Pelle and Pippi at Home and Abroad: Swedishness as an Issue in Two Animated Films for Children

Article excerpt

IN 1995, PRODUCTION WAS UNDERWAY of an animated film based on one of Sweden's most beloved children's book characters, Pippi Langstrump, which occasioned a Stockholm newspaper to tell readers that the completed film would "sjalvklart" [naturally] go "ut pa den internationella arenan" [into the international arena]. That conclusion made the Swedish company that was one of the producers of the film issue a caution. Swedes should not expect a heroine who reminded diem of the little girl in the original editions of author Astrid Lindgren's books, warned Svensk Filmindustri, because an international Pippi would also have to appeal to audiences in France, Germany, Italy, and the United States (Giertta).

In their desire to have the film attract viewers beyond Sweden's borders, the producers of the animated Pippi Langstrump (Pippi Long-stocking) were trying to mitigate a phenomenon called the cultural discount, first named and discussed by two Canadian economists in a 1988 study of the international trade in television programs. Addressing the issue of the reluctance of American audiences to accept programming from abroad, Colin Hoskins and Rolf Mirus stressed that a television show, unlike many other export products, is not "culturally neutral" (503). Consequently, it faces barriers abroad because "a particular programme rooted in one culture, and thus attractive in that environment, will have a diminished appeal elsewhere as viewers find it difficult to identify with the style, values, beliefs, institutions and behavioural patterns of the material in question" (Hoskins and Mirus 500). The two economists considered the cultural discount as influential in shaping the international flow of cultural products as factors such as production costs and size of home markets. (1)

With the cultural discount concept in mind, this paper examines newspaper articles and reviews, trade journals, film databases, and theater attendance statistics to discuss how the producers of Pippi Langstrump consciously sought to disengage their main character from some of her cultural roots and how that attempt was viewed by critics in Sweden and in one of the intended foreign markets, the United States. Moreover, the production and response to Pippi are compared with those of an earlier animated film based on another children's book character, Pelle Svanslos (Peter-No-Tail). As will be seen, both films gave rise to a discussion of Swedishness that located the Swedish-made productions in an animated-film market dominated by American producers and influences. In a broader sense, the cases of Pelle and Pippi highlight the challenges for film producers in smaller countries who try to balance the expectations of the domestic market against hopes for success abroad.

As indicated above, both Pippi Langstrump and Pelle Svanslos are popular children's book characters in Sweden, and both have a long history. Pelle, the kitten without a tail whose adventures unfold in the university town of Uppsala, was created by Gosta Knutsson in the late 1930s, while Astrid Lindgren's mischievous Pippi made her debut in the mid-1940s. All but one of Knutsson's books about Pelle were written between 1939 and 1951, and Lindgren's three books about Pippi appeared in the 1945-48 period, so both characters were quite old when the animated-film versions of them were introduced in 1981 and 1997, respectively. In both cases, however, the two authors' creations have attracted new readers down through the generations. Knutsson's books have been reissued several times since the 1950s, with the latest editions appearing in 2011, and Lindgren's first Pippi book has gone through some thirty' editions, the latest ones appearing in 2012. (2) For anyone producing an animated film about the two characters, the fact that prospective audiences were already familiar with them was clearly a boon (although the familiarity also meant that those going to the theater arrived there widi preconceived notions about the look and behavior of Pelle and Pippi). …