The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy-Tale Films

By Greenhill, Pauline | Marvels & Tales, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy-Tale Films


Greenhill, Pauline, Marvels & Tales


The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy-Tale Films. By Jack Zipes. New York: Routledge, 2011. 435pp.

This impressive book contains all the best of what readers of Marvels & Tales expect from Jack Zipes: wide-ranging and meticulous scholarship, feminist sensibility, sharp insights, firm opinions, and accessible theory and analysis. The Enchanted Screen will undoubtedly be the work on fairy-tale films for some time. With few exceptions - such as the plethora of studies of Disney cinema and Disney culture - until relatively recently there has been little analysis in the English language of fairy-tale films as such. And those movies that have received considerable attention, for example, Jean Cocteau's classic La belle et la bête (1946), have for the most part been addressed without much savvy about their traditional and popular sources. Articles here and there, including several in Marvels &> Tales, examine a particular item of fairy-tale cinema. Some works on specific tales or tale types include discussions of fairytale films individually or collectively, representing scholars who are familiar to readers of this journal, such as Marina Wamer, Jessica Tiffin, Donald Haase, and Sandra L. Beckett (as well as, of course, Zipes himself). Most such studies look primarily at feature-length films, animated or live action. The sheer number of movies with fairy-tale plots, characters, and imagery might intimidate a lesser scholar than Zipes. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB), for example, lists 899 films under its keyword "fairy-tale." Only some six months ago that number was 860, and 2011 has already seen at least two new "Little Red Riding Hood" (ATU 333) films alone: Catherine Hardwicke's predictable Red Riding Hood and Joe Wrights compelling and inventive Hanna.

Happily, the scholarly lacuna is quickly being filled with exciting new studies of films, tale types, and genres. Some recent books address connections between fairy-tale and other film types and genres, such as Walter Rankins Grimm Pictures: Fairy Tale Archetypes in Eight Horror and Suspense Films (2007) and Dani Cavallaros The Fairy Tale and Anime: Traditional Themes, Images, and Symbols at Play on Screen (2011) as well as my own and Sidney Eve Matrix's edited collection on recent, popular, widely distributed, generally Euro-North American movies, Fairy Tale Films: Visions of Ambiguity (2010). The number of theses and dissertations on the topic is also growing rapidly. An expanding area for folklorists, including the distinguished folktale scholar and social activist Vivian Labrie, has drawn fairy-tale links in cinema not usually considered in that subgenre. For example, Labrie relates Joss Whedons Serenity (2005) to "The Three Golden Children" (ATU 707 - note that its IMDB listing does not have "fairy-tale" as a related key word). Zipes's prologue adds to all this crucial work, musing on the broadest significance of the form and suggesting much about why fairy-tale structures recur in apparently unrelated texts. Without specifically referring to his theory of memetic transfer, discussed extensively in Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre (2006), Zipes refers to the tales' qualities in terms of the uncanny but also in terms of their power to envision worlds and ideas beyond what patriarchal societies repress, to Utopian, but sometimes also dystopian, possibilities. …

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