Last week, our Fairy Tale Research Team, led by Dr. Jill Rudy, joined forces with the cast of BYU’s production of Into the Woods. Fairy tale fans and theater aficionados alike turned out to compete in fairy tale trivia, play “Match the Emojis to the Tale,” watch fairy tale inspired music videos, and munch cream puffs and bagel bites. Some lucky attendees walked away with free Into the Woods tickets after winning a raffle. With more than fifty in attendance, this was one of the FTTV project’s most successful events to date. After the treats and games, we migrated into a nearby auditorium for musical numbers and fairy tale presentations.
Dramaturg, Production Team, and Cast for Panel Discussion
Dramaturg Amelia Johnson, known on this blog for her guest posts, kicked off the second portion of the event with a quick intro to fairy tale theory before turning the time over to the rest of the cast for songs.
Rapunzel safe in her tower with the witch and her hair.
Madison Dennis and Ellora Lattin, playing The Witch and Rapunzel, began with “Our Little World,” a comical mother-daughter number, where a chair stood in for the elaborate tower of the set. The Witch has shielded her stolen daughter from the outside world for her entire life, and Rapunzel is okay with this arrangement — although she does wish her mother weren’t so unsightly.
Cortlynd Olsen presenting fairy tale findings prepared with team member Preston Wittwer
Cortlynd Olsen followed this with a presentation on the cultural context of Into the Woods’ stage debut as well as the inspiration and production history of the 2014 film. These ranged from the expected (Disney’s live action reboot spree) to the surprising (a 2011 speech where then-President Obama inadvertently quoted the musical).
Cinderella, perpetually shoeless
Next, Cinderella (Libby Lloyd) found her glass slippers (or rather, cheetah print heels) stuck in pitch on the steps of the palace. In this number she debates the pros and cons of marrying a prince she’s only known for a few days, and who thinks trapping his would-be wife in sticky pitch is a good way to start a relationship. After Cinderella pried her heels up, Lauren Redding took the stage for a presentation on mash-ups, adaptation concepts, and deconstruction. Deconstruction is particularly pertinent to the overall concept of Into the Woods, where wishes bring their own set of problems and consequences come into play after intermission.
Agony! with Preston Taylor (left, Cinderella’s Prince) and Benjamin Raymant (right, Rapunzel’s Prince)
Last but not least, Rapunzel and Cinderella’s princes fought to out-whine each other in “Agony.” Life’s rough when your title, good looks, and charm aren’t enough keep the girl of your dreams from ditching you at midnight. But then, loving a maiden who can’t leave her tower is agonizing in its own way. Who has it worse? “Agony” is one of the most popular songs from the musical, a surefire crowd-pleaser, and our audience was no exception. Everyone laughed aloud at the princes’ melodramatic antics, enjoying the informal setting that allowed them to perform without mics or costumes.
After the brothers grudgingly admitted that there’s more than one way to be luckless in love, the entire cast was invited onstage for a panel discussion. Questions ranged from the complexities of fairy tale character archetypes in the context of well-known stage and screen precedent, to the struggles of depicting an an annoying, pompous Prince Charming.
All in all, this event saw a great turnout, provoke thoughtful panel questions, and raised excitement for our theater friends’ upcoming production, which will open November 17 and run until December 9. We hope to do future Setting The Stage events that will be just as delightful!
Special Thanks to the cast that attended the event and contributed to our panel!
Amanda Crawley, Hannah Pyper Dalley, Madison Dennis, Casey Greenwood, Ellora Lattin, Chelsea Mortensen, Benjamin Raymant, Joseph Swain, Preston Taylor, and Channing Weir
This post was originally published on The 4th Wall, the dramaturgy blog of the BYU Theatre and Media Arts Department. We at FTTV partnered with the cast, director, and dramaturgy team of BYU’s production of Into The Woods to host an exciting event on November 8th that dove into context, meaning, and stage/screen adaptations of fairy tales. Prepare for the production or get a taste of what you missed at the event here.
The inspiration for Into the Woods came because Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine wanted to create a show that blended several stories. They did not originally intend to use fairy tales, but these stories have played an important role in many people’s lives.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Though there have been many storytellers, it was the Brothers Grimm who popularized these stories. Growing up, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were able to get a good education. Because they kept to themselves, the brothers became very close. Jacob and Wilhelm also gained a great love for folk tales. Eventually, they collected and published these stories in Children’s and Household Tales in 1812. The stories were aimed toward children as children’s stories were becoming a more popular form of literature. In later editions of their book, the stories were made even more family friendly as the original tales received some criticism due to some gory details.
The Grimm’s Die Kinder-Und Hausmarchen, or Children’s and Household Tales
Although there are several variations of the fairy tales that the Brothers Grimm collected, there are common themes: villains, heroes, and personal obstacles that are eventually overcome. The lives of the heroes in the stories are far from perfect, but they work through their challenges and are then able to find happily ever after.
Living in perfect bliss for the rest of one’s life is a little unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean that what the fairy tale characters go through has no value. Into the Woods explores what happens after ever after. Our lives will have challenges and joyous moments at different times. However, as long as we remember that things can get better, and keep moving forward, we, as our favorite fairy tale characters, will always find moments to be happy in our ever after.
Thanks Amelia! Our FTTV team is always interested in mediated fairy tales on the stage, big screen, and small screen. Into the Woods is also a great example of a fairy tale mash-up that uses strategies from our research, using more tales in a mash-up earlier than any in our database. Did Into The Woods impact these trends? These are the kind of questions we love to ask at FTTV!
This post was originally published on The 4th Wall, the dramaturgy blog of the BYU Theatre and Media Arts Department. We at FTTV have partnered with the cast, director, and dramaturgy team of BYU’s production of Into The Woods to host an exciting event on November 8th that dives deep into context, meaning, and stage/screen adaptations of fairy tales. Prepare for the event by reading about the musical and the production here and in the weeks to come.
When I mention Into the Woods, there are those who love it and those who don’t.
For those who aren’t fans of the show, the main comment I hear is that the show does not end like the typical fairy tale. It breaks the idea of happily ever after that we grew up with as children. Though the show certainly does not have a typical fairy tale ending, I feel that this is a great part of where the value of the show lies.
Just like us, the characters in this show are on their own journey. They are working towards the things they want and learning along the way. All choices have consequences and sometimes people make mistakes. Into the Woods recognizes people’s imperfections and reminds us that we live in an imperfect world. Our favorite fairy tale characters face some tough issues, but they still leave us with the hope that we can move forward.
Over the next few weeks, I will share some of the steps in this production’s journey. It is my hope that as you continue reading, you will see how many people are involved in bringing this story to you and, whether or not you are already a fan, will gain a greater love for it.
The Fairy Tale research group is teaming up with BYU Theatre and the cast of their Into the Woods production for an event that meshes fairy tale studies and performance! Join us for a fun event that mixes cast performances, games and trivia, talk-back discussions with cast members, and presentations on context and fairy tale media.
This event is for anyone intending on attending a performance of Into the Woods during their November 18 – December 9th run who wants to gain a deeper knowledge of the production, or anyone who wants to know more about some of the ideas behind Sondheim’s fairy tale mashup musical.
Just as Scheherazade spun tales for the king that kept his interest for 1001 nights, so do the shows we watch spin tales that entrance and delight us until we’ve binge-watched our way through an entire series.
From the oldest listed fairy tale based television program in our database, a Disney Animated Short on Cinderella that was released in 1922, to Toyota’s latest C-HR ad, also based on Cinderella, TV audiences have been treated to a wide variety of shows, episodes, and advertisements that take inspiration from fairy tales.
Television has long been considered lower than other art forms like film or theater. Episodes are brief, rarely taking up more than an hour. Production time is also shorter, both because of the brevity of each episode, and because of the typical lack of artistry (while films might shoot a scene from several different angles, TV show cameras are often static). Then there is the wide distribution of television, which makes shows more readily available to audiences, especially when compared to something like Broadway tickets. Most of these aspects of television have shifted and changed, especially over the last decade, but these supposed drawbacks are part of what makes TV the perfect medium for retelling our favorite fairy tales.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm listen as a woman shares a tale.
The brevity of an episode of TV reflects back to the typical length of tales when they were collected. They were often just a few pages long with very little detail, unlike the novel-length retellings we see today. Films tend to add to and embellish fairy tales as they retell them, while television often sticks to the more basic, pared-down versions so as to focus on the movement of the plot. If TV shows took as long to establish themselves as films often do, they would be likely to lose their audiences. Instead, they must immediately immerse the viewer in the world of the tale, giving them something familiar with just enough of a twist that it feels fresh and new.
Television is often less formal than film; TV feels more intimate because of the quick and unselfconscious way it is filmed as well as its general availability. Originally, fairy tales were told orally in small groups, the telling of tales was intimate and local, just as TV is today. The only difference here is that storytellers could make changes to the tale depending on the mood and desires of the audience, whereas TV is scripted and therefore loses that ability to adapt to its audience.
Compare Disney’s 2015 version of Cinderella, who, despite being a little dirty, has little to worry about, to Once Upon a Time’s original Cinderella who had to deal with making the choice to give her child up or raise it by herself.
Television operates in a world similar to our own, the characters are often less glamorous and feel more realistic compared to those in film. The settings are similar: no matter how fantastical a TV-scape might be, there’s usually something about it that is familiar to the audience, giving the impression that we might actually find ourselves in such a world one day. This realm of non-reality that mirrors reality can also be found in fairy tales where characters move through worlds that are clearly not our own, yet still resonate within us as being part of some not-so-distant past. We know these tales so well that the characters and worlds have become a part of us—TV provides us with a new lens through which to view both the tales and our own world.
As TV grows in popularity and importance in the academic world, so too will its influence on the way we tell fairy tales, and as it evolves, the tales will evolve to match what we value in our society. Using television studies in conjunction with fairy tale studies provides us with new tools and keys to understanding the way our society and our world works. Fairy tales provide us with an understanding of the past and its effects on the present, while the newer invention of television provides us a way to look at where we are going and how we are using the past to define our future.
At the end of a six-season run with a well-established finale, on the brink of a new curse to reset season 7, we meet as viewers, as scholars, as audience members and fairy tale enthusiasts, to discuss this show’s past, present, and future.
Is Once Upon A Time a high-profile breakthrough for the widespread audience appeal of fairy tales for all ages, moving them out of the realm of children’s media?
Is it a harebrained concept that uses the loosest definition of “fairy tale,” (if they constrain themselves to any definition at all) that we have ever seen?
Is it functioning as a soap opera with fairy tale elements?
Is it wasting a perfect opportunity to end its run at season six with a heavily implied ‘Happily Ever After’?
Is it resetting with a universe expansion and new set of characters that will breathe new life into the concept while also keeping close to the heart of why audience members fell in love with this show in the first place?
Or is this reset a last-ditch attempt to retain viewers for one more season, even without several beloved main cast members?
These are all questions posed by both our team members and our attendees at our Screening Event for the Once Upon a Time season seven premiere.
The FTTV Team with introductory material before the screening.
After an introduction of the team and the season six conclusion, as well as distribution of snacks (including plenty of M&Ms), we began the screening.
We had a mixture of attendees to this event: those who were watching this premiere as a continuation of season six, viewers who had dropped out of watching OUAT a few seasons ago or otherwise weren’t caught up, and those who had only a passing knowledge of the characters and concept of OUAT.
The opening of the season premier episode, most likely our last glimpse of Jared Gilmore playing the role of Henry Mills. The room is full of anticipation. And chips with dip.
Stopping for commercial breaks, we cycled through discussion questions thoughtfully prepared by Erica as well as reactions, interpretations, and questions posed by those of us watching the premiere for the first time. With a quick concluding presentation on ending and finale conventions on television as well as a plug from Preston about the academic and critical study of television as an artistic form, everyone went on their way, hopefully with increased engagement and interest in the intersection between fairy tales and television.
The BYU Fairy Tales & Television Group is having an event and we would like you all to join us!
As you read about in Erica’s post, season 7 of Once Upon A Time is going to look a little different. After the two-part, tied-in-a-bow season 6 finale titled “The Final Battle,” which ended with a minute-long montage of all the characters smiling fondly at each other, which itself came after an episode with a WEDDING which also happened to be a MUSICAL, news of a renewal came as a surprise to a lot of audience members. News of main characters (Jennifer Morrison’s Emma Swan, Ginnifer Goodwin’s Snow White, and Josh Dallas’ Prince Charming) not returning for season seven raised even more eyebrows.
Season 7 seems to be starting on a reset unlike any reset Once Upon A Time has yet seen, which is evidenced by this trailer and the almost completely new set of lead characters. The concept of OUAT has always been “what if fairy tale characters were real?” and season 7 is keeping this concept. However, the reset seems to be playing further into the reality of fairy tales as folklore. The story of “Cinderella” can be found in endless forms in different cultures and traditions, as can the bulk of fairy tale stories. The nature of these stories is that they are not set in stone and they can be infinitely retold. In the OUAT mythology, this seems to be signified by “hundreds of other books,” similar to the one that belongs to Henry and contains the stories of the Storybrooke characters we have met so far on OUAT. We find all this out from this sneak peek, explaining why this reset is expected to bring such a significant universe expansion. (Video here)
We also know that there is a new curse, more memory wipes, and an entirely new setting the characters find themselves in: Hyperion Heights, a neighborhood in Seattle.
Erica has shared her predictions, many of us have some of our own, we may even throw in a little theory on TV endings / beginnings, throw it back to our salon discussion last year.
Join us! There will be popcorn and snacks and we will chat through the commercial breaks and after the episode, swapping theories and discussing what this means for the “Golden Age of Fairy Tale Television.”
Written by Erica Smith, one of our new team members!
The traditional fairy tales which Once Upon A Time adapts often cast women in the role of damsel-in-distress. Since Once Upon A Time is structured around empowering the adult woman, Henry, a male child, steps in whenever the story calls for a “damsel” character. Targeted at older viewers, the show’s core cast is built mostly of adults in their thirties. Snow White and Belle (Beauty), vaguely youthful in storybooks and teenaged in Disney’s trademark adaptations, are adult women with children of their own. “Little” Red Riding Hood is aged up, played by twenty-nine-year-old Meghan Ory at the series’ beginning. Pinocchio is only a boy in flashbacks. And though OUAT’s structure relies heavily on flashbacks to former lives, they rarely focus on adult characters as children. The only child to consistently feature in the main cast is Henry Mills, son of Emma Swann, the show’s protagonist, and adopted son of Regina, villain-turned-ally.
The series pilot kicks off with Henry tracking down his birth mother, barging into her apartment, and recruiting her to break the amnesia curse that binds the people of Storybrooke. He is ten at this point. His status as a child forces Emma to get involved in his life, driving him home to Storybrooke rather than simply kicking him out of her apartment. Once Emma arrives in town, Henry serves as both a bridge and a barrier between her and Regina. His two mothers fight over him and for him. He knows his status as a child makes him vulnerable and he purposefully places himself in danger to force the adult characters to cooperate.
In the season one finale, Regina attempts to curse Emma with a poison apple pie. Henry foils her plan by eating the pie himself. Emma then wakes him from the sleeping curse with a maternal “true love’s kiss.” This gender swaps a classic fairy tale trope and puts Henry in the damsel role. Unlike most classic fairy tale heroines, Henry curses himself by choice, making him a self-sacrificing hero rather than a victim.
Though Henry proves himself capable whenever he’s given the chance, his family try to protect him, leaving him out of the action whenever possible. Adults aren’t entirely to blame. Sometimes circumstances outside his control place Henry in a powerless position. A portal sucks Emma, Snow, and Regina into adventures in the Enchanted Forest in the second season, leaving Henry behind in real-world Storybrooke. In the third season, Henry is kidnapped by child villain Peter Pan, and the adults spend most of the season on a quest to get him back. Every adult woman in his life is competent with either a sword, bow, or magic. Henry is rather useless in a fight.
Eventually he takes on the non-combatant role of Author, gaining the power to make or break any fairy tale character’s happy ending. But the pen isn’t quite mightier than the sword. Instead of empowering him, his newfound writer abilities motivate adult characters to kidnap or manipulate him in order to write their stories their way. By the middle of season five, he’s fed up. “I’m sick of sitting on the sidelines,” he complains in season five, episode fifteen. “I want to be a hero, I want to help my mom.” Later in the same episode, he tells his mother Emma, “I have all this power and I ignore it. I live in everyone’s shadow. I want to be the hero instead of the one the heroes rescue.”
Those lines wouldn’t sound out of place if spoken by a princess in any feminist fairy tale retelling. Disney (parent company of Once Upon A Time’s ABC) is famous for putting rebel princesses in a man’s world. Male heroes are the status quo, and Disney heroines take a stand by rejecting arranged marriages or slaying their own dragons. But every time a princess declares she is “not a prize to be won” (Jasmine) or “I’ll be shooting for my own hand” (Merida), she reminds audiences that she inhabits a world where strong female characters are the exception, not the norm.
In Henry’s world, battle-ready women are the status quo. As Henry matures into a teenager, he tags along on quests with his parents and grandparents, though he’s still helping them achieve their goals instead of pursuing his own.
Everything is due to change in the new season seven, which starts a new reset and a new generation of the show. Watch the trailer below.
Henry is now an adult and most of the women who raised him are no longer part of his story. The teaser for season seven explicitly mirrors Once Upon A Time’s pilot episode. Henry’s long-lost daughter Lucy knocks on his door and recruits him for a brand new adventure. We’ve seen this story before, but this time, it’s gender swapped. Grown-up Henry is now the hero of his own story, stepping into the role his mother played for the last six seasons. Will OUAT’s commitment to female empowerment extend to Lucy, or will her age make her the new child in distress, a plucky, resourceful kid playing second fiddle to the adults in her life?
We will begin to be able to answer these questions when the new season premieres on October 6th, and our own FTTV group will be having a screening activity the following week, stay tuned for updates on this awesome event!
The final guest post from Dr. Rudy’s 394r Applied English class is from Shana Pickett. We hope you enjoy this one and the others that preceded it!
Mysterious murders, man-eating monsters, and magic spells.
Damsels in distress, demons, and dashing dudes.
It’s a guns-blazing, hair-raising, monster-slaying good time.
What’s not to love about CW’s Supernatural? It’s an immensely popular show that started in 2005 and is currently in it’s 12th season, and going strong, still consistently drawing 2 million US viewers per episode1. It follows the adventures of brothers Sam and Dean Winchester, who have been trained from a young age by their father to hunt monsters after the gruesome death of their mother. They travel across the country in search of creatures to hunt in hopes of making the world a safer place, and living the Winchester mantra: “Saving People. Hunting things. The family business.”
But Sam and Dean aren’t the first brothers to go looking for lore. Once upon a time, in the early 1800’s, two brothers criss crossed Germany looking for a good story. Their names were Jacob and Wilheim Grimm. In a continuation of the tradition started by the Brothers Grimm, Supernatural is a collection of modern American fairy tales. The purpose behind televising these tales is the same as the purpose of the Grimm’s original collection, to foster a national identity and pride. This is an especially vital mission today in a post 9/11 world where many Americans feel that their values and way of life are under attack. Through this emphasis on American folklore, Supernatural reinforces American values such as freedom, brotherhood, and apple pie.
This practice of collecting stories to boost a country’s national identity started in the 1800s with the Grimm brothers. Back then, Germany was occupied by France and was struggling to define a unified culture after existing so long as many separate entities. Fairy tales were super popular, but occupied by the French as well, and were mainly shared among the aristocracy in their hoity-toity salons. Jacob and Wilheim Grimm dreamed of a day when Germany would be united, but that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon if everyone wanted to be French because they had all the cool culture. Then, the brothers got a brilliant idea. It probably went a little something like this:
So that’s what they did. They travelled the countryside, collecting the tales told by the everyday, average Hans and Hilda, and in 1812, their collection of stories was published as Kinder und Hausmarchen, which we know today as Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Supernatural, a show about two brothers who also travel the country looking for stories, has even incorporated some of the Grimm’s tales into the show. Season 3 has an episode called Bedtime Stories, where the brothers investigate some grisly murders that resemble fairy tales such as “The Three Little Pigs,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Snow White,” and “Hansel and Gretel.” In fact, “Hansel and Gretel” makes multiple appearances in the show. In the season 10 episode About A Boy, the original witch from the fairy tale guest stars. My personal favorite “Hansel and Gretel” episode is from the season 1, Wendigo, where there are kids lost in the woods, a man-eating monster that can only be killed by fire, and a trail of peanut M&M’s. Other lesser known tales are used as well, such as “Godfather Death” (Appointment in Samarra) and “The Robber Bridegroom” (Of Grave Importance).
Death, playing the role of the Robber Bridegroom, faces off with Dean Winchester in “Appointment in Samarra”
However, the show does not rely exclusively on the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. Most of the episodes explore the lore of America. As Supernatural creator Eric Kripke said, “We have a folklore in mythology that is as rich and developed as any world culture’s and as uniquely American as baseball2.” His original purpose in creating the show was to explore the folklore of America. There are episodes about The Hook Man urban legend, wendigos, a Slender Man-esque monster, La Llorona, and skin-walkers. Other episodes focus on more international lore such as vampires, werewolves, and jinn. The variety of lore in the show reflects the multicultural heritage of the American people. While the lore incorporated may not be explicitly called a fairy tale, most of the episodes do involve some type of magic or wonder like in the Grimm tales.
The tales collected by the Grimms also reflected the fears and anxieties of their day. There are a lot of stories that deal with starvation, like “Hansel and Gretel,” because that was a very real danger for the people back then. While Americans don’t necessarily worry about starving to death, we are worried by other things, and have been especially anxious since the horrible events of 9/11. 9/11 made Americans realize that we are not exempt from attack as previously thought, but as vulnerable as anyone else in the world. Most of the episodes of Supernatural mirror this vulnerability, with some sort of mysterious threat terrorizing small-town America, be it a witch, werewolf, or what have you. Often, the monster is someone from the community, speaking to the growing fear of terrorists and ISIS sleeper cells hiding among the American public.
But rather than leave us in fear, Supernatural follows in the footsteps of the Grimm brothers and shows American values triumphing over these threats, namely freedom, brotherhood, classic cars, and apple pie. Sam and Dean Winchester live outside the law, bending the rules to suit their needs, having no ties, travelling from place to place with all
Winchester tools of the trade: silver bullets (werewolves), rock salt (ghosts), and assorted knives.
their belongings in their 1967 Chevy Impala, embodying freedom. They are not unlike many of the protagonists in the Grimm tales, who were not from fortunate backgrounds and had to rely on their wits to get what they want out of life. Supernatural also emphasizes freedoms unique to Americans as well. One of the most central freedoms to their job as monster hunters is their Second Amendment rights, enabling them to kill any monster that comes their way. In fact, one of the major story arcs of the series involves a magical Colt pistol that can kill anything.
Brotherhood and unity play a vital role in the plot of the series, just as they were to the plots of Grimm tales about siblings like Hansel and Gretel or Joringa and Joringel. Sam and Dean share a traumatic past, and they often disagree and fight with one another. But when it is most important, they will always be there for each other, come hell or high water (and they’ve encountered both). The brothers serve as a reminder to the American people that we are stronger when we are united, and to not let our differences come between us when there are bigger fish to fry.
Third, Supernatural puts a special emphasis on aspects of American culture like cars, rock n’ roll, and food. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know the music that Jacob and Wilehim listened to as they travelled around Germany, and they didn’t have classic cars back then, but music and cars help Supernatural to celebrate American cultural identity. The brothers’ vehicle of choice is a beautiful, American-made 1967 Chevy Impala, affectionately called Baby. The Impala has become an icon of the series, not unlike the DeLorean from Back to the Future or the yellow and black Camaro from the Transformers series. Music contributes to the cultural celebration, and allowed Supernatural to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for music in 2006. The soundtrack of the show is largely classic rock, with the theme song for the show being “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas, and Dean hardly listening to any music that came out after the 1980’s. If you need to see this for yourself, here’s a collection of some of the best Impala moments from the show.
One thing that the Brothers Grimm and Supernatural do share is their celebration of national foods. The Germans were famous for their gingerbread, and so the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel made the tale distinctly German. American foods are celebrated in Supernatural in a similar, but more humorous fashion. Sam and Dean’s regular consumption of American foods like fast food hamburgers and pie gives the show a distinctly American feel and promotes national identity through these foods. The emphasis on food also provides comic relief in an otherwise dark and gory show, as seen in this video of all the references to pie in the first 8 seasons alone.
Overall, the emphasis on American culture, values, freedoms, and folklore in Supernatural follow the tradition started by the Grimm brothers and their collections of stories. Like the fairy tales of the Grimm’s, Supernatural is a collection of fairy tales meant to combat American fears in a post-9/11 and to foster a national identity and pride.
Sarah Thompson brings us the guest post this week from the Winter 2017 Applied English class. Enjoy!
The CW’s critical darling, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, was recently renewed for a third season despite being the least viewed network television show two years in a row. The program follows a tradition of fairy tale-esque musical programs, like Once Upon A Tune and Galavant. But what makes the show so loved by critics and the few who watch it religiously (as opposed to Galavant, whose early cancellation was not surprising to either viewers or critics)? Well, this avid fan is pretty sure it’s because the show pulls apart previously established trends in the romantic comedy genre in the most hilarious way possible. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend uses fairy tale elements to demonstrate exactly how different the characters of the show, and real life people, actually are from fairy tales.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna. The combination of these two writers reveals the nature of the show as a combination of modern romantic comedy and fairy tale elements.
Rachel Bloom gained popularity through Youtube videos like “Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song” and “I Was a Mermaid and Now I’m a Pop Star” the latter of which is described by Rachel Bloom in the video description as “what would happen if The Little Mermaid got discovered by a record producer for her singing voice and became a complete [jerk].” In contrast, Aline Brosh McKenna worked on big budget romantic comedies like The Devil Wears Prada in her early career. The marriage of Aline Brosh McKenna’s romantic comedy experience with Rachel Bloom’s history of updating the fairy tale has led to many songs which address fairy tales specifically and hilariously.
To avoid confusion, let’s go over some of the main players:
Rebecca, the main character, is a young lawyer who turns down the opportunity to be a junior partner at her firm in New York to pursue a relationship with her high school summer camp ex-boyfriend.
Rebecca moves to West Covina, a small city in the eastern San Gabriel Valley. She sees this place as magical and therefore the setting is easily related to the magical kingdoms in many fairy tales.
Josh is the object of Rebecca’s affection. He dated Rebecca when they were both 16 at a summer camp until Josh dumped her. He loves West Covina and hip hop dancing.
Valencia is Josh’s current long-term girlfriend. The main antagonist of the show, she represents everything Rebecca wishes to be.
Paula is a paralegal in West Covina and Rebecca’s first friend in town. She supports Rebecca’s romantic shenanigans while also dealing with her own career goals and marriage troubles.
Greg is a snarky bartender and the “healthy romantic alternative” to Josh. In traditional romantic comedy style, he’s the guy that Rebecca probably should be pursuing.
The music in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend adapts not only the fairy tales each fairy tale-esque song is based on, but also previous Disney adaptations. “Maybe This Dream” stars Paula as she wistfully contemplates her dream of going to law school. (Warning, some sexual references are made in the following video):
Paula’s outfit looks very similar to the one in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and the allusion is clearly intentional. However, instead of showing how similar Paula is to a princess, the song does the exact opposite. Paula implies her past dreams have “poop[ed] on her face.” She makes shocking comparisons between her dreams and reality in a song that otherwise looks, sounds, and feels like a fairy tale. This makes it only more obvious how much Paula does not quite fit into the fairy tale setting. Office printers and copiers are seen throughout her magical forest; her life experiences are not that of a princess.
“The Villain in my Own Story” also addresses how the characters of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are not like princesses and takes the idea even further. Rebecca sings this song in response to learning how she is hurting Valencia in pursuing Josh (warning, this video contains minor language):
This musical number brings together a lot of fairy tale elements; Rebecca looks like the witch from Disney’s Snow White while making references to Hansel and Gretel when stating her plans to eat the captured princess. The last verse of the song contains an interesting allusion to Disney’s Aladdin when Rebecca says: “I told myself that I was Jasmine, But I realize now I’m Jafar.”
The message of this musical number repeats the one shared in “Maybe This Dream.” The women in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are not true princesses. Rebecca isn’t even a true villain in this musical number; she says herself that she “gives annually to UNICEF.” Josh is not completely like a prince either. All of the characters are instead real-world mixes of fairy tale elements. It’s when the characters of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (or anyone for that matter) imagine themselves as the hero without fault that they run into problems.
Rebecca’s tendency to destructively imagine herself as a princess, specifically Jasmine, is repeated in the song “One Indescribable Instant.” This is perhaps the piece that best shows the combination of both original fairy tales and Disney film adaptations as influences. Lea Salonga (the voice of many Disney princesses) sings a song from Rebecca’s favorite childhood movie Slumbered an obvious reference to Disney movies like Sleeping Beauty or even Enchanted (warning, spoilers ahead):
The scene takes place at a wedding that character Greg snidely remarks is “the epitome of Southern California pastiche; a chain hotel with vaguely French decor and Italian food . . . being served Tapas style while [a] Filipino girl is marrying a Jewish guy, all with a lightly Arabian Nights style. What was this Pinterest board called? Juxtaposition?”
The song itself is also a pastiche, borrowing elements from different films. Rebecca is seen as a Jasmine when making out with Josh on a flying carpet. She lets the fairy tale nature of the wedding catapult her into pursuing Josh once again, leaving behind boyfriend Greg, even though it is the wrong choice. Here, Rebecca uses fairy tales to justify her objectively bad choices (cheating on her boyfriend with a man who doesn’t truly love her).
The fairy tales in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend demonstrate that the characters of the show are not simply archetypes, like the princess or the witch, but a combination of these archetypes. It’s when Rebecca imagines herself as a princess who can do no wrong that she hurts others. The show uses expectations we all have in a post-Disney world to show that disregarding reality in the pursuit of the fairy tale is, well, crazy. And it does this while being charming and hilarious and so, so great. And that is why Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a show that you should definitely be watching.
Here lie the travails of a group of scholars creating an online database for the study of traditional and evolving fairy tales as portrayed on television. We welcome any and all comments, particularly if you know of a TV show that references fairy tales that's not in the database.