Tag Archives: fairy tales

Song of the Sea

I was angry and disappointed when The Lego Movie failed to get even a nomination from The Academy Awards this past year, because it deserved to take home the trophy. In its place were a couple of movies no one had heard of, much less seen – Song of the Sea, and The Tale of the Box OfficePrincess Kaguya (alongside Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, and How To Train Your Dragon 2). Of those, I was glad that Big Hero got the Oscar, but this was an unusual category for me, in that I hadn’t actually seen all of the nominees. Those two unknowns were impossible to see in theatres (at least here in Ottawa – and I did try, combed VOD, the works). A while ago I noticed that Song of the Sea was available through Google Play, and I meant to get around to it, but wasn’t in much of a rush since I’d been harbouring festering resentment toward it since January.

The truth is, this is not the movie that took a slot away from our beloved Legos. This movie deserved to be there.

song-of-the-sea-2Now, before we get started, let me warn you, this isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s rated PG, for some mild peril, and pipe smoking images. Do you think you can handle that? If not, better go call your mother right now, get some guidance, talk it out, see if she thinks you’re up to it.

Once upon a time, a little boy is soothed by the stories told to him by his mother. She’s expecting a baby and he can’t wait to be its big brother. But then a baby appears but mama disappears. Through the magic of movies, a few years elapse, and big brother is quite resentful of his little sister, subconsciously blaming her for his mother’s death. Their father is deep in his grief and unable to care of his children, so his mother takes them away, against their wishes, with only mom’s conch shell to remind them of safe_imagehome. Turns out, that conch shell can summon magic when it’s blown by little sister, who is a selkie like her mama (a selkie being a girl who can turn into a seal when she wears her special coat). I’m making this sound more complicated than it is, because it’s actually a very simply told little Irish myth.

The animation is hand-drawn and absolutely stunning. I was impressed from word go and it never stopped, was never less than amazing. I’ve never seen a traffic circle look so ethereal. It Song_of_the_Sea_Embedmay lack the thousand digitally produced hairs, or 57 moving facial muscles, but their little faces remain quite expressive. Attention has been paid. The glowy, magical imagery makes you feel like you’re inside a Klimt painting, and there’s a timelessness about it that’s both comforting and inspired. There are no singing snowmen, or talking cars, or yellow sidekicks; this movie is pure, and heartfelt, and embodies a mastery that we haven’t seen in a long time (maybe since The Secret of Kells). It looks the way a warm blanket feels, totally enveloping, which I suppose is appropriate: curl up, and hear a fine tale.


If you’re wondering whether you should bring your 2-year-old to see this movie, the answer is a Cinderella-on-the-royal-ball-cinderella-2015-37989672-1280-1783resounding no.

I happened to sit beside a 2-year-old girl at the screening of this movie a few nights ago, and it did not go well.

Could she make it 3 minutes without yelling something out? No.

Could she stay in her seat? Of course not.

Did she spill all her popcorn before the movie even started and then cry about it at an ear-aching volume? You’ve probably already guessed the answer.

But the thing is, she’s 2. I actually thought she was pretty well-behaved for a two-year old being asked to sit still for over two hours (the movie’s not that long, but the event sure was.) The problem is not the chatter and the squirming, the problem is that in Cinderella, both parents die.

Did you remember that little detail? That’s the catalyst for poor Cinderella being left to the whims of her evil stepmother. First the mother dies, and then the father. And the little girl beside me just didn’t tumblr_ngooyvDdPK1qgwefso1_500get it. Of course she didn’t get it. At two she’s just beginning to understand that people leave and come back but still exist when you’re not seeing them. Two-year-olds love to play hide and seek. They’ll search for hours (but they really suck at hiding). So even though her mother explained to her that Cinderella’s mommy died (but what is died?), the little girl every 4 minutes would ask “Where’s her mommy?” and every time a vaguely female character appeared on-screen “Is that her mommy?”. And then the dad died, off-screen, and the movie just could not be saved. At two, she is confident that parents always come back. She can’t understand that they just don’t exist anymore. But she’s starting to feel a little panicky about it. Cinderella is sad – why don’t they come out from hiding? A two-year old needs stability, needs to believe that her parents will not abandon her. She resisted the idea of the dead parents for the duration of the movie and had no appreciation for anything that came after. Every moment she was obsessed with the return of the missing parents.

There were other little girls (and boys) at the screening, and the older ones (say, 5 and up) seemed vogue-a-cinderella-story-01to tolerate it well. The live-action still has the mice, and the dress, and the glass slipper, and the fairy god mother all of the elements to dazzle a child. But it dazzled me as well. I was quite pleased that Kenneth Branagh did so faithful an adaptation – yes, mixing in just a tiny bit of Grimm stuff to even out the story, but giving us just a blush of nostalgia (the shot of Gus-Gus nibbling a kernel of corn comes to mind) to evoke our own childhood experience of the film while telling the story we all know and love.

Lily James is quite lovely in the role. She certainly does The Dress proud – takes what was probably a 15 pound dress and makes it look light as air. Cate Blanchett steals every scene she’s in, though.CINDERELLA She’s still Cinderella-pretty herself, but she projects coldness like nobody’s business. She shows restraint, never fully abandoning herself into evil, always holding something back, a shred of humanity that leaves us feeling just a tiny bit sad for her. And she may not get to wear The Dress but she is quite well-dressed. Her gowns are sumptuous, the wardrobe department giving her lots of belted ensembles that remind us how much she means business. Even the set came properly dressed; I could practically feel the textures in Cinderella’s home.

Branagh is careful to sprinkle his fairy dust everywhere. The carriage is resplendent in gold. The glass slippers sparkle attractively. Prince Charming’s teeth are perfectly straight. Matt has said that tumblr_nf7tvsc6Up1rf73xqo5_500“If you can do Shakespeare, you can do anything” and I don’t doubt it’s true – I just didn’t expect Branagh to give us something so lovingly and painstakingly rendered. My only complaint is that the camera moves around way too much – so much that at times I felt sick. Cinderella is already plum-full of gilt and brocade and magic; it doesn’t need the added artifice from the camera. Just let it be.

Cinderella is rated PG, which means leave the two-year old at home (with a baby sitter, of course), but bring the rest of the brood to squeal in delight. Your kids will love it, and you might just find yourself right there with them.

Best Live-Action Fairy Tale Adaptations

TMPIt’s Thursday again and you know what that means – this week we’re being asked to list our favourite live-action fairy tale adaptations. Not such an easy feat for some of the Assholes, but we’re giving it a go! Thanks, Wanderer, for your inspired themes.



It’s probably telling that though we owned copies of Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, I was never a very Princess-oriented little girl. Even as a kid, I preferred darker stories, and so my go-to fairy tale was always and still is Labyrinth.

I’m sure you know it: it’s about a teenaged girl (Jennifer Connolly) who makes a stupid wish that actually makes her baby brother disappear. Realizing her mistake, she has to win her brother back from the Goblin King by solving his labyrinth in just 15 hours. This movie combines two labyrinth-2_1389186934things that are so awesome I might call them otherworldly, and putting them together just multiplies their effect. First, David Bowie as the Goblin King: absolute perfection. To this day you couldn’t cast it better. The hair, the pants, the eyebrows! Second, Jim Henson. He brings some fairly complex puppets into the mix, some inspired by the genius work of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. Henson surrounds Bowie with a cast of Goth Muppets that create this hyper-real fever dream. The story’s fairytale roots stoke the fires of Jim Henson’s imagination beautifully, and we’re absorbed and suspended into a world where anything can happen.

For my second pick, I’m going with Penelope. Penelope is lovely girl (Christina Ricci) from a wealthy family who was born with the face of a pig. The pig-face is the result of a curse put on her family by a witch in retaliation for their rejection of a  house maid turned away when a penelopemember of the house impregnates her. Generations later, Penelope bears the brunt of her family’s indiscretion. To break the curse, Penelope must find “one of her own” to love her. Her suitors (including a roguish James McAvoy), however, may be more interested in her money than in true love. The movie gives life to the other side of the tale, a modern girl born only to be hidden away in shame, and what that has meant in terms of self-worth. I think it’s also an interesting example of how, with a little suspension of disbelief, we can invest in a fairy tale without a lot of big-budget effects and other trappings familiar to the genre. The fairy tale is made much more accessible and relatable on this plane.

I’ve been waffling over this third pick for a while. I felt like maybe I should go with a more classic adaptation, but damn it to hell, I’m going with a Cinderella story because it’s one that’s been told more than 700 times, in many different ways, all around the world. We just saw Disney’s live-pretty-woman-GCaction effort last night (quite good), but the one that will still stands out to me is Pretty Woman. It’s actually a pretty faithful adaptation, if a little modernized: a young woman with no family is forced into a life of hard work (prostitution, if you will). She meets a handsome prince (or millionaire businessman) and they start to fall in love, but she’s not from his world, so neither of them thinks the love with last. However, with the help of a fairy godmother (called Visa) she is magically transformed. But the prince must love her for who she really is, so she feels, and he follows, searching her out on her turf, his heart (and possibly other organs) swollen with love. And because this is a fairy tale, the ho and the ethically-questionable businessman live happily ever after. We assume.


If you joined us last Thursday, you might have noticed that I gave Luc a bit of a hard time about his lack of interest in black and white movies made after (or even before) 1970. Well, I’m hoping he loves live-action fairy tale adaptations because I can’t seem to find the same level of enthusiasm this week. It’s not that I object on principle. I don’t see any reason why stories that have so often inspired such great animated films can’t be reimagined as great live-action ones, especially with less pressure to conform their content to a G rating. Maybe because we can’t bring ourselves to set aside our cynicism for even two hours without the obviously manufactured world of animation but it’s a lot harder to believe in magic when it is Elle Fanning- not Sleeping Beauty- who can only be woken by True Love’s Kiss and almost every recent film in this sub-genre is almost embarrassing to watch. Still, after thinking about it all week, I have managed to come up with 3 worthy exceptions especially when allowing myself a little leeway with the rules.

Babe- When I say that Babe is one of my favourite films of the 90’s, I don’t mean “favourite babe-james-cromwellfamily movies”. I don’t know if it can be called a fairy tale under the strictest definition but it seems to think of itself as one. There may not be any fairy godmothers, pixie dust, or spells, but there are singing mice, scheming cats, an unlikely hero with the most innocent of hearts, and one of the most genuinely magical experiences of its decade.


Hook-  Steven Spielberg makes my list two weeks in a row. Technically more a Peter Pan sequel than a peter Pan adaptation, Spielberg’s 1991 film is one of his most underappreciated. Now a cynical corporate lawyer who hates flying, Peter Pan (Robin Williams) is all grown up and has literally Hook-1forgotten about Neverland. With the help of Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts), he must learn to fly again to save his young kids who have kidnapped by Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) who is still holding a grudge. Hook makes great use of almost every one of Williams’ many talents and Hoffman is brilliantly cast and will likely put Garrett Hedlund to shame in this summer’s Pan.

Into the WoodsSome of the most memorable fairy tale characters of all time meet in the intothewoodswoods in last year’s extremely entertaining adaptation of the Broadway musical. The stories take on a darker tone than we might be used to but the spirit of the stories survive.




The Princess Bride: the best of the best. This is a fairy tale that a teenage boy could not only princess_brideenjoy and relate to, but could talk about with other teenage boys. The Princess Bride is endlessly quotable, sincere but not serious, and effortlessly original while remaining true to the essence of a fairy tale. I still love this movie and I expect it will be one that continues to be discovered and enjoyed for as long as we watch movies.
wizard-of-oz-original1The Wizard of Oz – this is a timeless movie that still holds up. Even the changing technical limits of the day add something to the movie, being in black and white initially, with colour then appearing once Dorothy gets to Oz. It’s so well done, the songs are catchy, the characters are memorable, and the big reveal at the end is one of the best twists ever. One of my favourite parts about the movie is that even after the curtain is pulled back, everyone still gets to live happily ever after, the very definition of a fairy tale.
Cinderella (2015) – we just saw this last night and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. rs_1024x759-141119042502-1024_Cinderella-JR-111914No surprises, no changes, no updates to the classic Disney tale, and that’s probably for the best. It was the definition of a fairy tale made into a live action movie, line for line, shot for shot, and mouse/horse for mouse/horse. At our screening, all the little (and some not-so-little) girls in their princess costumes clearly loved this movie and I could see exactly why they did. I would have said Cinderella is this year’s Frozen except that this year’s Frozen is going to be Frozen Fever, the short accompanying Cinderella, which made a little girl in the theatre gleefully exclaim, “Look at those dresses!”

Trash We Watched on the Weekend

It’s fairy-tale week here at Assholes Watching Movies. Tomorrow night we’re taking our grumpy butts over to the Coliseum to watch Cinderella, live-action in all her glory.

Our friend Wanderer challenged us this week to name our favourite live-action fairy tale adaptations. As usual, we Assholes like to do our homework, so this weekend Matt, Sean, and myself made several pitchers of martinis and settled in for some “classics.” For those of you with strong stomachs, we live-tweeted the experience @assholemovies . For the rest, here were our thoughts:

The NeverEnding Story (1984): Turns out, Matt and I have not seen this one; we were thinking of the sequel the whole time. We had to pause the movie 4 minutes in to have a lengthy discussionuntitled about Jonathan Brandis. Anyway, the first one is about a little boy who hides from the world (and his bullies!) and reads the day away, becoming involved in this magical book. The story follows Atreyu, another little boy, but also the brave warrior who must save The Childlike Empress of fictional Fantasia and gets to ride a dragon who looks like a dog named Falkor while doing (fair trade though, he did lose his horse, who Matt felt was a better actor than the kid). Sean, who is much, much older than Matt and I,  still considers this a beloved film from his childhood (he probably watched it on a projector while eating the lead paint chips from his crib) and can still sing the theme song (rather badly, no many how many martinis he’s had, or we’ve had). There were big stone boobs in it though, so you can’t really blame the guy: it’s probably where his little fixation started.

LadyHawke (1985): I still have no idea why it’s called Ladyhawke and not Manwolf, because this tale is about both. Michelle Pfeiffer stars as the eponymous lady who turns into a hawk, cursed by an angry bishop to be forever separated from her lover, who happens to turn into a wolf just ladyhawkeas she takes human form. But don’t worry, bumbling, baby-faced Matthew Broderick doing a terrible Middle Ages accent to the rescue! In this movie, Matt was more critical of the animals’ performances. He really felt that the birds all seemed downtrodden and perhaps just too starstruck to turn in good work – and it turns out, he was right! An animal handler said they actually had to replace one hawk because he was so chuffed about sitting on Blade Runner’s arm, he ruffled his feathers and looked more like a chicken. So: score one, Matt.

Freeway (1996): The movie Reese Witherspoon is trying to get expunged from IMDB. It’s supposedly a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, where Red belongs in juvy, her mama’s a 16grandma17whore, her grandma lives in a trailer park, and “Mr. Wolverton” (Keifer Sutherland) is a serial killer with a preference for spilling white trash blood. It’s so crude and crass it carried an NC-17 rating – and really fouled up our Twitter feed! Still debating who had the better line. Reese: “My ex-husband’s parole officer hasn’t even been born yet” or Keifer: “Don’t be offended by my next question, but did your stepfather ever molest you?” You can’t make this stuff up!

Into the Woods

woodsBased on the Stephen Sondheim musical, Into the Woods tells the story of a childless baker and his wife, cursed by a wicked witch to be barren forever but granted the chance to reverse the spell, if only they go into the woods to retrieve some special items for her. Their story intersects with the familiar Grimm Brothers’  tales of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel.

Meryl Streep plays the witch and plays her beautifully. Director Rob Marshall knows she’s the linchpin and grants her the most spectacular entrances and exits. But it’s Emily Blunt in the role of the baker’s wife who feels like the heart bakerof the movie and Blunt really shines. She can make any line sound so natural, and her voice can only surprise you in the best way possible. She was nominated for a Golden Globe and deserves to be, possibly even more so that Streep (!). Anna Kendrick as Cinderella is comparatively disappointing. It’s always difficult for this reviewer to see past her donkey dentures, but her voice is up to the challenge, even I can admit that. But Cinderella just isn’t that exciting to watch (this problem was likely compounded by the inclusion of a preview for the new live-action Cinderella movie to be released in 2015 – my sister and I wrongly imagined some of those scenes as scenes from Into the Woods).


“I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”

There is a lot to recommend in this movie. The ensemble cast is spectacular. After their opening number, “Into the Woods” I felt like I should applaud.  And if you had doubts that Chris Pine could sing, let me assure you that he’s learned more than just a thing or two from Shatner along the way. Actually, our group quite enjoyed the scene between Pine’s Prince Charming (recycling his smug asshole look from Horrible Bosses 2) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen, leatherclad) – the two men are singing about their respective woman-induced “Agony”, splashing about homoerotically in a waterfall, trying to out-macho each other, crotch-thursting, popping buttons to reveal increasingly deep vees of smooth, tanned chests, reminding us more of a duet between George Michael and Freddie Mercury than your typical fairy-tale princes. Delightfully tongue-in-cheek, you almost wished more of the movie could feel this way.


“Scrumptious carnality”

The sets are gorgeous, and no matter how many times our characters go into the woods, it never feels like they’re passing the same 5 trees, it’s a truly enchanted forest that creates a storybook look that’s fun to get lost in. And the fabulous Colleen Atwood heightens the visual gorging with a stunning array of costumes, including a suit that transforms a man into a mister wolf. Johnny Depp, playing the wolf, is lurking inside those woods, looking lupine and oily, putting out vibes that should warn us away. Although top-billed, Depp’s in the movie for maybe 5 minutes, but that’s more than enough to turn things pretty sour. How do I say this…I felt like I picked up on certain nuances in his song that I was uncomfortable with. As in: sexual innuendo. As in: the wolf would like to “eat” Little Red Riding Hood in more than one way. He’s an absolute creepster with a real pedophile’s mustache and his singing “Hello, Little Girl” will send shivers up your spine. He tells us there’s a “scrumptious carnality” about to be had, and maybe that works in the Broadway production, but it feels grossly inappropriate in this toned-down Disney version where the actress playing Red is indeed a little girl, much too young to be on the receiving end of this lascivious song. And when she starts responding that what they’re doing is new and scary but also kind of exciting, well…I wanted to slam on the brakes.

The characters wrap up their traditional story lines around the 80 minute mark – but wait! These poor schmucks don’t get their happily-ever-afters. The story continues. And I’m glad that the movie doesn’t end on Cinderella’s wedding day because I would have felt cheated. But 80 minutes of singing and skipping through the woods was about as much as I wanted. So the remaining third of the movie, which gets a hell of a lot darker, felt entirely too much. Streep delivers another great song but I was fed up with the inundation of special effects, my patience was waning, and it just felt like filler. My sister felt that since all the characters start (or continue) making selfish, morally ambiguous choices, she didn’t have anyone to pull for. She’s not wrong. My husband felt that the songs were not particularly catchy or memorable, and he’s not wrong either. I enjoyed the movie, enjoyed it quite a bit, it would be impossible not to given the sheer amount of talent (although I am wondering why all of that talent had to be white), but I’m not feeling it for Best Picture this year. Of course, I’m sure I said the same about Rob Marshall’s Chicago and we all know how that went.