“Transformation of Beauty”: A Recap

Our recent event was a success! Looking at Beauty’s transformation through video clips, presentations, and displays helped those who came to see how much Beauty has changed throughout the years, from helpless and passive, to fierce and independent. With the new movie’s release this month, the timing could not have been more spot on!

Those who came to our event explored Beauty’s transformation over the years through the information, book adaptations, and memorabilia provided by our class. Each version exhibited a different side of the tale as old as time in an interesting way; there are so many literary adaptations of “Beauty and the Beast” such as Beastly, Cruel Beauty, and Of Beast and Beauty.

book

Did you know there are also many different film/TV adaptations of the tale? Cortlynd prepared a video presentation for our event, demonstrating Beauty’s transformation through various clips. In these clips from a French film, Grimm, Once Upon a Time, Merlin, and the new Disney trailer, it is apparent that while aspects of the story have stayed constant over time, plot points have changed and reflect contemporary society. These changes focus on how Beauty marries the Beast, and the level of independence that Beauty has or gains from her experiences.

Besides the displays and video clips, we also looked at Belle’s character more in depth via a presentation by Emma (no, not Emma Watson). In this presentation, we further explored the “Beauty” in “Beauty and the Beast.” Since the original 18th century French versions of the story, “Beauty and the Beast” has been a more feminist and girl-powered fairy tale than most, as Beauty receives power from magic, or saves the Beast, or is simply portrayed as strong, independent, and well-read. That trend has continued through its many adaptations in film, literature, and television. The newest adaptation introduces a more natural and realistic “Beauty” portrayed by Emma Watson. Viewers will be able to see Belle as an inventor and teacher, making her character stronger than ever.

quiz

Following these presentations, we played a quiz game to review. Sarah created a quiz that helped engage the audience more: they really got into a competitive spirit through questions like “What is a predecessor of the fairytale ‘Beauty and the Beast?’” (Cupid and Psyche), and “Who made a version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ that depicted Belle with the ability to use magic?” (Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve). These informative questions helped to tie the presentation and video together. We ended our event with a raffle, and the forty-two people in attendance (twenty percent past our goal!) waited, hoping for their number to be called. While only four winners received tickets to Divine Comedy and Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast, everyone seemed to enjoy the event and its activities, which helped end the evening on a high note!

Are you intrigued by what we do and want to learn more or stay up to date on events? Join our Facebook Group and check out our database!

 

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Transforming the “Beauty” in “Beauty and the Beast”

be our guest (1)

Bonjour! Are you a “Beauty and the Beast” fan? Do the adaptations of Belle’s character intrigue you? Are prized like free movie tickets something you’re after? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you should definitely be our guest this Friday at our event: “Transformation of Beauty: The Evolution of an Icon.”

You’re invited to enjoy this tale as old as time with us as we provide insight on the various versions of Belle’s character and how they fit into contemporary culture. With memorabilia, film clips, and free food, what’s not to love? You’ll also have the chance to win prizes like tickets for Divine Comedy and the new live-action “Beauty and the Beast” film.

So don’t let that last petal fall and miss your chance to attend!

Date: Friday, March 3
Time: 4-5 PM
Location: 3223 Wilkinson Student Center, BYU

 

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150 Years Down the Rabbit Hole: Our Annual Un-Birthday Tea Party

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Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

If you love Alice in Wonderland, fairy tales, tea, cocoa, finger foods, and/or a great time, you will want to go to our Alice in Wonderland Un-Birthday Tea Party! Our annual tea party bash will be held this Friday, January 27, at 3 PM in room B003 of the JFSB. We will all become “curiouser and curiouser” about this classic story as we mix and mingle, discuss our favorite Alice adaptations, watch film clips, and celebrate Lewis Carroll’s birthday and our un-birthdays. You do not want to miss it!

Pinkies up, and don’t forget your teacup!

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Do Blondes Really Have More Agency?: A Cinderella Case Study

The following is a guest post written by Hannah Earl, a freshman in the English Department. This was a final writing assignment for Dr. Rudy’s Late Summer Honors course entitled Agency, Media, and “Tale As Old As Time,” then was workshopped with the FTTV team for publication on the blog. We hope you enjoy!

Lily James as Cinderella in the 2015 adaptation, as her dress is transformed by her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) into the iconic blue one that is beloved by many.

Lily James as Cinderella in the 2015 adaptation, as her dress is transformed by her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) into the iconic blue one.

Blonde hair, blue eyes, a blue dress – these words describe millions of girls all over the world. This description also typically calls to mind the distinct image of Walt Disney’s 1950 Cinderella. It’s an image that inspired countless other versions of the tale in movies, television, and book adaptations of the story. This movie is both an example and a precedent of Cinderella being portrayed as blonde or “fair.”

Crafted from a scene in Disney's Cinderella cartoon, this image depicts Cinderella's beauty, which makes her problems seem much less.

Crafted from a scene in Disney’s Cinderella cartoon, this image depicts Cinderella’s beauty, which makes her problems seem much less worrisome.

Of course, fair-haired little girls identify with Cinderella because she looks like them. Cinderella in Charles Perrault’s “Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper,” which served as the literary source material for the 1950 film, is only described as being “beautiful,”  Fairy tales have relied on visual images and icons like the glass slipper and the red apple ever since their existence in oral traditions and illustrated children’s compilations. When fairy tales are adapted into a moving image media like film or television, the visual iconography is expanded. From the description of a beautiful girl and a glass slipper present in the literary tale, our culture’s image of “Cinderella” has been expanded by this enormously influential film to be much more detailed: a beautiful, slim, blonde girl with a dreamy, gentle voice gets a blue ball gown with the glass slippers from her round, bumbling fairy godmother, assisted throughout by her crew of friendly animal friends. Each of these were decisions that Disney Studios made when adapting this tale into visual media, and somewhere along the line they decided that this beautiful girl is a blonde girl.

Cinderella meeting the Prince at the ball in the 1950 version of Cinderella

Cinderella meeting the Prince at the ball in the 1950 version of Cinderella

As a brunette, I was affected by this as a child. I thought I would be prettier if was blonde or that I’d have more choices with blonde hair since I would get more attention. Cinderella, other movies, and television shows reinforced this in my mind. Society tells children that blonde girls are prettier and more active, with more freedom because of “beauty.”

A pie chart depicting how Cinderella is perceived by some people. Significantly less data-driven than the graphs usually found on this blog, but it makes its point.

A pie chart depicting how Cinderella is perceived by some people. Significantly less data-driven than the graphs usually found on this blog, but it makes its point. (click to expand)

However, traditional Cinderella retellings actually don’t give the title character as many choices as I’d thought. When I reexamined the 1950 cartoon and the 2015 film, I discovered that Cinderella is actually a character who is more acted upon than one who acts. Others, like the mice and her fairy godmother, do things for her, which provides her with the opportunity to meet her true love. Cinderella is given things, like the dress and the carriage, instead of going to get them for herself. This portrays her as a passive character—a stereotypical blonde.

Cinderella from Disney's 2015 film

Cinderella from Disney’s 2015 film

Partially due to the prevalence of the Disney film, we’ve been trained to associate the visual of blonde hair with passivity, so when an adaptation intends to work against that precedent in the plot by giving Cinderella a more rebellious and active role, they make this point visually with a dark-haired Cinderella. In Ella Enchanted, Ella must try to break her curse of obedience, all the while fighting injustice in her kingdom. In Ever After, Danielle has to take action when her stepmother tries to sell one of the servants to America. The Cinderella in Into the Woods has to deal with her cheating husband. Finally, in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical take on the story (three TV versions in 1957, 1965, and 1997), Cinderella is concerned with increasing the social justice in her kingdom. These four empowered, active Cinderellas stand up for what they believe in and act in opposition with the status quo. These adaptations are different from the Perrault story, but they all involve a Cinderella who frees herself from her circumstances.

The brunette Cinderellas of Ella Enchanted (Anne Hathaway), Ever After (Drew Barrymore), and Into the Woods (Anna Kendrick).

The brunette Cinderellas of Ella Enchanted (Anne Hathaway), Ever After (Drew Barrymore), and Into the Woods (Anna Kendrick).

The effect of intentionally casting brunettes in these alternate Cinderella stories is complimented by the step-mothers and stepsisters often being blonde as contrast. Take as example Ella EnchantedInto the Woods, and the 1965 Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella TV movie. This aesthetic choice makes the main character visually stand out against her enemies. The Cinderella character in these adaptations has more agency.

Cinderella's stepmother and her stepsisters in the Into the Woods 2014 movie. In a true form of typecasting for this role, Lucy Punch (on the right) was also in the Cinderella-based movie Ella Enchanted as Ella's stepsister Hattie.

Cinderella’s stepmother and her stepsisters in the Into the Woods 2014 movie. In a true form of typecasting for this role, Lucy Punch (on the right) was also in the Cinderella-based movie Ella Enchanted as Ella’s stepsister Hattie.

Films need strong blondes and passive brunettes and everything in between in fairy tale media so that kids can know that there are different types of people with similar physical traits. This will help empower them to be whatever they want to be. We need to diversify how we cast our princesses with their personalities to banish these stereotypes. This will tell children that everyone can get a happily ever after, no matter what they look like.

Three television renditions of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella musical. Julie Andrews in 1957, Lesley Ann Warren in 1965, and Brandy in 1997.

Three television renditions of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella musical. Julie Andrews in 1957, Lesley Ann Warren in 1965, and Brandy in 1997.

 

 

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Young Meets Old: Contemporary Children’s Television and Traditional Grown-Up Fairy Tale Characters

child vs adult

Television for children has characters that are children, right? It seems like an obvious assumption. The most clear way to communicate to a viewer that a show is for children, besides using puppets or animation, is to have the characters on the screen be the same age as the target audience. How does this relate to fairy tales?

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Fairy tales have a tendency to be loosely structured and contain few details by way of location, age, or other characteristics. The most prevalent fairy tale plots can be summed up in three sentences, with the rest of the details left for adapters to fill in for themselves. This is why fairy tales have maintained their cultural relevance, and it also complicates the relationship between television, children as target audience, and fairy tales.

For my fairy tale mashup episode project, I attempted to follow the same pattern I did with the gender research, and hope that something equally as interesting came out of it. I categorized the tales between child protagonists and adults/adolescents protagonists. The tales resisted this. How old is Little Red Riding Hood is if few versions of the story specify?

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-W2MiYEJVQ0U/TXYKtjDtLcI/AAAAAAAAAE4/87zRD5jNpt0/s1600/some+day+your+witch+will+come.jpg

Kay Stone, a storyteller and folklorist, came to my rescue in her book Someday Your Witch Will Come, in which she claims that it is at the onset of puberty “that Rapunzel is locked in a tower, Snow White is sent out to be murdered, and Sleeping Beauty is put to sleep.” I used this as the division between the tales I marked as ‘child’ and the tales with love narratives that I marked as ‘adolescent/adult.’

This graph resulted. It’s not as interesting as the gender patterns graph, and unlike the patterns that are evident in the pink and blue gender graph, the data resisted patterns or trends.

(click on graph to expand)

(click on graph to expand)

Analysis:

Do episodes pick one category or do they more often mix?
There are 14 episodes that use only adult characters or only child character tales. There are 15 episodes that take tales from both categories and mix them up.
Noticeably even and resisting a hypothesis either way.

So, what about those that use both adolescent tales and child characters? Is one group consistently more dominant? It would be expected that there would be more child tales in children’s television but…
5 where the children outnumber the adult/adolescents,
4 where the adults/adolescents outnumber the children
and,
6 where they are even.

These visualizations can be helpful in many cases, and I always strive to make them helpful as possible, but sometimes they end up illustrating the utter lack of patterns in the data and show it resisting conclusions no matter what kind of graph or axis I use.

But just because the data resists the creation of patterns doesn’t mean that there is nothing to learn from the way children’s television uses children and adults in fairy tales.

Since these fairy tale mashup episodes are most often single episodes that break from the norm of the show, the episodes use strategies that removes the tale from the normal narrative, either a storybook or a dream sequence.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwoKKJ1E7jc

Barney’s Once Upon a Time presents the King, the Miller’s Daughter (and her babe-in-arms), Barney as the Messenger, and Rumpelstiltskin, all portrayed by established characters in the show.

For example, in Barney’s Once Upon a Time, the children are instructed to use their imaginations while a storyteller is telling them the story of Rumpelstiltskin (ATU 500), which then visually transitions into the child actors playing the roles of the King, the Miller’s Daughter, and Rumpelstiltskin. This level of separation allows the tale with clearly adult characters to connect to the established child actors and audience members of Barney & Friends.

Another factor is the load of mashing up several fairy tales in the short form of the children’s TV show means that there is only a few minutes devoted to each tale motif.  In the Arthur episode “Just Desserts” the Snow White (ATU 709) section of the episode is contained in one ‘dwarf’ introducing his six companions and the dwarves carrying DW/Snow White away to clean and cook for them. The explicit reference to Snow White makes the presence of the fairy tale clear, and there’s no time or plot reason to take the Snow White motif through the whole plot. Because it is just a tale snippet, there’s no strangeness with a young character (four year old DW) playing Snow White, who is generally at least a teenager.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nY2iUNplIU

“I’m not Tommy, I’m Pesky, and these are my brothers: Whiny, Grouchy, Angry, Noisy, Creepy, and Stinky… And you’re our princess, Doe White! You must come with us, princess!”

The reason that fairy tales stick around and are constantly adapted is that they are loose and open about details. Coincidentally, this causes the difficulty with this project, which set out to draw conclusion based on assumptions about categorizing tales according to their details. Children’s television mash-ups, I think more than any other kind of television, really stretch and manipulate fairy tales to their limits. The narrative gymnastics required to mix together different fairy tales, as well as to fit the fairy tales into the established premise of the show, takes creativity and innovation. No two products of this process end up alike, which is why this project was such a frustrating, complicated, and delightful experience.

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Visualizing Wonder: English 394R Winter 2017

394 flyer

English 394 is no ordinary English class, this class is specially designed to teach you marketable skills that will help you in the workplace. In this class, you will:

  • Gain a working knowledge of the contemporary scholarship in the field of fairy tale studies in the context of media studies and adaptation studies
  • Build a solid grasp of the field and practice of digital humanities and use those strategies to approach the study of fairy tales and television in innovative ways
  • Contribute to and manage an online database and data visualization tools
  • Visualize and draw conclusions from big data sets through relational graphs and interactive data tools
  • Tailor your critical reading skills
  • Write for both academic and general audiences
  • Learn or improve research skills
  • Contribute to the ongoing FTTV project in the form of the blog, database website, and social media accounts
  • Manage social media and project outreach
  • Collaborate in teams to complete projects and tasks
  • Craft, advertise, host, and reflect on a variety of public programming events
  • Publish on the blog and work to expand its audience
  • Hone skills with WordPress, production and graphic design, and budgeting
  • Create a business plan to extend the reach and contributions of the project in the community as well as the academic field
  • Produce professional products for the public to see

This class is an Applied English class and fulfills the English + requirement for the new English major. Though this is an upper-division course, you do not need to complete English 295 as a prerequisite to this course. This is a specialized course that will not be offered very often, so take advantage of this opportunity to gain all of these skills next semester in Dr. Rudy’s 394R !

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Girls and Boys and Animals: Graphing Patterns in Mash-up Episodes

jack and red

One of the unique elements of TV is that they don’t have to market towards a specific group to buy their product, the way movies, books, or toys do, so they work to make a product that will attract as many viewers as possible across a much wider spectrum. Though children’s TV is created with children specifically in mind, the shows want to attract as many different types of children as possible. This makes studying gender patterns of characters and tales in children’s television interesting, especially when one gender becomes clearly more prominent than the other.

For my project on mashups I used every data point in the Channeling Wonder Database that is from a children’s television show and is tagged with more than one fairy tale type.

http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2016-03-09-1457537890-5141744-Europe_4.jpeg

My first step in this project, which I outline in this post about my methodology, was to sort different tale types by elements like gender of main character. I expected most of the mashups would be like the Veggie Tales TV movie “Sweetpea Beauty,” which uses the stories and characters of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White, three stories of European traditional origin that contain princesses, magic, and castles.

http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2016-03-09-1457537890-5141744-Europe_4.jpeg

However, not all of the mashups were the types of mashups I was expecting. (Think how boring research would be if it always turned out how we thought it would!) To visualize my findings, I created the following graph visualizing the mashups as combinations of tales with female, male, or animal protagonists.

better graph

(click graph to expand)

There are several trends contained in this graph. First, the female protagonists show up at a much higher rate than the male protagonists do (there’s more pink!), and are also increasing more than the male protagonists over time. As number of tales combined to create a mashup is rising over time, the number of male protagonist tales stays constant. This means as a whole, there is a higher percentage of female protagonists showing up in these mashup episodes over time.

To me, the most interesting thing about this graph is that, with the exception of two Looney Toons episodes which are made up of only animal tales, every bar has pink touching the bottom of the graph. There is not one case where only male-protagonist fairy tales are combined together, or where an animal tale and a male-protagonist tale are joined for a mash up. Why is this?

One knee-jerk explanation is that there are more common fairy tales that have girls in lead roles, but the data doesn’t support this. The top five fairy tales that are present in mash-up episodes on children’s television are (in order of frequency) Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella,  Jack & the Beanstalk, Three Little Pigs, and Three Bears. Two of these are female tales, one is male, two are animal. This diverse mix shows that it’s not a cut-and-dry “fairy tales are for girls” situation.

top 5

This prevalence of female-focused tales evident in this graph could be caused by the widespread oversimplification that princess = fairy tale, or that all fairy tales are targeted by default for girls. When TV decides to use fairy tales, they use a female tale as an access point to that tradition. I call this “the female anchor” strategy, and make the claim that these female-focused tales are chosen intentionally in order to connect the fairy tale approach to the wider fairy tale context that exists in our minds. Our assumptions about the femininity of fairy tales as a genre might be due to the Disney princess movies operating as our society’s most visible and influential fairy tales. Or, this could be caused by something even further back, the tales’ origination in the oral tradition that existed in nurseries, by kitchen fires, and in other domestic spaces that have been part of the female realm since long before anyone wrote down a single fairy tale.

http://entropymag.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/grandma-telling-stories.jpg

Children gathered around a grandmother telling a story. This is the most traditional context for fairy tales.

This general association between femininity and fairy tales may cause creators of television mash-up episodes to feel that they need to include at least one female protagonist in order to ground them in the fairy tale tradition. If they are going to go out on a limb and really go for it with the fairy tale thing for one episode (the vast majority of these mashups are single episodes from a series that has little to do with fairy tales at the outset), they may feel they need one female character, a recognizable one with easy-to-read iconography like Little Red Riding Hood with her red cape, in order to tie them securely to that tradition. These female protagonists are used to effectively signal to viewers “This is a fairy tale episode. Adjust your expectations accordingly.”

I offer one explanation to this pattern, but there very well could be others. This could be a pattern based in fairy tale adaptation studies, the process and conventions of creating television, or more generally creating products meant for children. In fact, the issue of children playing roles in television meant for children is the issue I’ll be discussing next in this fairy tale mashup series. If children relate better to other children on television, how will that affect how television uses fairy tales with adult or adolescent characters?

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Fairy Tales on the Small Screen: Summing up the Salon

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Not so long ago, not so far away, a group of project participants and like minded individuals gathered to discuss the classic salon topic of fairy tales and this newfangled invention of television.

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Well, maybe television is not exactly bleeding edge, but it would certainly be foreign to those creating the genre of fairy tales in salons in the 18th and 19th century. We replicated these social and educational gatherings to celebrate and discuss what might be the end of the golden age of fairy tale television.

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Lauren kicked off the discussion by sharing Gypsy Thornton’s entry on Once Upon A Blog that claims “Thus Begins the End of the Fairy Tale TV Series Golden Age” right in the title. 

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The room discussed whether the age was ending, and even if there ever had been a golden age at all.

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Discussion went back and forth from fairy tales to television, then back to fairy tales again. Fairy tales is only one genre, and isn’t television in general going through a revolution now?

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Lauren broke out some hard data, graphing the trends of the frequency of different tales across both film and tv. The statistics on film came from The International Fairy-Tale Filmography and those on television from our database.

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We discussed the numbers for the shows that had been on during the “golden age” and how exactly these lined up with perceptions about the varying popularity and importance of each series.

 

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There was conversation on Nielsen ratings, the fall of Once Upon a Time, the relevancy of fairy tales, and the fickle nature of endings on television. Eventually Preston and Lauren presented their theory of the duality of fairy tale television: fairy tales have to end, they have a “Happily Ever After” but television is meant to both last for an indeterminate amount of time and be ready to end at any moment. Can there be a satisfying ending for any fairy tale series?

 

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Have any thoughts about fairy tales, television, or both? Find us on our Facebook page and visit our database , or let us know if you find anything missing. We hope to see you at the next event!

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Fairy Tale Salon : Event on October 20!

Fairy Tale Salon Signage

We will be having a wonderful event next week in 4101 JFSB where we hope to have some cool conversations about fairy tales and television and their interesting relationship. It’s a salon, so there will be great discussion and some refreshments and we hope that you all come and contribute and join in! From 5 to 6 pm on Thursday, October 20th, we will be on the fourth floor of the JFSB having a great time!

Below is an interview with Dr. Jill Rudy of the BYU English Department and the Fairy Tales on Television Research Group, where she discusses all the reasons that this event is going to be a blast!

http://images.designntrend.com/data/images/full/93289/once-upon-a-time.jpg?w=780

What should people expect when they come to this event?

They should expect to be able to talk about their television viewing habits and experiences and, of course, we are going to want to hear about their fairy tale TV viewing experiences and hope that they have some. They should come prepared to talk, to listen, and to get some context about fairy tales on television, but we really do want to hear what people’s experiences are. We hope that they can give us some insights on the question of “is this is the beginning of the end of the golden age of fairy tales on television?”.

We are calling it a salon because there is a history of people gathering together to share fairy tales and talk about fairy tales and we want to tap into that. Part of that will be the refreshments. You should come prepared for conviviality and food, as well as discussion. And, there may be some clips. [On campus], we have film screenings and we have International Cinema and we have lectures before the films, so part of this is that we want to figure out how to have deep, insightful conversations about television as a medium, as a way of telling stories, especially as it connects with fairy tales.

http://www.wallpapersxl.com/wallpaper/1366x768/beauty-and-the-beast-cw-with-resolution-1234087.html

The CW’s Beauty and the Beast series

What are the proposed topics of discussion?

So we started this idea because of a blog post about the end of [CW’s] second Beauty and the Beast series where a blogger wondered if this was “the beginning of the end of the Golden Age.” So we decided that we had some ideas about that and we wanted to share and see what some other people around campus thought about that. So it will start with some of those issues, and, again, ask for people’s experiences, especially with fairy tale shows like Beauty & The Beast, Once Upon A Time, and Grimm, the recent dramas. But then we also want to historicize it because we have our database about fairy tales on television, so we want to see if there have been other “Golden Ages” of fairy tales on television and what happened when they came and went. We’ll talk about specific aspects of television as a story telling medium and ways that endings are particularly interesting when you combine fairy tales and television.

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Does a person need any level of expertise or experience to participate in this event?

No, it would be great if you’ve never watched a fairy tale on television because we need to remember that this may not be as popular and fun as we think it is. But if you are a big fan of any of those shows, then that would be great also. Also anything related, one thing we learned with doing the database is that there might be a specific tie-in, like Beauty and the Beast obviously connects to one fairy tale, or Once Upon a Time does a mashup, and Grimm sort of does some specific tales but it also just has more an aura of a specific type of tale. We are interested in other shows that people might be watching that seem like a fairy tale to see: is it in our database? Should it be more on our radar? We want people to participate and also I think they will learn something more about fairy tales on television.
It should be a lot of fun!

Join us at 5pm in room 4101 of the JFSB next Thursday, the 20th of October, for riveting discussion and a whole new appreciation for fairy tales on television!

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Cinderella’s Sidekicks and their Choices, or Lack Thereof

Jaq and Gus

When Cinderella is adapted into other mediums, especially when these adaptations are intended for children or families, the animals barely in the original tale become sidekicks with a lot more screen-time. So what happens when you take a plot point and turn it into a character? You give it the ability to make choices within the story — you give it agency.

Betty Boop’s Poor Cinderella is, for my purposes, the first time these animals are given any characterization. And by characterization I mean the ability to sing an absurdly silly song about being free. I have chosen to interpret this musical number as a confirmation of sentience.

 

It haunts my nightmares

Let’s leave the singing pumpkin to another discussion.

The mice and lizards obviously have some idea of what choice means, or else why would they be so passionate about freedom? They seem to exercise their agency by rolling the singing pumpkin into the street, apparently knowing they are about to be turned into something else. There’s not much in the way of motivations or distinct characters for these very brief sidekicks, but there’s only so much you can expect from a 10 minute cartoon. As the short first premiered in 1934 (it’s a very early example in the Fairy Tales and TV Database), there’s a very real possibility this choice to characterize these specific aspects of the original tale were picked up by other adaptations. I think it is also important to note that Betty Boop cartoons, especially those done by the Fleischer brothers in the 1930s, often gave random elements of the story human characteristics for little reason. Poor Cinderella, in all likelihood, accidentally started a trend of giving Cinderella sidekicks without realizing it.

Pictured: not televison.

Pictured: not televison.

The obvious place to look when talking about sidekicks in Cinderella is Disney’s Cinderella. And while this is a fairy tales and television project, I think it’s important to include the classic film and the reimagining in 2015  and their relationship to the characters they’ve created. It’s very easy to see the agency of the 1950 mice, as they spend the first half of the film with essentially the same amount of deliberate choices as Cinderella. Though despite this control they initially possess, during the iconic transformation scene it is clear they have absolutely no idea what is going on, though seem to be relatively fine with the entire situation once it has happened. Still, there agency no longer matters after this point, whatever personalities they have developed have to be moved aside to make room for the fairy tale.

In the 2015 remake, the mice are portrayed much more realistically. They have a certain amount of presence in the film, but by no means do they have the amount of characterization or level of agency that their earlier counterparts did. The react to the spell in basically the same way as the 1950 film, running away from the strange force, but returning once fully transformed, apparently understanding their new role in the story. Interestingly, they do seem to gain some level of agency after the transformation, the we are shown a deliberate choice between food and opening a window, which is ultimately what saves this Cinderella.

The only real sidekick in the Muppetland TV special Hey Cinderella! is Kermit, and the Fairy Godmother does something different in terms of the transformation as well: she explains the situation. This finally places the choice of whether to go through what must be a terrifying and worldview-altering transformation in the hands, or flippers in this case, of the one it will affect. And when given this choice, he says no.

From The Muppet Movie

You can’t change a character’s species whose entire existence is based around the relative ease of being green.

While this version straddles the line between parody and sincerity, Kermit is given more agency and breadth of choice than any other sidekicks, likely because he is the Muppet: he may not be the central character in this story, but he is the lead in the franchise. Because he is identifiable as a character from outside the tale, he gets to make choices about his role within it.

When these side characters are turned into full sidekicks, suddenly there’s a lot more they can do within the narrative, including demonstrating their own agency. However, the animals to be transformed still need to fulfill this narrative as their original roles, even if it goes contrary to their new available choices. They can’t be the active agent in their story, because they were always a part of someone else’s story.

 

Real quick: Hi! I’m Gigi Valentine, I’ve just joined the Fairy Tales and TV project and am super excited to be working with very smart people about a subject I’ve always been a little overly-fascinated with. This post is adapted from an essay I wrote in Dr. Rudy’s Late-Summer Honors course about fairy tales, agency, and media, which is why it is not completely about television. Hope you’ll excuse that detail!

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