Thursday, May 30, 2019

Fractured Fairy Tales (1959)



In the '50s, the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show had a segment called Fractured Fairy Tales, which were humorous adaptations of the classic stories. I wasn't around at the time, but Rocky and Bullwinkle were still in heavy syndication when I was a kid. And Fractured Fairy Tales was always one of my favorite parts of any episode.

I didn't want to watch all of them for this project, but I thought I might watch at least the three stories that I've read up to this point. I was surprised to find the silly, little spoofs actually insightful.

Like in the Grimm Brothers' version, "Snow White" focuses on the Queen and her obsession with holding onto the value her culture assigns her as a woman. When her magic (coin-operated) mirror sends her to the dwarfs' house to find Snow White, the princess isn't there, but the dwarfs have just opened a gym that they're happy to sell the Queen a lifetime membership to. When that doesn't return her to Fairest In The Land status, she goes back to the dwarfs again. This happens several times. Snow White is never there and the dwarfs have some new scheme to help the Queen find her value: dance lessons, health food, charm school. At the end it's revealed that the whole thing is a scam with one of the dwarfs working inside the mirror to drum up business and capitalize on the Queen's insecurities.

FFT's "Cinderella" is about appearances and materialism. Cinderella is actually pretty lazy and just wants an easy way to get the lifestyle she craves. (Her sisters are barely in it, but they're hardworking scullery maids, so Cinderella is solely responsible for her attitude.) The fairy godmother shows up to grant Cinderella her wishes, but there's a catch. Cinderella has to sell a huge supply of kitchen utensils by midnight or she'll lose her fabulous prizes. Meanwhile, the prince is going bankrupt and has to pay off his creditors by midnight or he'll lose the castle. When Cinderella shows up to sell the prince some pots and pans, he's fooled by her appearance and thinks she's rich. So while she's trying to get him to buy utensils, he's trying to get her to marry him, both getting increasingly desperate as 12:00 approaches. Both Perrault and the Grimm's versions are about more than marrying a rich prince, but Cinderella certainly uses appearances to obtain her escape from her stepfamily. There's a lot more to her than just looks, but the other characters in the story don't see that. FFT's commentary on appearances is a valid focus.

Finally, "Sleeping Beauty" also gets a materialistic makeover. It rushes through the early part of the story to get to the prince's arrival. We're told that he's supposed to kiss Sleeping Beauty (borrowed from Disney, possibly, since this episode didn't air until the early '60s), but the prince decides at the last moment that an awakened princess is after all just a princes. A sleeping princess is a novelty, so he turns the castle into a tourist attraction. That's darkly fascinating when I consider that the Grimms' version of the story is about pausing the princess' maturation process. In FFT, the prince keeps it paused even longer than it needs to be, simply for financial gain. And it occurs to me that modern Disney sort of does the same thing with the young teenage girls that it turns into stars.

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