Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm

I had hoped to post more on Fairy Tale Month, but a research trip in the middle of October stalled that plan. However, we'll have many more opportunities to talk about movies with fairy tale themes.

This week I'd like to spotlight the movie that started me on my writing journey, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, made in 1962, featuring Laurence Harvey as Wilhelm Grimm and Karlheinz Bolm as Jacob Grimm. Other names you may have heard of are Barbara Eden of I Dream of Genie fame, Jim Backus, who was Thirston Howell III in Gilligan's Island, and Buddy Hackett, a popular pudgy comedian in tons of '60s movies (remember Disney's Love Bug?)

Although not particularly accurate, this movie chronicles the lives of the Brothers Grimm and how they started writing fairy tales. It's sprinkled with vignettes from the tales themselves, creating a delightful fantasy montage that absolutely thrilled me when I was seven.

One scene from this movie stands out. If you're a writer, I hope what I'm about to share rings with you as much as it has with me for over four decades. Wilhelm is ill, lying on what is sure to be his death bed in his room. It's at the end of the movie, so we've seen all of the stories in the afore mentioned vignettes. Now, all of those characters come to life and climb through his window and surround his bed, except for the beanstalk Giant who peers into the window. They all entreat him to not die because if he does, they will die with him.

As a writer, this truth has clung to me through the times I wanted to give up. Through the times that writing was just too hard, or publication seemed an impossible mountain to climb. I've found at the times of my greatest discouragement, that my characters yet to be written seek me out in my home office, standing near my chair, their hands on my shoulders. "You can't quit, Kathy, because if you do, no one will know about us." And as a Christian author, I hear God, (who is very real!) saying, "You can't quit, because if you do no one will know the truths I've placed in your words. That one person I've chosen to finally grasp eternity, will not do so through unwritten words."


Our profession is powerful. If I can gain inspiration through the words of a fairy tale movie, how much more so can my readers gain insight into God's truths. He and I work together to craft not only an entertaining story, but inspiration and insight into the character of God. In truth, I learn as much about God as my readers when I see those words form on my screen.

So I encourage you, dear writers, to continue the task you have set out to do. Or, as the theme in our first Craft Cinema feature, Galaxy Quest, stated, -- "Never give up, never surrender."

Powerful words to live by.


If you'd like to learn more about this movie, go to

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


To kick off our Fairy Tale October, our group watched Enchanted, with Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, and James Marsden. It’s a story of a cartoon fairy tale princess who is pushed down a well and lands in very real New York City. A fish out of water story and, in essence, Disney making fun of Disney. Who else could do it better?

First, let’s talk about goals. Our princess, Giselle has one goal. True love’s kiss. She believes she’s found that with Edward, a delightfully narcissistic prince who saves the young damsel in distress from a nasty fall out of a tree as she runs from a two-story tall troll bent on eating her. Edwards goal? Someone who will finish his heart’s duet. They plan to marry the very next day, but the evil queen, aka the future mother-in-law, does everything in her power to stop the marriage for fear of losing her crown to Giselle. Her goal? Get rid of Giselle. She turns herself into an old hag and pushes Giselle down the well.

This leads to the real world and our hero, Robert, a cynical divorce lawyer who makes it clear early on that he’d rather his young daughter read about real-life heroes than fairy tales. The little girl, Morgan, sees Giselle in the rain, pounding on the painted castle door atop a billboard, and hops out of the taxi to see her. Robert goes after his daughter, and rescues Giselle when she falls off the billboard. Robert’s goal? Keepin’ it real. He doesn’t believe in happily ever after since his own bitter divorce, and he insists that his daughter keeps her feet on the ground and her head out of the clouds.

Our hero’s and heroine’s arcs are as diversified as they are. Let’s start with Giselle. Her first jolt of realism is when she asks an old man if he can help her. The man grabs her crown and hoofs it down the street. Giselle calls out, “You’re not a nice old man!” When Giselle feels an emotion she’s never before experienced – anger -- the heavens open up with crashing thunder and lightening. This begins her journey into becoming real. She hangs onto her naiveté as long as possible, singing and dancing in the park, talking to animals, all the typical princessy things. Notice when she later becomes angry at Robert, things change drastically for our heroine. Her voice even changes, no longer sounding like a princess sound track. By this time, Edward has found her, and she tries to introduce him to New York City, perhaps to make him as real as she is becoming. He agrees to take her to a ball before leaving for their own world, Andalasia. We find as she prepares for the ball that she no longer talks to animals, asking them to make her a gown and do her hair for the upcoming ball. She now uses VISA, as any real woman would do. When she shows up at the ball, every person present is in costume pretending to be in a fairy tale. But Giselle is dressed in a contemporary gown, her hair long and silky, looking every inch like a real woman. She soon does some very un-fairy tale things, which we will talk about in a moment.

Robert’s arc is subtle, but watch his eyes as he takes in his new charge, Giselle. He goes from bewilderment, not being able to fathom this fairy tale princess, to distress as he rejects the thought of happily-ever-after. But he starts to believe as she becomes real, effectively crossing her arc with his own. As she goes from fairy tale thinking to realism, he goes from cynicism to idealism. However, he slips as he lets her leave with Edward. After all, that’s what she wants, right? Thus proving that happily-ever-after doesn’t exist. But when he sees her again at the ball, his shift is instant. He dances with her and everyone disappears, including his fiancée. To see Robert, dashing in his prince costume, and Giselle as a real woman, shows clearly how they have both changed. When Edward takes her away again, we fear that Robert will be lost to the real world forever. However, when the jealous queen shows up and successfully gives Giselle a poisoned apple, Robert comes to his full transformation. True love’s kiss is the only thing that will wake Giselle from her deadly slumber. Edward’s kiss is ineffective, therefore, Robert must be her saving prince. He rejects it at first, hanging onto that last cynical shred, but comes through before the clock chimes midnight and Giselle is lost to him forever. He kisses her, and she wakes to her true love’s kiss.

Briefly, Nathaniel’s character arc is also important. As the lackey, his goal is to please the queen at all costs because of his love for her. He leaps down the well at his mistress’s bidding to kill Giselle before she can connect with Edward, who has gone after her. Nathaniel picks up the clue phone in the real world as he watches a soap opera on television. Ironic that such a phoney form of the media would introduce him to the truth. On the show, a man and woman are fighting. She turns up her perky nose and says, “How can I love a man who doesn’t even like himself? Get away, you disgust me.” This begins Nathaniel’s arc, but he still goes through with his plans, bumbling through one failed murderous attempt after another. He finally calls a talk show to discuss his odd relationship with the queen. It becomes clear to him that she is using him when she shows up, calls him “Worthless,” and takes matters into her own hands, leaving him to wonder what went wrong. He eventually stands up to the queen, tells everyone what she has done to Giselle, and holds Edward’s sword to her throat, thus changing his arc from a sniveling love-struck slave to a man with backbone. He reaches his goal, self-respect.

In the end, Giselle becomes real, Robert learnes to believe in fairy tales, and Edward, well, doesn’t change at all, but he does find the one who will finish his heart’s duet -- Nancy, Robert’s fiancée. After all, this is a Disney movie, and everyone but the villain deserves to find happily-ever-after.

Ah, yes. The villain. And a delicious twist at the end of the story.

Disney making fun of Disney was a unique premise that absolutely delighted me. I grew up on these movies, as most of you have, and I thought I got every fairy tale device they threw at us. Talking animals that could sew and do hair. Singing naïve princesses waiting for their true love. Arrogant, but lovable princes who propose at the first meeting. Clocks that ominously strike twelve. Lost slippers. And of course, wicked queens who can turn into old hags bearing poisoned apples. But there is so much more. If you have the DVD, I encourage you to watch the extras. Click on the mouse ears, (at the bottom of the signs on the right, and see how many Disney movies were incorporated into this show. The narrator tells us that if we watch the Blue Ray disc, it will tell all of the secrets. (A cheap shot to get us to upgrade our DVDs, by the way.) They do show some in a short montage. I thought I knew my Disney, but I was amazed at how much I missed. Don’t miss this! It’s nifty, Mouseketeers!

I did get that the evil queen bore a striking resemblance to Snow White’s wicked stepmother, and was every bit as dramatic. As writers, we’re told to give our villains redeemable qualities to make them real. Well, Walt didn’t get that memo. And we baby-boomers are glad. If Disney villains stopped to pet the dog in the alley, the world as we know it would implode.

Back to our story. The third act kicks off with the queen showing up at the ball. When her plot to kill Giselle fails, she turns into a fire-breathing dragon and snatches, of all people, our hero, Robert. TWIST! Doesn’t the villain always go after the woman? Giselle, our sweet princess who only longed for true love’s kiss, now becomes a warrior, ready to fight for her man. She grabs Edward’s sword and hies herself hence up the outside of the building in pursuit of the dragon, (another Disney icon, by the way.)

I will insert a quick note on foreshadowing here. In the beginning of the story, the troll is after Giselle. Brave little Pip, the chipmunk with the Jersey accent, hops onto the troll’s head, making the tree limb they’re all on bend with the weight. Giselle then slips down the limb, Pip grabs for her, and the troll is flung to the south side of Andalasia. Mid-way into the story, Giselle is sitting with Robert’s daughter explaining to her how Pip was the one who actually saved Little Red Riding hood from the wolf. Flash forward. The dragon queen now has our hero precariously perched in her claws, and Pip races up the building. He bravely salutes, steps onto her head, and the spire she’s clinging to bends like the twig in the first act. As it snaps, Robert is flung from her grasp and she falls to her smoldering death.

Ah. I love a happy ending.

Edward and Nancy go back to Andalasia, which is a good thing for poor Nancy and her deviated septum. She’s gorgeous as a cartoon. And Robert, who once professed that he never danced, does so with wild abandon with Giselle and his daughter -- in his very real New York apartment.

And they all lived. . .well, you know.