The magic of fairy tales
The magic of fairy tales
Everyone has his or her favorite fairy tale, which filled their dreams, their hopes and their inspiration. Even though years pass, the magic of fairy tales does not diminish; from the very first moment, the story becomes a part of a child’s identity.
However, as an adult, the former child no longer believes in fairy tales.
It is not a belief in the existence of fairies and enchanted creatures. It is a belief in what fairies and enchanted creatures embody.
Can an adult relate emotionally to such a belief?
Can one believe in it, even when it is portrayed as unrealistic fantasy?
It is unlikely that an adult will find it difficult to enjoy the magical power of fairy tales. Being exposed to the complex reality of life, the adult might be driven away from the ability (and desire) to reconnect to miraculous legends of his youth.
And yet, somehow, as an ever-burning flame, the affinity still exists.
The truth is that adults yearn for fairy tales no less than children. By creating fantastic role models we enable ourselves to understand the nature of human existence. We identify and criticize what we see, which is – most of the time – a presentation of the dreams and difficulties we find in our own world. But will we be able to truly do so, when we know that we what see lacks logic or reasonableness?
Can a grown adult enjoy magic even in the rationalistic phase of his life?
In a world of cynical pragmatism, accustomed to constant disillusion, is there still a place for fairy tales?
A fairy tale within a defined book is easier to accept: the printed words, the boundaries of the page, the cover – all these elements create a distinctive limit, distinguishing the world outside from the fantasy. Things take a different turn where movies are concerned. Feature films (not cartoons) can present fantasy as everyday reality.
A movie that present a fairy tale can address diverse audiences. However, it is understandable that not every movie, which deals with fairy tales, is suitable for youngsters and adults. It depends greatly on the sophistication of the plot and the realistic complexity of the story. This idea can be examined by three cinematic interpretations of Cinderella – one which addresses children, one which addresses adults and one which addresses both.
Ella Enchanted1 is the story of a young girl who is cursed by a fairy2: she is forever to do whatever she is told. Ella’s father marries a woman – a stepmother. The woman’s two daughters abuse their new sister. Once they discover the power of the magic inflicted upon her, they force Ella to become their servant.
Ella, as Cinderella, falls in love with a handsome prince. The prince is facing a life -altering ball in which he would have to find himself a bride. The prince wants Ella but her forced obedience makes it impossible for the two to be together, the same way that the prince’s obedience towards his wicked uncle jeopardizes the fate of the entire kingdom.
The movie is based on the successful book, Ella Enchanted3 , which demonstrated and criticized women’s slavery in the world and people around them. The movie catches on to the idea, but takes away its sting, thus making the idea secondary to the plot which clearly aims at a young audience: the dialog, jokes and twists all say “teenagers”. The storyline is without complexity and therefore does not allow intellectual challenge. The stereotypical representation sets the scenery on the one-dimensional battle between “Good” Ella and the “Wicked” stepsisters and between the worthy prince and his vile uncle. All these aspects construct a tale attractive merely to adolescents. Adults will not discover the fairy tale they are hoping to find.
Ever After4 is the same story, but looks very much like a fairy tale: Cinderella is a disgraced slave to an evil stepmother, the prince is handsome and the majestic ball solves every problem and repairs every injustice.
The personal touch and the uniqueness of the movie lies on the fact that the good fairy is now the historical Leonardo De Vinci5 and that substantial emphasis is put on Cinderella’s education as well on her feistiness and intelligence.
Ever After follows carefully the genre’s stipulations, with close proximity to Cinderella: the scenery, the chain of events, the characters motives and the way they operate – the film has more layers, more depth, more meaning.
The plot is more complex and has an insightful aspect to it. The actors themselves are older and even their performances are more refined and less childish6. All these facts enable the movie to reach a wider range of viewers of different ages. The modern tone of the movie allows Cinderella to save the prince, as he rescues her, and for both of them to live an egalitarian life, as one would expect of a movie made in the twentieth century7.
Pretty Woman8 is the realistic, “older” adaptation to the fairy tale of Cinderella; Cinderella is now a streetwalker, the carriage turns to a limousine, instead of a fancy ball there is the Opera, the glass slipper has been replaced by a leather boot and the prince is a wealthy tycoon saved by the girl whom he rescues from a life in the street. Against all odds and logic, the two poles of the story meet together in mundane reality. A life of happy ever after, the inevitable promise of every fairy tale. The movie stands for itself, but the affinity to the legendry origin is clear and unmistakable (and even implied within the movie). This affinity sustains the appealing attraction of the movie and the realization of fantasy in everyday life.
The secret of a fairy tale’s success is its ability to transfer the magic to an audience that no longer believes in magic. The Princess Bride9 is an outstanding example of a fantastic fairy tale that touches viewers of all ages: the battles, the pirates, the giant and the midget, Buttercup and the farm boy, the evil prince, the miracle man and the dungeon pit – all the things that do not have a place in the rational world, are entwined together by a sharp and humorous script. This sophisticated disposition does not take itself too seriously but the constant jokes and the ongoing satire are very much a part of the movie’s great appeal. Children and grownups alike enjoy The Princess Bride with the same excitement and enthusiasm: children believe it to be true. Adults know that it is not but the wonderful feeling is still very much there.
Stardust10 also captures young and old audience at the same way. Allegedly, it has all the wrong ingredients to drive a rational man from watching it: witches, falling stars that turns to human beings, ghosts fighting over inheritance and dangerous and extraordinary enemies. However, these ingredients all serve as groundwork for a much larger idea: Lamia, the witch who so vigorously chases Yvaine, the falling star, in order to resume her lost youth, is a vivid illustration of the modern pursuit to look young at any cost. An ongoing, relentless, sometimes cruel quest, that stops at nothing in order to get its way. Yvaine, like any star, shines when she is happy and extinguishes when her heart is broken. Such a magical image of the way a person lights up when joyful and shuts down when sad. Captain Shakespeare wears a daunting persona, hiding his gentle, feminine personality from those who expect him to be something else from that which he really is. Tristan, who starts as a simple shop boy, grows up to be an independent man, when he is forced to face life with its great challenges. The adorable girl who prefers all that glitters over gold as girls sometimes do – does it sound all too familiar?
The way in which these stories are delivered, presents their ideas in an accessible and fascinating manner. They enable the adult spectator to enjoy the magic, both intellectually and emotionally, similar to a young child, who believes the fairy tale to be true and real.
It is very likely that a sensible and rational child of the twenty first century may not believe that a fallen star could become a real live woman. However, the key word here is “May”: he may believe and he may not. An adult, on the other hand, will not believe. A child will believe in magic until someone reveals to him that magic is a trick. An adult is a child that has already been told. The question is not if a child enjoys a movie differently to an adult but rather if an adult can enjoy a movie, even though he sees it differently from a child?
The magic of the fairy tale is kept and transferred even in less fantastic cases. Realistic movies by definition, such as Half Russian Story11 that portrays a direct and painful picture of the Israeli – Russian reality of our days. The rough circumstances, the difficulties, the pain and the confrontations with everyday complications – they all drain into the dance floor of a community center in Ashdod.
The realistic mode is kept firmly throughout the entire movie and because of this the characters find themselves nowhere else but on the dance floor – the most magical place in their un-magical life. Chen, the young boy at the center on the story who observes the world falling apart around him, is the magician who joins together all the broken dreams. Besides him there are also a villain (a ten years old boy who acts as a gangster, surrounded with body guards) and a princess in distress (the girl whom Chen loves and tries to rescue). A very realistic – bitter – sweet fairy tale.
The movie is no different from other movie that have a hero, an ideal love interest, nemesis and a happy ending, but it differentiates by allowing the hero, the ideal love interest, the nemesis and the happy ending to exist in a scenario which is so unrelated to the fairy tale genre.
The fight to win a life that has even a small piece of happiness seems almost impossible in Chen’s life, but he does not give up. With no magical powers, no superhero qualities, no outstanding wisdom, all Chen has is his stubbornness. And thanks to it, Chen does not give up: not in his attempts to please his mother, not on the girl he loves but does not love him back and not in the dancing.
This is how he finally succeeds.
He succeeds saving not only himself but also everyone around him: his dancing teacher finds the strength to disengage herself from a destructive relationship thanks to Chen.
His disconnected parents, who love each other but do not seem to bridge their cultural differences, reconcile finally thanks to Chen.
The sad beauty Chen tried to rescue remains locked in her narrow world, but Chen falls in love with the right girl for him, a stubborn and obstinate girl, just like himself.
A true fairy tale, not a delusional fantasy.
Fairy tales have magic: they disconnect us from the modern world, only to bring us back to reality– a little different, more appeased, with greater faith and therefore stronger.
They are not about holding onto a fantasy, or wishful thinking that fierce knights and exotic princesses will come alive in the twenty first century.
They give us the much needed pause in the reality in which we live.
They give us joy and beauty.
They give us hope and inspiration12.
One can enjoy fairy tales at every age.
We may grow up, but the fairy tales grow up with us.
That is their true magic.