriage, and her clothing is put on and taken off her body by others and then simply disappears—magically in this case, in real life taken away by servants.
Even though the Disney film claims to adapt the Perrault version of "Cinderella", there are several ways in which it moves towards the Grimms' telling. The matter of Cinderella being able to do for herself is one—the American girl tries to make herself a gown, and it is only after the homemade party dress is ripped off her body that she desperately needs the Fairy
Godmother's help. Her interaction with helpful animals is another. The movie combines the magic helpers of the French and German versions: the Fairy Godmother does the spectacular, glittering magic which gets Cinderella to the ball, but little animals (mice and, notably, birds) do the work for Cinderella that her stepmother has set as a condition for her going to the ball, and bring about the final conclusion to the story. In the Grimms' version, the condition is picking lentils out of the ashes, which the doves do for her, in Disney's, procuring suitable clothing, which the mice and birds accomplish by altering her dress for her. This first attempt to help
Cinderella fails, as the stepmother breaks her word, but in the end it is the animals who save the day and enable Cinderella to try on the slipper—in the German version, the doves point out to the Prince that he has the wrong bride, in the American, the mice bring Cinderella the key to let herself out of her room just in time.
Another way the Disney film moves away from Perrault and towards the Grimms is in the portrayal of the role of the stepmother. In Perrault, the stepmother ceases to exist after the Offenwanger 16 second paragraph, in which she degrades Cinderella to servant status; from there on, it is the stepsisters who do all the tormenting of Cinderella. The Disney film not only includes the stepmother in the whole story, it goes considerably beyond the Grimms in the emphasis it places on her as antagonist. Disney's Lady Tremaine concentrates all parental power in her person. The movie begins with the death of Cinderella's father, so as a full orphan, she is at her stepmother's mercy. Perrault lets the father live; his function is to marry the stepmother, then he steps off the stage and is not heard from again. In the Grimms, the father not only lives, but the hardship
Cinderella endures comes at times from both parents. Her father is an ambiguous figure. On the one hand he provides the girl with the hazel branch which grows into the magic tree, but on the other, he comes after her with an axe when she hides in the dovecote and the pear tree, and denies her to the Prince when it comes to the trial of the slipper. The Disney film does away with the father entirely and thereby leaves him free to be a loved memory unsullied by paternal failings, keeping intact the patriarchal ideology of the 1950s which says "Father knows best".
In all three versions of the story, Cinderella must confront the antagonistic forces which are concentrated in her family. However, the force which comes to her aid is also family. In
Perrault and Disney, is is the Fairy Godmother who, as a substitute mother figure, helps her to the ball, in the Grimms, it is the spirit of Cinderella's mother, embodied in the tree which grows on her grave. The force of the supernatural mother is more powerful than the persecuting earthly family, and it is this force together with Cinderella's inherent goodness, made outwardly apparent by her beauty (Zipes, The Enchanted Screen 120), which brings about the dramatic transformation from wretched ash-girl to glorious princess. Offenwanger 17
The French, German and American versions all tell this story in a way which fit the time of the telling, letting the audience identify with the heroine and therefore experience the empowerment of that transformation with her. Zipes states that he finds it "difficult to understand why [the Disney] film ... had so much success. The music is mediocre; the plot is boring; and the themes are trite" (The Enchanted Screen 181). The myriad of retellings of
"Cinderella" that are in circulation and still being produced give the lie to his claim that the plot is boring. The "knowing audiences" of the Cinderella story are aware of the core of the underlying tale; their horizon of expectation allows them to read past the messages of early- nineteenth-century or mid-twentieth-century ideology and come away from a reading or viewing of the story with the empowerment inherent in the plot.
"Sleeping Beauty": Enduring Through the Spell
Another fairy tale Jack Zipes considers boring is "Little Briar-Rose", the Grimms' variant of "Sleeping Beauty" (The Enchanted Screen 88). However, once again general opinion disagrees with him, as this is a story that is commonly known and told over and over, particularly in German-speaking countries. For more than a hundred years kindergarten children there have been acting it out in a circle game, telling the tale with the song "Dornröschen war ein schönes Kind" ("Little Briar Rose was a Beautiful Child"). One child plays the princess, another the bad fairy, a third the prince; the others are alternately the castle and thorn hedge and wedding guests. This musical retelling of the story contains all its key elements: the Princess, the curse, the hundred-year sleep, the breaking of the curse by a Prince, the wedding. However, the Offenwanger 18 underlying fascination of this story is not as readily explained as that of rags-to-riches
"Cinderella", and requires a closer look at the tale.
"Sleeping Beauty" is ATU Type 410. Ashliman's Folktexts presents just three versions: aside from the Grimms' and Perrault's there is the even older "Sun, Moon and Talia" by
Giambattista Basile. Its outline is similar to Perrault's tale in that the story of the cursed sleeping girl is continued past the point at which the Princess wakes from her enchanted slumber. In the second part of the tale, the Princess bears two children, and she and the children are persecuted by the dowager queen who tries to have the children cooked and eaten.
This "extended version" of the tale is now largely forgotten by anyone apart from fairy tale enthusiasts; "Sleeping Beauty" adaptations concentrate on the long enchanted sleep and the breaking of the curse. Among them are E. D. Baker's children's novel The Wide-Awake Princess, which focuses on the sleeping Princess' sister, immune to magic, who needs to save her family from the hundred-year sleep, and Gail Carson Levine's Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep in which the princess is forewarned of her impending sleep and spends her childhood preparing for it. Orson Scott Card's adult fantasy novel Enchantment only makes use of the trope of the sleeping beautiful girl and the kiss which wakes her, and weaves around it an elaborate tale of a modern American student and a medieval Russian princess. A notable musical adaptation is
Tchaikovsky's 1890 ballet Sleeping Beauty, whose music became the inspiration for the Disney movie's score. Film adaptations of "Sleeping Beauty" are somewhat thin on the ground. One of the earliest French film adaptations is a 1908 silent movie starring Julienne Mathieu. The Czech director of Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella made a "Little Briar-Rose" film in 1977, Jak se budí princezny (How to Wake a Princess), while German fairy tale programs such as Offenwanger 19
Sonntagsmärchen (Sunday Fairy Tales) have produced several different television versions of
"Dornröschen", attesting to the story's popularity in German-speaking countries.
The story in its basic plot seems to lend itself most readily to short films; all feature- length films add extra elements to the story. Most of the adaptations struggle with the concept of the century-long sleep, and they either ignore the hundred-year time frame, or create larger backstories for the protagonists to fill up the film time. The problem with the hundred-year sleep is that it makes it impossible for the Prince to have known the Princess prior to her falling under the spell, and therefore does away with the "true love" aspect of the tale which is crucial for modern audiences to accept the legitimacy of the concluding marriage. Twentieth-century audiences require marriages to come from love; a marriage for purely economic or social reasons has an almost immoral aspect to it. Not so in Perrault's and, to a certain extent, the Grimms' times. Ruth Perry, writing on marital relations in Jane Austen, states that the early nineteenth century was a time of change in attitudes in this area, shifting away "from an era of pragmatic rather than romantic matches" when "the discourse of the later eighteenth century created unbridgeable moral conflict over arranged or prudential marriages. [...] [Austen's work] shows that by 1797 or even by 1811 it was still possible to hold an older, less psychologized, conception of sexual relations". A French Baroque writer and a pair of German Romantic tale collectors could still entertain the idea that a marriage between two individuals who barely set eyes on each other before the wedding constitutes a desirable outcome, so long as the economic and social conditions are in tune (e.g. at least one of the partners is a prince or princess). For twentieth-century audiences, particularly liberal-minded Americans, this is unthinkable. Offenwanger 20
Zipes is not the only one who considers the "Sleeping Beauty" tale to be boring or problematic because of its apparent passivity. Aside from changing the story into a romance to suit twentieth-century American sensibilities (and in the process creating the trope of "the power of True Love's First Kiss"), Walt Disney went to considerable lengths to give it more interest and action. His source, he claims in the film's credits, is Perrault's tale, but the ogress-queen of the second half of "La belle a bois dormant" is nowhere in sight; the movie ends like the
Grimms' version with the Princess' awakening and promised marriage. However, this could be a question of which translation of Perrault Disney was using. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's loose translation of Perrault, published in 1910, ends in the same place as the Grimms' story; also, he names the Princess "Aurora", which might point to this adaptation as Disney's source text. As with "Cinderella", Disney uses both Perrault's and Grimms' versions of the tale—his Princess is not only called Aurora, but Briar Rose as well.
However, Disney's adaptation veers off considerably from the written tales. The most significant departure is the change in the focus of the action. Where in Cinderella Disney magnifies the role of the antagonist, in Sleeping Beauty he creates her out of whole cloth.
Perrault and the Grimms have the bad fairy appear at the beginning of the story, cast her curse from spite at being left out of the celebration, and then leave the stage to let matters take their course. Disney's evil fairy carries a vendetta against the Princess herself; she needs to be personally present to make sure the curse takes effect. She is the antagonist of not only the
Princess, but the three good fairies and the Prince; the bulk of the film shows the struggle between her and these forces of good, a conflict which does not exist in the written tales. Offenwanger 21
The other big change Disney makes to the plot of the story is to give the Prince a far greater role. In many ways, the Disney story is more about him than about the Princess, though he needs the help of the three bumbling good fairies to accomplish his mission. He vigorously dances and gallops and argues; the witch sees in him her true opponent for whom she needs to change into her powerful dragon form. Not for this prince the easy route to the Princess through readily-yielding brambles; he has to hack his way through the bristling thorns, which Maleficent has grown solely for his benefit. In Disney, the real solution to the problem of Sleeping Beauty is not the kiss, but a carefully aimed sword in the heart of a witch-dragon—the Sword of Truth, given to the Prince by the good fairies along with the Shield of Virtue, echoing the Bible verse which exhorts Christians to "tak[e] up the shield of faith ... and the sword of the Spirit" (Eph.
Like "Cinderella", the three versions of "Sleeping Beauty"—Perrault's, Grimms', and
Disney's—show themselves as products of their time. Perrault has the Prince take note of the old-fashioned clothing of the Princess, specifically describing its sixteenth-century style, one hundred years before his own time. The Princess' sleeping attendants hold muskets, she lies on a four-poster bed, and her musicians play violins and hautboys; the wedding is performed by the lord almoner, and "the chief lady of honour [draws] the curtains" (60). This Prince and Princess are clearly members of the French royal court. The Grimms' bourgeois tale also takes place in a castle, but when the lens of their camera sharpens on descriptive details, it shows the plebeian world of the lower servants. Perrault lists as the sleepers in his castle royal servants and hunting and pet dogs; in the Grimms it is the pigeons on the roof and the flies on the wall which nod off.
A favourite scene, included in every Grimms'-based film adaptation, is the cook who falls asleep Offenwanger 22 in the middle of pulling the scullery boy's hair, and picks right up where he left off when the spell is broken. Disney, too, has his Sleeping Beauty be a child of his time. Aurora wears 1950s fashions, and the first view the audience gets of her is with a duster in her hand, singing as she cleans. Like Cinderella, Aurora is the perfect little housewife who dreams of a prince for herself.
Prince Philip, for his part, is a handsome young American, explaining to his old-fashioned parent that the father is "living in the past. This is the fourteenth century," where young people ought to be able to marry for love.
In spite of all the changes Disney makes to the plot, however, the underlying idea remains the same. Even though Prince Philip and Maleficent are the chief actors of the tale, the story is still called "Sleeping Beauty"—the story of the girl threatened with a curse, falling under the spell, and being redeemed from it at the end. The fact is that "Sleeping Beauty", like
"Cinderella", "Snow White" and many other fairy tales, is not a love story. The romance plot of
"boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, they must overcome obstacles to be together" is not the key to this story as Perrault and the Grimms tell it, and even in Disney it is only overlaid on the real plot. "Sleeping Beauty" is about a girl who sleeps. At first glance, this seems like a story of ultimate passivity, a tale with little to offer particularly from a feminist perspective—a woman does the sleeping, and a man takes action to rescue her. Or at least, that is how the story is remembered today. In fact, in the older variants the Prince is hardly a more active player than the
Princess—his only action is to be in the right place at the right time. The brambles, which in the
Grimms' version have caught other princes until they "died a miserable death" (240), simply part at his approach and let him walk in, not because he is "the one" (i.e. the Princess' true love) or he is especially valiant, but because the time of the curse is up. Both Prince and Princess are led by Offenwanger 23 destiny; their story is predetermined. The passivity is, in fact, a waiting, an incubating, as it were, which pertains to both of the partners. Bruno Bettelheim says:
'The Sleeping Beauty' encourage[s] the child not to be afraid of passivity. ...
Presently many of our young people—and their parents—are fearful of quiet
growth, when nothing seems to happen, because of a common belief that only
doing what can be seen achieves goals. 'The Sleeping Beauty' tells that a long
period of quiescence, of contemplation, of concentration on the self, can and
often does lead to highest achievement. (227)
Yet the story's meaning and therefore power to fascinate goes deeper than just quiet growth. Sleeping Beauty's sleep is a death-like state, she is overpowered by evil. Disney shows this by giving the Princess under the sleeping spell a corpse-like blue skintone, which instantly changes back to the rosy hue of life on being woken by the Prince. The Sleeping Beauty in the thorn-covered castle fascinates from both angles: from the outside, the Prince is drawn to the mystery of the Princess, from inside, the Princess lies bound under the spell. The audience is invited to be both, the Prince and the Princess, whose coming together resolves the evil curse.
"Sleeping Beauty" is a story that lives in the tension of opposites. Lüthi says:
[T]he royal palace is for Sleeping Beauty both paradise and prison; the deathlike
sleep both a spell cast upon her and a refuge. The hedge of thorns, which can kill
but which finally bursts into bloom with magnificent flowers, expresses most
vividly this all-pervading polarity of death and resurrection. [...] [I]n the over-all
course of [the story's] events, a significant constantly recurring process is at work: Offenwanger 24
danger and redemption, paralysis and [renewed flowering], death and
resurrection. (Once Upon a Time 25, 34)
This constantly recurring process, Lüthi suggests, is not just about the individual: "One instinctively conceives of the princess as an image for the human [soul]: the story portrays the endowment, peril, paralysis, and redemption not of just one girl, but of all mankind" (24).
Though the attraction of "Sleeping Beauty" is not as readily apparent as that of triumphant rags- to-riches "Cinderella", it is as powerful and empowering a story; it speaks of the transformation of death-like sleep into life, of the value of perseverance in the face of the most forbidding obstacles. All three of the retellings, Perrault, Grimms', and Disney, tell this story, each in its way.
Interlude: Disney As Folktale
There was a hiatus of a full generation between the 1959 Sleeping Beauty and the new fairy tale films of the so-called "Disney Renaissance", which began in 1989 with The Little
Mermaid. In that time, the Disney films came to be the definitive and all-pervasive versions of the tales. "Cinderella ate my daughter!" feminist author Peggy Orenstein dramatically claims in her 2011 book by that title which discusses how prevalent "princess culture" has become in the lives of young girls. She tells the story of how she once lost her daughter in the crowd at a family event, and when she found her again, the three-year-old was playing Snow White: "There was Daisy, lying on the ground, her arms folded corpselike across her chest, her lips pursed, her expression somber. ... I had never told Daisy the story of Snow White. I had purposely kept it Offenwanger 25 from her... Yet here was my girl, somehow having learned the plotline anyway, blissfully lying in wait for Love's First Kiss" (12). Despite Orenstein's efforts to avoid exposing her daughter to commercialised "princess culture", she found that Daisy "[a]s if by osmosis ... had learned the names and gown colors of every Disney Princess—I didn't even know what a Disney Princess was" (3). In my circle of acquaintance, I have seen more than one little girl obsessed with Snow
White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, or, more to the point, the Disney movies by those titles; to them, the films are the fairy tales. Kansas State University professor Naomi Wood has made the same observation among her students: "Teaching children's literature to elementary education majors at my state university, I inevitably encounter Walt Disney's legacy. After dutifully reading the variants of 'Cinderella' by Perrault and the Grimms, my students will often politely tell me that these new versions are all very well, but that they prefer the 'original,' by which they mean Disney" (25).
For American audiences, Disney's versions of "Snow White", "Cinderella", and
"Sleeping Beauty" define the tales, and the Disney company's advertising machine has taken care to ensure that this remains true for upcoming generations of children. Criticism of the
Disney empire's variations of the stories is not hard to find, decrying the films as the culture industry's corruption of folk culture. However, the case can be made that even the mass culture product of a Disney film can take its place in the realm of folklore. Theodor Adorno, who coined the term "culture industry" to replace "mass culture", claims that this mass culture is not "a matter of something like a culture that arises spontaneously from the masses themselves, the contemporary form of [folk] art" (12), but rather is imposed upon "the masses" from above through the lure of entertainment. "[T]he culture industry", Adorno says disapprovingly, Offenwanger 26
"arouses a feeling of well-being that the world is precisely in that order suggested by the culture industry," a feeling which he calls "substitute gratification" (18). This, however, sounds remarkably like Max Lüthi's statements regarding the folktale as literature of being
(Seinsdichtung) and at the same time literature of what ought to be (Seinsollensdichtung), which
"does not show us a world that is in order … [but] the world that is in order" (The European
Folktale 89). "As a narrative type," Lüthi continues, "the folktale simultaneously entertains and illuminates the nature of existence" (92). Furthermore, there is a faction among folklorists which claims that the origin of fairy tales is not "from the bottom up", i.e. generated among the masses, but imposed "from the top down", from above, as high culture which has trickled down and become "popularised" (see, for example, Jack Zipes' discussion of Ruth Bottigheimer's 2005 paper on this topic in The Irresistible Fairy Tale). Controversial as this claim is, and, in its generalised form, hard to credit, in specific instances this process is well documented: a fairy tale is written as an original literary composition, then spreads and becomes adapted and
"folklorised" by the people, taking on the qualities of a traditional folk tale. Lüthi states: "[O]ne may indeed say that in the oral tradition of the folk, the folktale style passes through a process of self-correction [...] The fate of [literary fairy tales] when returned to oral tradition shows in what sense the folktale may be called a collective composition" (European Folktale 112). The "top- down" genesis of well-known fairy tales like "Beauty and the Beast" or "The Little Mermaid", originating from the pen of a specific writer in a specific time and place, does not negate their firm place in the realm of folklore; the stories have been adopted by "the masses", the people.
The same claim can be made of Disney's variants of fairy tales. Their spread and popularity are Offenwanger 27 generated and fuelled by the heavy push of advertising, but its outcome is that the stories have become part of modern American folklore.
"No telling is above modification", folklore scholar Betsy Hearne says. "Wilhelm
Grimm's tidying up tales to suit society had an impact as pervasive as Disney's…. The strong story is greater than any of its tellings. The core elements remain because they are magnetic to each other, structurally, and to people, variably but almost universally" (107). In "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty", these "magnetic" core elements which exercise their draw on the audience are the redemption of a young woman from a paralysing situation and her triumph over her circumstances, core elements which appear in every retelling. In "Beauty and the Beast" and
"The Frog Prince", the core elements are reversed—it is the redemption of the prince which is at stake, with the woman as the redeeming agent. The breaking of a beastly suitor's spell and his release into his human form, freeing him to be a suitable husband for a beautiful girl, is the empowering or, as Hearne puts it, "magnetic" core element of these "animal bridegroom" tales which is present in the written tales by Madame de Villeneuve, Madame de Beaumont, and the
Brothers Grimm, and carried over into the Disney films, the 1991 Beauty and the Beast and 2009
The Princess and the Frog.
"Beauty and the Beast": Transforming the Animal
It is one of Western culture's most popular love stories, after more than two centuries still in print and frequently adapted in film and other media: a beautiful young woman meets a powerful rich man. Far from letting this man's wealth turn her head, she is repulsed by an Offenwanger 28 ugliness she perceives about him; when he asks her to marry him, she refuses. He continues to pursue her, and her revulsion of him gradually turns into its opposite. However, just as she comes to realise her deeper feelings for him, it appears that the relationship is irrevocably over due to an action on the part of her sisters; her chance at happiness with this man is dead. But at the last moment, circumstances turn around. She accepts his hand in marriage; their wedding is celebrated to the great joy of their families and friends, and the woman enters into her new life as mistress of a great estate.
What is this story's title, and who wrote it? Is it Mme de Beaumont's "Beauty and the
Beast"? Perhaps—but it could just as easily be Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, with
Elizabeth Bennet as the woman repulsed by her suitor's ugliness, though in Mr Darcy's case it is his inner quality, his repellent pride, rather than outer appearance which disgusts her. It is unlikely that Austen had "Beauty and the Beast" in mind when she wrote Pride and Prejudice, but the elements of the story are there. The tale of a woman's transformative power in the life of a man who is bound by some dark power is perennially popular. "Beauty and the Beast" adaptations range from children's picture books—a notable new example is H. Chuku Lee and
Pat Cummings' 2014 version which sets the story in Africa—through young adult versions such as Alex Finn's novel Beastly and its concomitant film, which has the story taking place in a high school in New York, to Angela Carter's short stories "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon" and "The
Tiger's Bride" from her adult collection The Bloody Tower.
One of the earliest animal bridegroom tales still in existence is the Latin writer Apuleius' story "Cupid and Psyche", part of his second-century novel The Metamorphoses. It is the tale of beautiful Psyche, youngest of three sisters, and her marriage to Cupid, who only comes to her at Offenwanger 29 night and whom she believes to be a monster. Traces of its plot are still visible in "Beauty and the Beast", which occupies its own ATU tale type number, 425C, among animal bridegroom tales. D. L. Ashliman's Folktexts page on "Beauty and the Beast" presents beside the French versions fifteen other tales, including a Chinese one in which the Beast is a serpent, and two little-known variants by the Brothers Grimm from the 1812 edition of Children's and Household
The story as it is known today was originally written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de
Villeneuve, a French nobleman's daughter, who published it in 1740 in Les contes marins ou la jeune Américaine. Villeneuve's version of "Beauty and the Beast" is an extensive tale of novella length. The first part of the story contains the elements which are now familiar as the plot of the story: Beauty, the youngest daughter of a merchant, asks her father for a rose; when he seeks to fulfil her wish, he falls foul of a Beast. To save his life, Beauty consents to live in the castle of the Beast, who asks for her hand in marriage. She refuses, in part due to having lost her heart to a handsome prince she has met in her dreams, but over time grows fond of the Beast. When her temporary absence causes him to nearly die from grief, she recognises her feelings for him and consents to marry him; this breaks the spell he is under and transforms him into her dream prince.
In Villeneuve's version, the tale continues from this point with extensive background stories of the characters and their ancestors, which are eliminated from most subsequent adaptations of the story, as they are irrelevant to the plot of Beauty and her beastly suitor. The best-known telling of "Beauty and the Beast" is a version by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de
Beaumont, a Frenchwoman who worked in England as governess. She published the story in Offenwanger 30
1756 in Le Magasin des Enfants, a collection of tales for the education of her charges. Mme de
Beaumont's tale closely follows the plot of Mme de Villeneuve's; she primarily changes details, such as reducing the number of sisters, and ends the story with the release of the Prince from his beastly form and the subsequent wedding. A significant alteration is the omission of the dream prince who provides Villeneuve's Beauty with a reason for her rejection of the Beast's repeated offers of marriage. Further changes are a considerable tightening of the narration; where
Villeneuve describes the minutiae of Beauty's entertainment in the castle (including several television-like windows which allow her to watch theatre plays or the activities of a fair),
Beaumont just states that it is "a delightful pleasant place".
The adaptation which is according to Marina Warner "the most widely read version in
English" is printed in Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book of 1889, in which he "disseminated Miss
Minnie Wright's splice of two French texts, the one by Mme de Villeneuve and another by Mme de Beaumont" (277). Wright's translation follows Beaumont's plot line, but retains much of
Villeneuve's details, albeit in abridged form.
Though Beaumont's version of "Beauty and the Beast" is the source text credited in Jean
Cocteau's 1946 live-action film adaptation, a celebrated art film of the immediate after-war years, the movie nevertheless takes some of its elements from Villeneuve's version of the tale.
Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête, in turn, appears to be one of the hypotexts of the 1991 Disney film.
One of the most noticeable changes Cocteau makes to the plot of the tale is the introduction of an additional suitor for Beauty's hand who tries to kill the Beast. This suitor, Avanant, is played by the same actor as the Beast and his human form, the Prince, in a clear parallel to Villeneuve's plot device of Beauty already loving a man who is really the Beast's human incarnation. The Offenwanger 31
Disney film adopts this device of another suitor, whom it calls Gaston, but changes him from a sympathetic character whom Beauty loves to the antagonist of the tale.
Cocteau sets his film in the early seventeenth century, but the Disney movie takes place in a vaguely-eighteenth-century France, the time and place of Villeneuve and Beaumont's writing. Where Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty have their heroes and heroines in 1950s styles to contrast with their old-fashioned surroundings, outwardly Belle is much the same as the townsfolk, while the Beast in the course of the film becomes an eighteenth-century gentleman whose hairstyle and clothing only differ from those of other men by being more elaborate, as befits a prince. Even the scenery fits the time: the autumn landscape through which Belle's father travels seems to be taken straight from a Watteau or Gainsborough painting.
However, the real difference between Cinderella and Aurora and Belle is inward. "Belle is a feminist", says screenplay writer Linda Woolverton (cited in Dutka). "I'm not critical of
Snow White [or] Cinderella . . . they reflected the values of their time. But … I wanted a woman of the '90s, someone who wanted to do something other than wait for her prince to come." This
"woman of the '90s" is apparent in Belle from the first moment the audience sets eyes on her.
Unlike Aurora, who is introduced to the audience with a duster in her hand, and Cinderella, whose first act in the film is to do her hair and get dressed, Belle is seen on her way to the bookshop. Her signature song, which she, like Cinderella, sings in her very first scene, expresses a wish to expand her horizons: "There must be more than this provincial life!" and later, in a reprisal:
I want adventure in the great wide somewhere
I want it more than I can tell Offenwanger 32
And for once it might be grand
To have someone understand
I want so much more than they've got planned.
The "they" mentioned in the last line specifically refers to Gaston, who just prior to this song has informed Belle that it is her lucky day and she will marry him. Unlike Princess Aurora, who in a similar situation is ready to sink into her lover's arms, Belle literally throws her unwanted suitor and his muddy boots out the door. She then goes to feed the chickens, just like Cinderella—but this domestic activity has a very different tone from her predecessor's, as it is accompanied by her indignant musical complaint:
Madame Gaston! Can't you just see it?
Madame Gaston, his little wife! [here she slings a cloth around her head in a
mockery of the headscarf Cinderella wears while feeding the chickens, and sends
the bucket of corn flying with a well-placed kick]
Not me! No sir! I guarantee it!
I want much more than this provincial life!
The aborted chicken feeding scenario is the only time in the film Belle is shown in any domestic pursuit; she certainly is not a little housewife subscribing to the feminine mystique.
Marina Warner says of the movie: "This fairytale film is more vividly aware of contemporary sexual politics than any made before; it consciously picked out a strand in the tale's history and deliberately developed it for an audience of mothers who grew up with Betty Friedan and Gloria
Steinem" (313). Between the release of Sleeping Beauty and that of Beauty and the Beast fall the achievements of second-wave feminism, sparked by Friedan's 1963 book. The feminist topics of Offenwanger 33 the 1990s were different from those of a generation earlier, and Beauty and the Beast is aware of them. Naomi Wolf's book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women, which instigated the third wave of feminism, was published not long before the release of the film, and the movie makes its own statement about the topic Wolf addresses. Belle does not let her beauty define her or determine her life. In fact, throughout the film she is never once seen fussing with her looks. This differs particularly from Cinderella, who spends much of her screen time dressing, or worrying about clothes. Belle, by contrast, not only is not shown dressing, but when her ladies' maid, the enchanted wardrobe, wants her to put on a pretty gown to dine with the Beast, Belle flatly refuses. She is later seen wearing the dress, but the viewer is never privy to any consciousness of appearance on Belle's part; even her trick of pushing a strand of hair back from her forehead seems more like a habit than an attempt to amend her looks. The characters seen preening in this film are the male rivals: Gaston interrupts his proposal to Belle to admire himself in the mirror, and the Beast is shown undergoing an elaborate grooming process, from a bath through having his hair cut and styled, before his dinner and dance with
While the males are concerned with appearances, Belle has other things on her mind.
Disney's Beauty is above all a book lover, a quality which sets her apart from the inhabitants of the village; the Beast's gift which wins her heart is the large library in his castle. The library and
Belle's love for reading come straight from the printed versions of the tale, both Villeneuve's and
Beaumont's. The latter especially stresses that Belle "spen[ds] the greatest part of her time in reading good books", for which she is mocked by her sisters who think time is better spent on clothing and amusements. Disney's Gaston and the villagers are also of that opinion; in fact, Offenwanger 34
Gaston seems to be illiterate, wondering how Belle can read a book without pictures. But the
Beast is in a similar situation, which is shown in a scene in the extended edition of the film.
Belle reads Romeo and Juliet to the Beast, but when she asks him to take a turn, he is embarrassed to admit he cannot read; the scene ends with Belle beginning to teach him. Gaston in the film, and Beauty's sisters in the written tales, are wilfully ignorant, whereas the Beast, in both forms of the story, is bothered by his lack of wit. "'[B]esides my ugliness,'" he says in
Beaumont's version, "'I have no sense; I know very well, that I am a poor, silly, stupid creature.'
''Tis no sign of folly to think so,' replied Beauty, 'for never did fool know this, or had so humble a conceit of his own understanding.'" Beauty accepts her ugly suitor in both his physical and mental beastliness, his inferiority to her, an acceptance which brings about his transformation.
The most significant aspect to all these versions of Beauty is that she is a woman who has agency. Even in the eighteenth-century written tales, it is at her insistence that she takes her father's place in the Beast's castle, it is her own choice to remain there. She alone of her sisters takes action to help her father after his bankruptcy, working to feed and care for the family. She asks the Beast for permission to visit her family, and she does what it takes to return to him.
When she finds him near death, she fetches water to revive him, and it is her confession of love for him which sparks his transformation. Linda Woolverton's screenplay goes even further in this, giving Belle the agency a late-twentieth-century woman might expect to have. Belle makes her own choices. Without a second thought she rejects Gaston, and outwits him when he tries to force her into marriage. Not only is she willing to take her father's place as the Beast's prisoner, it is she who suggests the substitution. But most importantly, like Beaumont's and Villeneuve's
Beauty, beyond their first encounter Belle is not afraid of the Beast. She is upset at her situation, Offenwanger 35 but never frightened of speaking up; Belle has a strong voice. This is especially apparent in the scene which marks the turning point in their relationship, where Belle attempts to treat the wounds the Beast has sustained in defending her from wolves. He roars at the pain and blames her for what happened, but while his staff cower in terror, Belle shouts back in his face, scolding him for his temper. This unexpected treatment startles him into silence, and as he submits to her nursing, they begin to interact as equals. In this version, too, it is her confession of love for him which causes the transformation; in a reversal of the traditional pattern, the woman does not wait for the male to speak first, but takes action, which becomes the saving power in his life.
The transformation from Beast to Prince is the most powerful aspect of this story, the key to its enduring hold on our imaginations. The Beast is a creature of great power. In most of the written tales there is no direct description of him beyond his being "frightful" (Beaumont and
Lang); in Villeneuve, he has "a trunk resembling an elephant's" (159). Glen Keane, who animated the Beast in Disney's film, made him a composite of a number of creatures, chief among them the American buffalo (Warner 315), but also the wolf, boar, lion, and bear. The
Beast begins the film very much as an animal, pacing on all fours with only a ragged cloak slung around his body, but becomes more and more human, culminating in the dance scene in which he dresses and moves like an eighteenth-century nobleman. The wild Beast has been tamed by a strong woman. In the film, the change is almost entirely in the Beast; Belle remains the same throughout, except for her growing affection for the Beast. The printed stories focus more on the change in the girl. Beaumont, in particular, stresses Beauty's personal qualities, and contrasts them favourably with those of her sisters; this is not unexpected in a tale which was written as didactic material for young women. The Beast is presented as unspecifically ugly and Offenwanger 36 frightening, but good-natured, an example of the unknown husband to whom a young lady might expect to be joined. "In the eighteenth-century French fairy story, which focussed on the evils of matrimonial customs, the father hands over Belle to the Beast in exactly the same kind of legal and financial transaction as an arranged marriage, and she learns to accept it" (Warner 317). In the Disney film, the ugliness of the Beast is initially inside more than outside; he is "spoiled, selfish and unkind", and the curse of the beast shape is a punishment for his behaviour. He has to learn to become beautiful on the inside, only then can his outer form become human again. The late-twentieth-century Beauty redeems her man not just by accepting his physical ugliness, but by standing up to him and refusing to submit to his temper outbursts; her strength transforms his character, which in turn allows the spell on his body to be broken, and he becomes an equal partner to her.
The transformation scene from Beast to man takes on a greater dramatic impact in each subsequent telling of the story. In Villeneuve's original version, Beauty returns to the Beast to find him near death, and manages to revive him. She waits the rest of the day until his customary evening visit, when she accepts his proposal; fireworks appear in the sky, but the Beast is still a beast. Beauty goes to sleep, and in the morning wakes to find the Prince in bed beside her (192).
In Lang's adaptation, the transformation to human takes place upon the acceptance of the supper table proposal (118); in Beaumont's version, there is no wait for supper, but as soon as Beauty has revived the Beast in the garden and confessed her love for him he becomes a man. The
Disney film has the Beast go from near-death to human life immediately upon Belle's confession of her love; in a shower of ringing sparks a windstorm whirls him into the air and light bursts Offenwanger 37 from his hands and feet as his body changes. Animator Glen Keane considers this the key moment of the story, and describes the impact it has had on viewers:
I got so many letters after this movie came out of people who have struggled with
a feeling that they are a beast, but that there’s something good inside of them, but
they can’t shake the dark side that’s in their life, particularly children that were
abused. I was getting so many letters from kids that just felt they were ugly
because of what had happened from some trusted person. And they really related
to seeing the Beast with somebody trapped inside that wanted to get out, and
that’s why they loved the transformation, because they could see what they really
wanted to have in their own life. (Ferguson)
"Beauty and the Beast" is a tale of transformation that empowers its audiences in a two- fold way. They are able to identify with the transformed Beast, who is redeemed from bondage to a hideous form and free to be his human self again, but also with Beauty, a woman who exercises her transformative redeeming power. Redeemer and redeemed, the story offers audiences the empowerment of being both.
"The Frog Prince": A Transformation Tale Transformed
On his Folktexts page "Frog Kings: Folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther Type 440 About
Slimy Suitors", D. L. Ashliman presents a little-known German story, "The Enchanted Frog". It tells of a merchant who has three daughters, and when he goes on a journey, the youngest asks him to bring her a rose. On his return journey, he comes to an enchanted garden, where he Offenwanger 38 breaks off the rose… In fact, this story is nearly identical to "Beauty and the Beast", except that here the beastly suitor is a frog. The parallels between the stories are startling; the most significant difference is the change in the animal from large and frightening to small and disgusting. However, the best-known variant of "frog husband" stories is that of the Brothers
Grimm, tale #1 in the Children's and Household Tales. In their version, the reluctant bride is a princess, not a merchant's daughter, and she is not coerced into being an animal's companion through her father's breaking off a rose for her, but by her own promise given in return for the frog's help in retrieving her toy.
"The Frog King" is one of the best examples of a story which is a true folk tale, originating from an extensive oral tradition. Heidi Anne Heiner states that "[a]ccording to Stith
Thompson, The Frog King dates back to thirteenth century Germany where a Latin version of the tale was written" and that a Scottish version, "The Well of the World's End", is documented from the sixteenth century. Hans-Jörg Uther says that the Brothers Grimm considered "The Frog
King" one of the oldest fairy tales, "an assumption based on various references in texts of the late Middle Ages and early Modern Era, which led to the conclusion that the fairy tale was generally known" (1).3 According to Heiner, "the tale has been well-known by storytellers in almost every European country, stretching from Scotland to Germany to Russia". These
European variants of "frog husband" stories generally follow a base pattern: the meeting of the girl with the animal helper, the demand of the promised reward, and the disenchantment of the frog into a prince (Uther 1). This is also the pattern of the Grimms' story. In their tale, a princess loses her golden ball in a well; a frog fetches it for her when she promises to let him be her Offenwanger 39 companion; she is forced by her father to keep her promise, and finally throws the frog against the wall which breaks the spell and turns him into a prince again.
The tale of "The Frog Prince" is an interesting study in the alteration of a tale over the course of its telling, and its power in taking hold of the popular imagination. In "What Makes a
Repulsive Frog So Appealing: Memetics and Fairy Tales", Jack Zipes says "'The Frog King' has an extraordinary capacity to appeal to and to attract readers and tellers because it was constituted by and cultivated through a constant exchange of oral and literary articulation and communication…. In the hands of the Grimms, 'The Frog King' 'latched' on to them and their readers and kept insisting that it be replicated in some form or another" (114). The Grimms' tale underwent multiple alterations in the course of its lifespan. From the handwritten Urtext of 1810 through every subsequent edition up to the final version of 1857, Wilhelm Grimm kept making changes (Röhrich 13). To begin with, the narrative became far more elaborate, as is shown by a comparison of the first paragraph of the versions of 1812 and 1857 (Ashliman, "The Frog King or Iron Heinrich"):
[1812:] Once upon a time there was a princess who went out into a forest and sat
next to a cool well.
[1857:] In olden times, when wishing still did some good, there lived a king
whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun
itself, who, indeed, has seen so much, marveled every time it shone upon her
face. In the vicinity of the king's castle there was a large, dark forest, and in this
forest, beneath an old linden tree, there was a well. In the heat of the day the
princess would go out into the forest and sit on the edge of the cool well. Offenwanger 40
Also, the Grimms adjusted the story to make it more appropriate for their young audience, as well as more didactic. For one, they carefully expunged all references to sex. In the original, Röhrich states, "the frog says very directly, 'I want to sleep with you,' and after the transformation 'the Princess lay down with him'" (14);4 in the final version, the frog never gets near the bed. Another significant change the Grimms introduced is the central role of the
Princess' father, who forces his daughter to fulfil her promise to her slimy suitor. Only through obedience to him does she obtain her Happily Ever After: a salutary lesson for the Grimms' young readers.
However, not only at the hands of the Grimms did the text experience considerable changes. The earliest English translation of their tale appeared just a decade after the first edition of the Children's and Household Tales. On his "Frog Kings" page, Ashliman states:
Edgar Taylor, the translator of "The Frog King," departs from his source in
substantial ways. Not only does he change the title, but he totally revises the
ending, replacing the Grimms' violent resolution with one of passivity. It appears
that, in his judgment, the English readers of the 1820's, unlike their German
counterparts, would not accept a heroine who throws her frisky bed companion
against the wall.
In the Grimms' version of the story the spell-breaking device is a violent one: the
Princess throws the Frog against the wall of her bedroom, and "when he [falls] down he [is] no frog but a king's son with kind and beautiful eyes" (20). Taylor's version has her accepting the frog as bed-companion; for three nights she lets him sleep on her pillow, and on the third morning she wakes, not unlike Villeneuve's Beauty, to find him a prince. However, Taylor did Offenwanger 41 not make up that ending: he found it in another tale of the Grimms which was eliminated from later editions because of its similarity to "The Frog King". Taylor adopted both the more gentle ending and the title of the deleted tale, leading to the story's becoming known in English- speaking countries as "The Frog Prince" (Ashliman, "Frog Kings").
The changes to "The Frog Prince" did not stop with the last edition of the Grimms, or
Taylor's English adaptation. The curious thing about the meme of the frog prince and the princess who redeems him is that its best-known aspect, the device for undoing the enchantment, is for all intents and purposes a simulacrum: in none of the older written versions of the story is the spell-breaking kiss to be found. The precise origin of the idea of the kiss in the Frog Prince story has proven to be elusive. In his essay "'You Have to Kiss a Lot of Frogs (Toads) Before
You Meet Your Handsome Prince': From Fairy-Tale Motif to Modern Proverb" folklorist
Wolfgang Mieder concludes that the trope of the kiss originates in the proverb included in the title of his paper, not in the fairy tale. But regardless of its origins, in modern sensibilities the spell-breaking kiss is a firmly established meme, and almost invariably, when "The Frog Prince" is adapted or invoked today, it is the kiss which holds the central role in the action.
"The Frog Prince" is a tale which has altered extensively over its long life, but the alterations confirm the "magnetic core element" of the story by what they leave unchanged: all variants tell of the redemption of a prince, enchanted into a frog body, by a girl who accepts him as her husband, takes him into her bedroom, or gives him a kiss, i.e. treats him willingly or unwillingly as her lover or spouse. The story promises redemption on the one hand, and power to redeem on the other; it is this core element which, in Zipes' words, "latches on" to audiences because of its empowering message. Offenwanger 42
"Frog Prince" adaptations in novels or films are comparatively rare, especially when held up against the myriad of "Cinderella" or "Beauty and the Beast" variants, and usually focus on the kiss instead of telling the story of the Princess and her lost golden ball. One such novel adaptation is E. D. Baker's 2002 children's book The Frog Princess. Baker's story takes place in a classic fairy-tale setting, a quasi-medieval land with castles, kings and witches. Teenaged princess Emeralda, who does not want to marry the prince chosen for her, takes refuge in the swamp, where a talking frog asks her for a kiss. Reluctantly, she obliges, and to the great chagrin of both she is turned into a frog as well (the reason, which is not revealed until the end of the story, is that she is wearing a magical protective bracelet which causes spells to backfire). The bulk of the story is taken up with the two frogs' adventures in the swamp, attempting to find a witch to undo the spell on them, in the process of which they gradually fall in love.
Baker's novel is the text Disney optioned when the studio decided to make a "Frog
Prince" animated feature. However, the Disney film The Princess and the Frog, released in
2009, bears only a slightly greater resemblance to Baker's story than to "The Frog Prince" fairy tale. Gone are the golden ball and the well, and missing is also the King who forces his daughter into keeping faith with her unwanted amphibian suitor. The Disney movie sets the story in 1920s
New Orleans, and the heroine is not a princess, but an African-American waitress. Tiana's greatest ambition is to open her own restaurant, for which she has saved her pennies since she was a young child. In contrast with hard-working Tiana is Prince Naveen, the disinherited son of royalty from the small country of Moldavia, with a café-au-lait complexion, unspecific Latino accent, and penchant for playing jazz ukulele. Naveen gets turned into a frog by a voodoo man who wants his blood for doing spells. In this shape, he meets Tiana at a costume ball, where she Offenwanger 43 is dressed as a princess, and asks for a kiss, in return promising her money which he does not have. The kiss backfires, presumably because Tiana is not a real princess, and the girl becomes a frog as well. Together they hop through the Bayou in search of a way to become human again.
They fall in love, teach each other the character qualities the other lacks (responsibility and work ethic for Naveen, the ability to lighten up and focus on love rather than work for Tiana), and marry while still in frog shape. The marriage to a prince makes Tiana a princess, so their first kiss after they exchange vows breaks the spell on both of them. The film ends with them running
Tiana's dream restaurant together.
Disney's depiction of Tiana clearly shows the changes that happened in Western culture in the fifty years between the release of Sleeping Beauty and The Princess and the Frog.
Cinderella and Aurora dream of princes; Belle of adventures—Tiana wants a business. What is more, at the start of the film she has nearly achieved her dream by her own hard work and determination. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, her ambition and ability to pursue her dream need no explanation. Tiana is a woman with agency, a woman of strength. Not only does she not need the Prince, she has no use for him—he is a lazy spendthrift; there is no place for him in her dream, the dream she inherited from her dead father. In the Grimms' story, the
Princess makes a promise she has no intention of keeping, and her father tells her sternly: "That which you have promised must you perform!" (19). Tiana needs no such admonition. She is her own hardest taskmaster; her daddy's voice has become internalised—or so she believes. But what she has to learn is that she is missing an important part of her father's value system. She needs to make room for love in her life, as she is told by her the two mother figures, her own mother and Mama Odie, the voodoo woman in the Bayou. The Grimms' princess has to treat the Offenwanger 44 frog like her husband, share her food and take him into her bedroom, before he is redeemed and becomes a partner for her; Tiana has to put love before success in order to gain a fully balanced life.
Another significant alteration the movie makes is to the character of the prince. Like the
Beast in Beaumont's version, the Frog in the Grimms' variant is the innocent victim of a wicked fairy. But Disney's Frog Prince is partly himself to blame for his problem. It is his carelessness which draws him into the voodoo man's net, and his desire for easy money which allows the spell to be put on him. Like Disney's Beast, he needs his time in an animal body to atone for his character flaws and mend his ways, and here, too, it is the growing relationship with the girl which acts as the catalyst for him to desire this crucial inner change, making the final physical transformation possible. The animal bridegrooms of the turn of the millennium need redemption from their beastliness of character before they can be fitting partners to an empowered young woman; the release from their outer repulsiveness is just the completion of this process.
The key feature of the "Frog Prince" is the transformation of the animal into human form, a transformation which in the Disney film affects both protagonists. Here, both Prince and
Princess are enchanted, and they need each other to break the spell. In the Grimms' story, the frog needs to change physically, the Princess inwardly. Bettelheim, analysing the Grimms' variant with its violent solution, says "in a way this story tells that to be able to love, a person first has to become able to feel; even if the feelings are negative, that is better than not feeling"
(288). There, the Princess has to learn to feel, and the Prince has to shed his beastly form, in order to be able to enter into the marriage which completes their story. In The Princess and the
Frog, both Tiana and Naveen have to undergo both forms of change, the outward as well as the Offenwanger 45 inward; in order to achieve fulfilment, either one has to learn, in the words of the Disney Beast's spell, "to love another and receive [his or] her love in return". It is their love which makes it possible for Tiana to be redeemed from her overly-driven behaviour patterns by Naveen's fun- loving attitude, while her teaching and example can redeem him from his irresponsibility; their mutual love is the transforming power. The waitress and the playboy prince free each other, empowering one another to be the best person he or she can be.
An unredeemed character, this story tells us, cannot be a fitting spouse; and life without love is incomplete, even if one achieves material success. But change is possible. When the transformation takes place, Prince and Princess can join as equal partners, and in doing so find the fulfilment of their first wishes, as well. This message of the possibility of transformation and fulfilment is the empowering core of the "Frog Prince" tale which has endured through the extensive transformations of the story itself.
The Princess and the Frog is still too new a film to determine whether it will have the impact on the popular imagination that Disney's Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the
Beast had. Naveen and Tiana might never become the Frog Prince and Princess in the way their predecessors have come to define the source fairy tales for American culture, but with The
Princess and the Frog Disney placed another powerful "Frog Prince" variant into the long- reaching and ever-changing array of retellings of the story of the frog suitor and his reluctant redeemer, a tale whose enduring power has stood the test of time. Offenwanger 46
And the Stories Live Happily Ever After
"Cinderella", "Sleeping Beauty", "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Frog Prince" are four key tales in the canon of Western folklore. The stories have an enduring power, and are being told over and over, adapting themselves to the time and place of their telling. Charles Perrault puts "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty" in his own French Baroque world of the late seventeenth century; Mme de Villeneuve and Mme de Beaumont tell "Beauty and the Beast" from their perspective of mid-eighteenth-century ladies and educators of girls. Jacob and
Wilhelm Grimm present their tales filtered through the lens of early-nineteenth-century German bourgeois Romanticism. And finally, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the Disney
Studios present the tales from a modern American viewpoint. None of the different versions of each story is the "correct" one; each tells the tale according to its time.
What captures us in these tales, leading us to revisit them again and again in a myriad of guises, is the underlying story: the one a tale of a scorned daughter who overcomes her oppression and rises to splendour; another a story of a princess in a death-like sleep, a prince who perseveres, and the breaking of the spell; a third and fourth the tale of a prince who is enchanted into an animal body and a heroine who, willingly or unwillingly, engages to do what it takes to free him, receiving the fulfilment of her own wishes as a reward. Whether the stories are true folktales, sourced in the oral tradition like "The Frog Prince", "Sleeping Beauty" and
"Cinderella", or whether their origin is as literary fairy tale like "Beauty and the Beast", it is the
"magnetic" quality of their core elements which provides the power in these tales, elements which are retained even in the extensive alterations the stories might undergo in the hands of tellers. These stories are tales of transformation, of a young woman or man redeemed from a Offenwanger 47 curse or bondage to find radiant happiness. The empowerment of this transformation is offered to the audience in engaging with the stories, in identifying with the tales' protagonists, an empowerment that is carried in the traditional written tales as well as the modern Disney films.
Whether the stories are told by a seventeenth-century French courtier, eighteenth-century French ladies, nineteenth-century German philologists, or twentieth-century American filmmakers, we never tire of hearing of princes and princesses, Belle and Briar Rose, spells and wicked stepmothers, beasts and frogs—and above all of the joyful transformation which leads, time and time again, to the conclusion: "…and they lived happily ever after." Offenwanger 48
1 In this paper I am using "Disney" to mean both Walt Disney himself, and the Disney
2 "Seinsollensdichtung ist das Märchen nicht in dem Sinne, daß es uns eine bloß mögliche
Welt hinstellt, die im Gegensatz zur wirklichen Welt so ist, wie sie sein soll, und an der die wirkliche Welt gemessen wird. Das Märchen zeigt uns nicht eine Welt, die in Ordnung ist, es zeigt uns die Welt, die in Ordnung ist. Es zeigt uns, daß die Welt so ist, wie sie sein soll. Das
Märchen ist Seinsdichtung und Seinsollensdichtung in einem."
3 "Diese Annahme gründete auf verschiedenen Anspielungen in Texten des
Spätmittelalters und der Frühen Neuzeit, die auf eine allgemeine Bekanntheit schließen ließen."
4 "In der Urfassung noch sagt der Frosch sehr direkt: 'Ich will bei dir schlafen', und nach der Verwandlung 'legte sich die Königstochter zu ihm'." Offenwanger 49
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