Whimsical wonderland may not be so wonderful after all


Blake Becker

Art by Jennifer Stanley
Children’s stories are classic works that are always a pleasure to look back on and read through or watch. Many provide robust and original stories that leave them a respectable permanence in the world of literature and film. These works of art, like Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel and L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz are among such stories, which can capture the attention of all, regardless of age, with their rich narrative, serious characters and original concepts. These masterpieces set a high standard for all fantasy themed stories.
With a respectable place in film history, it’s only sensible for the works to be done justice by any remakes or spin-offs by having the new works adhere to the original stories’ spirit and themes. Logic and respect don’t seem to apply to the current film industry though, as giving the Mad Hatter a sword, sexualizing Gretel and turning the Wizard of Oz into an intense action movie is perfectly acceptable to producers as a way to make capital without any regard to artistic integrity.
Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland in 2010 popularized the trend of transforming classic stories into over-hyped dramas that take an unnecessarily serious tone. While the film received mixed reviews with a 51 percent approval rating on www.RottenTomatoes.com and 6.5/10 on www.IMDb.com, it managed to gross $1,024,299,904 at the box office worldwide, placing it at 11 among the highest grossing films in history.
The film is a bastardization of the original Alice in Wonderland by ignoring the work’s authentic theme of imagination and makes up for its lack of innovation by centering the movie around a war against the Queen of Hearts that only Alice can end by dressing up in full plate armor and killing a dragon that Caroll barely mentioned in the original literature. The book did have some violent tones but nothing as large as a full-blown war.
Recent releases continue this style of taking an original concept and transforming it into something completely unrelatable. New release Oz the Great and Powerful follows the same road as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland by turning an imaginative classic film into an intensified action/adventure that doesn’t match up with the original spirit at all. Jack and the Giant Slayer and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, however, bring it to a whole new extreme by taking short stories designed for children and making them completely unidentifiable from the original work.
It goes without saying that many of the old European folk tales which inspired the stories of the Brothers Grimm were somber and often frightening. However, they were ultimately geared towards educating their youthful audience about morality and the dangers of the world around them.
The original Hansel and Gretel is an onerously dismal tale of starving children escaping from a witch by throwing her in the oven, but at the core of the fable is a story about the tragedies of parental abandonment and the importance of children having positive adult role models in their lives.
How does it make sense to throw a witch cult into the story when it was never originally mentioned and turn the children into sexualized characters that constantly try to act tough? Adding in these unnecessary elements lobotomizes the heart and soul of the original story and adds in more mature elements without adding in mature values or depth. But you better hold onto your hats, kiddos, because as they say in the movie, “These aren’t regular witches!” This isn’t the Hansel and Gretel your grandma knew!
The trailer received an NC-17 because of the glorified adult themes rampant within the film. Jack the Giant Slayer is just as absurd; the story is supposed to be about a poor boy discovering a magic bean stalk leading to a giant’s castle filled with riches to steal, not a medieval fight for humanity’s survival against a race of giants.
Despite all of the outrageously dull concepts, negative reception and blatant tarnishing of the names of cherished works, these films still manage to reel in loads of money from the box office. Because coming up with original ideas won’t make any money and takes effort, it’s a diabolically brilliant scheme for filmmakers to take a story that everyone remembers fondly, then pump it full of modern concepts, famous actors, drama, gross action and 3D effects to make a movie that appeals to a consumer as a film that’s based off a child’s story, but is now cool enough for a big grown up to watch. The dual appeal of these types of plots makes them attractive to movie executives, if only because of the ridiculous amount of money that can be made.
As a result, the films rake in buttloads of money. Adam McKay, a producer for Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters proved the greed implicit in the creation of these films when he said, “We heard it, and we were just like, ‘That’s a freakin’ franchise! You could make three of those!’”
With better visual and practical effects than ever before, modern directors have a tremendous opportunity to do justice to the heart and soul of old world fairy tales. Film production companies have access to successful and well-written material from authors like Neil Gaiman who synthesize folk tales with modern perception without sacrificing the originals’ integrity.
They have the capacity to create films for a new generation of children and their parents that don’t talk down to kids, but also don’t lose their message amidst sensationalism and the idea that graphic grit is the same thing as substance.
Maybe one day filmmakers will respect fiction and follow a work’s original spirit. Or they’ll continue, and turn Winnie the Pooh into a movie about a honey-drunk bear seeking revenge on the Heffalumps that killed his best friend Piglet.
By Blake Becker