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Monday, 31 October 2016

What Constitutes A Fairy Tale Film?

(Note – This review features minor spoilers for the forthcoming film A Monster Calls. If you have already read my review of it, or are familiar with the novel on which it was based, the information I reveal here won’t be a problem, but if you want to go in to that movie knowing little about it, then be careful)


For many people, the definition of a “Fairy Tale Film" is simple – it is an adaptation of a fairy tale for film or television. However, as much as I love fairy tales, it is a bit limiting to focus solely on adaptations of fairy tales, as these represent just one group of stories. You may have noticed that I’ve done articles describing films such as Kubo and the Two Strings or A Monster Calls as “Fairy Tale Films”, even though they’re not based on specific fairy tales. I think that if I were to solely focus on adaptations of stories collected by the likes of Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, I would run out of articles to write pretty quickly.

Therefore, this blog relies on a wider definition of “Fairy Tale Films", which also incorporates adaptations of classic children’s stories,myths and legends, and films inspired by fairy tales in various ways. In spite of this, the blog will still be called “Fairy Tale Fanboy”, as fairy tales are my primary focus. This means that any most films (or TV series) mentioned on this blog will be referred to as “Fairy Tale Films”, even if they are not based on fairy tales. The types of film which I consider to be “Fairy Tale Films” and thus suitable for inclusion on this blog, are listed below:

Films Based on Fairy Tales

(Examples: Snow White and The Seven Dwarves (1937), La Belle et La Bete (1946), Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013))

This category of "Fairy Tale Film" is very easy to talk about. Fairy tales are stories based on Folklore. They are usually set in a distant past of kings, queens and princesses, and involve fantastical or supernatural creatures and objects. Many of the same story-lines and tropes occur in different fairy tales told all over the world, demonstrating their universal appeal. Another great thing about fairy tales is the sheer range of  stories they tell. They can be funny, scary, or romantic, and sometimes one story can work in many genres. Therefore, any film based on a fairy tale, whether it’s child friendly or an adults-only horror film, can be included on this blog.  

However, not all fairy tales fit this definition so cleanly. Hans Christian Andersen is regarded as one of the most iconic fairy tale writers of all time, but it can be hard to say whether he can be classified as a fairy tale writer, or an author of classic children’s stories. Many of his stories (e.g The Princess and the Pea, The Wild Swans) were adapted from existing fairy tales and folk stories, but others (e.g The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Ugly Duckling) were entirely original, and not based on any known source material. In addition, Andersen’s detailed descriptions contrast sharply with the more simplistic, story-driven approach of traditional fairy tales. That said, Andersen’s short stories have become such iconic examples of the fairy tale genre that I don’t mind regarding them as fairy tales.

Films Based on Classic Literature/Children’s Stories

(Examples: The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Jungle Book (1967), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996))

To put it simply, the term “Classic Literature” refers to any work of literature written before the Twentieth Century. The term is used for some more modern works, such as the Tarzan Series (Which began in 1912), but almost all the works regarded as “Classic Literature” are in the Public Domain, which means that anyone can adapt them without needing to pay copyright fees. This ensures that the stories are still incredibly popular today, as new adaptations of them surface frequently.

As a rule of thumb, the only “Classic Literature” which will be mentioned on this blog are novels aimed primarily at children, with a strong element of fantasy. This definition covers works such as The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and The Jungle Book. Conversely, adaptations of stories aimed at adults, such as Dracula and Frankenstein, will not be mentioned. However, there have been kid-friendly adaptations of adult stories (most notably, Disney’s 1996 take on Victor Hugo’s story The Hunchback of Notre Dame), so these will be discussed alongside the numerous versions of tales such as Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland.

Films Based on Mythology

(Examples: Hercules (1997), Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), Moana (2016))

Like fairy tales, myths and legends are stories transferred from generation to generation, with many common tropes in different parts of the world. However, whilst fairy tales are mostly entertainment, myths and legends can often be very important to a culture, and fuel its belief system.

The most iconic set of myths and legends are the Greek stories about gods such as Zeus and Hera and heroes such as Perseus and Hercules. Many myths and legends are used to explain historical events (such as the War with Troy) and natural phenomena, whilst others are used to communicate the stories of heroic figures who can serve as role models. When I put films based on myths and legends together with films based on fairy tales, the intent is to show the enduring popularity of these stories. Even when removed from the culture which created them, myths and legends have been popular for thousands of years due to their fascinating stories and compelling characters.

Films Which Incorporate Fairy Tales Into Their Narrative

(Examples: Shrek (2001), Into the Woods (2014), A Monster Calls (2016))

Most "Fairy Tale Films" are based on a single fairy tale or classic story. However, there are many films, such as Shrek and Into the Woods, which tell an original story that includes characters from a number of different fairy tales. In other films, such as A Monster Calls, fairy tales are portrayed as works of fiction, but they are important stories which impact the characters and their outlook. Both kinds of movie aim to look at the genre of fairy tales as a whole, instead of adapting a single tale.

Stories which incorporate multiple fairy tales into their narrative often aim to subvert or deconstruct the fairy tale genre. For example, A Monster Calls features two scenes where the titular monster tells the protagonist two seemingly typical fairy tales, before revealing that these stories are not as conventional as they seem. When screenwriters and directors become aware of the defining features of fairy tales, such as their reliance on moral certainties, they have an opportunity to contrast these with the conventions and expectations of the real world. This leads to powerful drama, and raises a number of thought-provoking questions about the fairy tale genre.

Fairy Tales About the Creation of Art and Stories

(Examples: Hans Christian Andersen (1952), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Hugo (2011))

On paper, it seems like history and fairy tales don’t mix. Films about historical figures generally aim to be as realistic as possible, whilst fairy tales are about the fantastical and supernatural. However, many works have provided fictional stories about real historical figures. Handled effectively, this blend of fantasy and fact (“Magical Realism”) can generate increased insight into why a renowned artist, writer or filmmaker is so iconic.

The 2001 film Moulin Rouge! paid tribute to the Bohemian culture of 1890’s France, as it combined a real-life historical setting and a portrayal of the famous painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec with an anachronistic soundtrack full of modern music and a story celebrating the power of love. It aimed to honour the spirit of the Bohemian artists by reflecting their focus on passion and artistic expression, which a more grounded story would have been unable to convey. A decade later, the Oscar-nominated movie Hugo paid tribute to the iconic French filmmaker George Melies (Whose short silent versions of Cinderella and Bluebeard are the first known cinematic adaptations of fairy tales) with a fictional story about a boy who befriends Melies many years after his retirement from film-making. By featuring a child protagonist who initially knows nothing about Melies’ past, Hugo aims to capture the sense of novelty and wonder which made Melies’ movies stand out at the time, and allows them to retain their appeal today. Films like Moulin Rouge! and Hugo aim to honour the real-life artists, writers and entertainers they depict by trying to emulate the tone, spirit and appeal of their output. As a result, they often use the fantasy and fairy tale elements which featured heavily in these works, meaning that, in spite of their historical subject, they can be classified as "Fairy Tale Films".


I’m aware that my definition of what constitutes a "Fairy Tale Film" has been heavily shaped by Disney, and their dominance over the genre, but I love the diversity of the fairy tale genre, so I’m happy to use a very loose definition of it which incorporates a wide range of work. The purpose of this blog is to review, discuss and analyse stories and films based on (or inspired by) fairy tales, myths, legends, and older children’s stories, regardless whether they are old or new, well-known or obscure. Classifying all these works as “fairy tales” may seem a bit simplistic, but it allows me to look at a greater amount of stories, whilst adhering to a common fairy tale theme. 

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Celebrity Actors in Fairy Tale Films

Fairy tales have been adapted for film since 1899, when the pioneering French filmmaker George Melies made a short version of Cinderella. Since then, a number of films based on fairy tales, legends and classic children’s stories have been released. Due to the enduring popularity of the source material, many of these projects are made with the help of famous and respected actors in central roles. The use of major “stars” in a fairy tale film can make it more popular and appealing, but there is also a risk that they can undermine the project. In this article, I will look at the advantages and disadvantages of casting celebrities.

(Note: In spite of the fact that a number of famous directors, screenwriters and musicians have also done a lot of work in the fairy tale genre, this article is focused entirely on actors, in order to keep things a bit simpler.)

A Short History of “Stars” in Fairy Tale Films

Due to Disney’s influence over the fairy tale genre, this section will start by mentioning how Disney’s use of celebrity Voice Actors has changed over time. Initially, Walt Disney wanted to focus on the stories and animation, so Snow White and the Seven Dwarves did not feature any celebrities in the voice cast. However, Disney’s second film, Pinocchio, starred the prominent entertainer Cliff Edwards, who voiced Jiminy Cricket. The comedian Ed Wynn, who voiced the Mad Hatter in Disney’s 1951 take on Alice in Wonderland, is another notable example of a celebrity who appeared in an early Disney film.

In 1967, The Jungle Book featured more celebrity Voice Actors than any previous Disney film, most notably the comedian Phil Harris and the Oscar-winning actor George Sanders. In spite of this, the concept of an all-star cast in animated films only really took off in 1992, when Robin Williams voiced the Genie in Aladdin. Disney’s next film, The Lion King, was packed with star actors (including Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Whoopi Goldberg and Rowan Atkinson), and since then, well-known actors ranging from Demi Moore to Dwayne Johnson have voiced central characters in Disney films. The use of star voice actors is also practised by other animation studios, especially DreamWorks, whose movies (including Shrek and Kung Fu Panda) feature experienced actors known for both serious and comedic roles.

Although the best-known fairy tale films tend to be animated, there have been many notable live-action ones as well. Early examples of fairy tale films starring Hollywood icons include 1924 film The Thief of Baghdad (Which starred Douglas Fairbanks) and the 1948 film Hans Christian Andersen (Which starred Danny Kaye). More recently, Snow White and the Huntsman enjoyed box-office success due to its all-star cast, including Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, and Chris Hemsworth.

For and Against – Casting Celebrities

For – It Interests the Fans and Establishes Tone

Disney’s recent focus on translating their classic animated films to live-action has annoyed those who want them to provide more original projects. However, the live-action remakes have proved immensely popular, and one important reason for this is the use of an all-star cast. The recent remake of The Jungle Book featured stars like Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson and Idris Elba, whilst the forthcoming remake of Beauty and the Beast has an even more impressive cast, with Emma Watson playing the protagonist Belle, and Ewan McGregor, Sir Ian McKellen and Luke Evans also involved. A strong cast is an effective way of raising interest in a remake, as many fans of the original films want to know which actors would play their favourite characters. Casting a much-loved actor in a prominent role can either demonstrate an understanding of what made the character iconic in the first place, or a willingness to do something different. To use the example of The Jungle Book remake, the casting of Bill Murray as Baloo and Sir Ben Kingsley as Bagheera was based on a desire to stay faithful to how the characters were portrayed in the original film, whilst the decision to cast Scarlett Johansson as Kaa and Christopher Walken as King Louie indicated an interesting and different take on the two characters. As long as the actor is talented enough to bring the character to life, both approaches can intrigue fans and make them more likely to see the movie.

In addition, an all-star cast can help establish a distinctive approach, especially if the stars are known for their work in a certain genre of film. For example, DreamWorks 2001 fairy tale comedy Shrek featured the popular comedy actors Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz in the three lead roles. The decision to cast them revealed that Shrek would be an energetic comedy film with an anarchic, subversive tone. The 2004 sequel Shrek 2 went even further, adding the British comedy icons John Cleese and Jennifer Saunders to the cast. These casting choices demonstrated that the Shrek films would emphasise comedy, in contrast to the more polite approach of previous animated films. The irreverent approach of the first Shrek movie spawned numerous imitators, and the presence of popular comedic actors allowed this major selling point to be apparent before the film was even released.

For – It Helps Showcase A Culture.

Although this article focuses on Disney films, due to their dominance over the Fairy Tale genre, there have been many fairy tale films from a wide range of cultures. Like Hollywood films, these often use actors who are well-known internationally. La Belle et la Bete, a French adaptation of Beauty and the Beast from 2014, featured Lea Seydoux and Vincent Cassel, two French actors who are recognised around the world due to their appearances in movies such as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Black Swan. In addition to being a huge hit domestically, the presence of Seydoux and Cassel helped La Belle et la Bete get a level of exposure not associated with most French films. In Japan, the film became the first French-language movie to top the Box-Office since 2001 on its second weekend in cinemas. By the end of 2014, the film had made over $44 million worldwide, with roughly a third of this money coming from France. La Belle et la Bete is an example of a foreign film which enjoyed mainstream success outside its home country due to its use of prominent local actors who are popular with international audiences. As Seydoux and Cassel are seen as representatives of French cinema by many international viewers, their work gained attention as an example of a typically French movie which could be appreciated by viewers across the globe.

The need to provide stars who represent a certain group of people does not only apply to foreign and independent films, as mainstream studios such as Disney also need to cast prominent representatives of a foreign or minority culture when depicting it on screen. The Princess and the Frog, the first Disney film with an African-American protagonist, featured the influential African American TV personality Oprah Winfrey in a supporting role. Her endorsement of the project signalled to her fans that her culture would be depicted with respect. Another instance of Disney using star casting to showcase a minority culture is the decision to cast Dwayne Johnson in their forthcoming film Moana. Dwayne Johnson is currently the highest paid actor in the world (He made $64.5 million in 2016), but his Samoan roots do not receive enough attention (In his last animated film, 2009’s Planet 51, he had to voice a white American protagonist), so his leading role in a movie based on Polynesian folklore means that his this side of him will receive increased exposure. In addition, the well-known singer Nicole Scherzinger, who is from Hawaii, has a supporting role as Moana’s mother. Polynesian culture is generally overlooked, so seeing it represented by Johnson and Scherzinger gives it an increased level of positive publicity, as their fans will be inclined to learn more about the culture which they are showcasing.  

For – It Makes the Film Stand Out

If there is one thing which makes Aladdin such an iconic movie, it’s Robin Williams’s performance as the Genie. His fast-paced, energetic approach was a perfect fit for animation, as the Genie sang, impersonated a wide range of celebrities (both old and new) and got almost all of the best lines. Appearing in an animated film allowed Robin Williams to show off his skills in a new environment, and the fantasy setting of Aladdin meant that he was not limited by the need to tailor his approach to suit a certain time or place. By giving Robin Williams free rein, Disney ensured that his performance would be even more memorable, and this elevated the entire film.

In addition, a good fairy tale film can provide a showcase for more serious actors. When George Sanders voiced Shere Khan in The Jungle Book (1967), he became the first Oscar winner to appear in a Disney film. The fact that Sanders appeared in the film provided an indication that experienced and revered actors could be able to demonstrate their talents in an animated movie. Oscar winners who have appeared in fairy tale films since then include Jeremy Irons (The Lion King) Kevin Kline (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) and Charlize Theron (Kubo and the Two Strings). The fact that these four movies were more serious than the average fairy tale film was a major selling point, so a high-quality cast was needed to convey this tone. Therefore, casting actors who have won the most prestigious award in Hollywood provided proof that these movies would aim for a darker, more sophisticated tone. As animated and fairy tale films have become more popular over the years, eminent actors have begun to appear in them with increasing frequency, and their presence has convinced adult viewers that these movies are more than simply entertainment for children.

Against – An Overreliance on Celebrity Actors Undermines Diversity

As we become increasingly aware of the diversity of the world, Children’s movies are under greater pressure to provide “representation” for foreign and minority groups. Although this fuels progressive casting and increased diversity, it also leads to greater levels of frustration if a film fails to provide the required representation. On its own terms, Kubo and the Two Strings was an excellent movie, with wonderful stop-motion animation, a memorable story with some shocking twists, and a great message. However, the film’s portrayal of Japanese culture was undermined by the lack of Japanese actors in central roles. The cast was full of talented actors (including Oscar winners Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey), but it would have been nice if the filmmakers had gone the extra mile and cast Japanese actors as significant characters. When you are depicting Japanese culture, and the most prominent Japanese actor in the film (George Takei) only features in a brief cameo, than it reduces the level of authenticity.

However, even if a film features a cast representing the culture portrayed, this does not end the problems. Disney’s 1995 film Pocahontas featured Native American protagonists voiced by a number of Native American actors, including Irene Bedard and Russell Means. However, the decision to cast Mel Gibson as the English settler John Smith cancelled out this progressive casting. By casting a major white celebrity as the secondary protagonist, Disney inadvertently provided the unfortunate implication that the Native American stars were not famous enough to attract viewers. In addition, Mel Gibson’s record of misogynist, racist and anti-Semitic behaviour in the years after Pocahontas was released has undermined the anti-prejudice message at the centre of the movie, and made it a lot harder to watch. Which brings me to my next point…

Against – An Unappealing Star Can Put People Off.

Mel Gibson is just one of many Hollywood celebrities whose career has been ruined by scandal. Most actors and actresses have eventful personal lives, but if an actor is involved in a particularly unpleasant incident, it can tarnish their image, and make their work seem less enjoyable. One recent example of a film affected by this problem was Alice Through the Looking Glass. In the days leading up the film’s release, Johnny Depp, who played the Mad Hatter, was accused of domestic abuse. Although this was not the only reason for the film’s underwhelming performance at the box office, Johnny Depp’s behaviour alienated a number of potential fans who might have been inclined to see the movie, and fuelled the perception that he was no longer relevant, making it much harder for the film to be marketed based on his starring role. The behaviour of a cast member has little to do with the quality of a film, but it can affect people’s reactions and make it harder to enjoy in the future.

Against – A Celebrity Actor Can Distract from the Story

In spite of the fact that Disney pioneered the use of celebrity Voice actors in animated films, they have often preferred to use more obscure actors who specialise in Musical Theatre or Voice Acting. With the exceptions of Rapunzel in Tangled (Voiced by Mandy Moore) and Anna and Elsa in Frozen (Voiced by Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel), the Disney Princesses, who are the most iconic Disney characters, have been voiced by actresses who are unfamiliar to the majority of viewers. This means that it’s a lot easier to focus on the character they portray. In animation, it’s easier to separate a voice actor from their character, but if a celebrity has a voice and persona that is too distinctive, it makes it harder to disconnect the two. This is not a problem if the character is meant to be based on the voice actor, but if that’s not the case, then it’s an annoying distraction.

A major problem with casting celebrities is the fact that celebrities often lose their fame and influence over time. This does not always affect the films which they starred in. Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland (1951) are still popular today, even though Cliff Edwards and Ed Wynn have fallen into obscurity. However, if a film leans too heavily on a celebrity’s persona, it can date quickly. Snow White and the Huntsman was notable for starring Kristen Stewart, who was then appearing in the Twilight series, as Snow White. Stewart’s presence in the films made it clear that it was aimed at the predominantly female, teenage audience who made the Twilight movies so popular. This ensured that Snow White and the Huntsman was a box-office success, earning almost $400 million worldwide, but in the long term, Kristen Stewart lost her status as a star actress, as the Twilight movies faded from public memory. Even if she had appeared in the critically-panned sequel Huntsman: Winter’s War, I doubt that it would have done much better in the box office (Huntsman: Winters War only made $165 million worldwide). The case of Kristen Stewart illustrates the main problem with casting star actors, as If they fall out of fashion, any movie which relies too heavily on their presence can feel dated very quickly.


Using celebrity actors in a fairy tale film is a good way of making it appeal to a wider audience. Celebrity actors can gain the attention of filmgoers and increase their interest in a movie. They can even attract cinemagoers to films based on an unfamiliar culture. Good casting choices also help to establish a movie’s tone, and help to improve its quality. However, celebrity cast members can lead to a number of problems, as they can distract and alienate viewers. This is particularly problematic if it seems like they are being chosen for their fame rather than their suitability for the role or their talent. Overall, the decision on whether or not to cast celebrity actors is the choice of the producers and directors behind the movie. If they believe that a celebrity actor will give their movie increased exposure, then they should cast them, but an all-star cast means little in the long term unless a movie is good, and sometimes a more obscure actor can provide the quality performances required to elevate a movie. Ultimately, celebrity actors can be a major factor in the success of a fairy tale film in the short term, but memorable characters, an excellent script and a talented crew working behind the scenes are even more important, as the best fairy tale films can endure for decades, long after celebrity actors lose their relevance.  

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

“Scary Tales Of My Childhood” – Turning Fairy Tales Into Scary Short Films

(Warning: The introduction to this article contains several gory descriptions. If you aren’t keen on these, I recommend skipping it. I also recommend that children under 15 avoid the introduction as well)


Halloween is just around the corner, and in a bid to capitalise on the occasion, the screenwriting site Simply Scripts set up a competition where aspiring screenwriters had just one week to write a short horror script (6-10 pages) based around a certain theme. The theme was “Scary Tales Of My Childhood”, with the screenwriters basing their scary shorts on fairy tales, fables and mythology.

The competition featured a wide range of scripts. They varied in quality, with many creative and interesting ones, and a few which were badly-written and boring, but one thing which defined most of them was the high level of gore. Fairy tales are well-known for featuring plenty of gruesome aspects, but these are generally described in a simplistic style with very little detail. This ensures that the readers are kept distant from the unpleasant nature of these scenes, preventing them from becoming too disturbing. In addition, the nastiest things tend to happen to villains. If anything bad happens to a protagonist, they are usually healed by the end of the story. The fact that villains who deserve to be punished suffer the most gruesome fates makes the nastiest moments seem a lot more palatable.

However, there is a world of difference between hearing that the villain was blinded by crows or burnt at the stake, and reading a vivid depiction of a bloody death. Most of the scripts featured in the One Week Challenge featured a number of gory scenes depicted with too much detail. The twisted Fairy Tales featured in the One-Week Challenge included:

  • ·         A version of The Ugly Duckling in which a bullied teen (representing the Ugly Duckling) gets revenge on her tormentors (representing the swans) and eventually wears the severed face of one bully as a mask a la Silence of the Lambs.
  • ·         An adaptation of Rumpelstiltskin which ends with the protagonist cutting off her face in order to pay for the financial support given by a mysterious collector.
  • ·         A version of Pinocchio where Geppetto is portrayed as a child-murdering vampire.
  • ·         A take on the obscure Fairy Tale The Enchanted Quill where a woman gets an incredibly gruesome revenge on a paedophile.

I’m not saying that the reliance on gore makes these scripts bad. In fact, several of the authors are very talented. However, it didn’t take long for me to get tired of reading lurid descriptions of incredibly violent acts, and this diminished my interest in the scripts.

I am not a fan of horror, but I have no problem with fairy tales being turned into scary stories. All the best fairy tales (even those from Disney) feature numerous dark and scary aspects, and if an aspiring screenwriter wants to focus on these, than that’s fine by me. However, I am not keen on the over-reliance on gore, as I believe that there are other, more effective ways of scaring and unnerving an audience. It is possible to create an interesting horror spin on a fairy tale without having to spill too much blood.

Another feature of the One Week Challenge was the reliance on familiar fairy tales. There were a few instances where authors adapted more obscure fairy tales, such as The Girl Without Hands and The Blue Light, which work very well as horror shorts. However, for the most part, the screenwriters taking part in the One Week Challenge focused on adapting better-known tales such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or Little Red Riding Hood. This is not surprising, but it would have been nice to see some widely overlooked fairy tales get their turn in the spotlight. Listed below are ten Fairy Tales which weren’t adapted in the One Week Challenge, but would make interesting and scary short scripts (with the potential for gore, if that is what the readers want!). Although there are many fairy tales which could be adapted into scary short scripts of 6-10 pages, this countdown will only feature Brothers Grimm fairy tales in order to keep things simple.

10 Brothers Grimm Tales Which Would Make Excellent Scary Short Scripts
(Listed in Alphabetical Order)

What’s It About? A King’s servant saves his master from a set of curses, but gets turned to stone in the process. In order to restore him, the king has to make a terrible sacrifice…

Why Would It Work As A Horror Short? Due to their length and overly elaborate storylines, many fairy tales will have to be cut extensively to fit within the confines of a 6-10 page script. Faithful John is one story which would benefit from such editing, as it means that the most interesting aspects of the tale will be emphasised. There are two very unnerving questions at the centre of Faithful John – How far would you go to protect someone, and how far would you go to bring a person back to life? Although this story ultimately ends happily, the issues it raises would provide an excellent foundation for a scary short.  

What’s It About? A Girl disobeys her parents and goes to seek out a mysterious witch. Needless to say, the visit ends in a very unpleasant fashion.

Why Would it Work As A Horror Short? This tale is one of the shortest on the list, but stands out due to its nasty conclusion. It has some memorable images, which would work very well in a horror short, and a strong cautionary message. It probably requires a bit of expansion to convert Frau Trude into a 6-10 page script, but it seems very easy to adapt into this format.

What’s It About? A young man born with the body of a hedgehog tries to make his way in the world, and attracts the attention of two kings. Their daughters have very different reactions to the half-man, half-hedgehog, who has his own ways of punishing insincerity and rewarding virtue.

Why Would It Work As A Horror Short? Like Faithful John, Hans the Hedgehog isn’t that scary, but features a number of elements which would work well in a horror short. For example, Hans’ grotesque appearance lends itself to some vivid and terrifying imagery. In addition, a scene where he assaults and humiliates an insincere suitor is surprisingly violent, especially when contrasted with his otherwise kind and positive nature. A short script focused on the darker elements of the story has the potential to depict Hans the Hedgehog as a pretty interesting monster, showing the dire consequences of offending and mistreating him.

What’s It About? A girl is raised in heaven by a guardian angel, but gets sent back to earth when she violates her rules and opens the door to a forbidden room. The girl ends up married to a king, but the angel resorts to extreme measures to get her to confess to her earlier transgression.

Why Would it Work As A Horror Short? Our Lady’s Child may not seem very scary, but there is something unnerving about the idea of an angel working to ruin a woman’s life in order to get her to confess to a past misdeed. The message of the story is a very positive one (“He who repents his sin and confesses it shall be forgiven”), but the experiences of the obstinate protagonist can seem incredibly unpleasant if seen from her perspective, as the guardian angel steals her voice and kidnaps her children. I don’t think that a straightforward adaptation of this tale would work as a horror short, but the themes and ideas fuelling the story could inspire a pretty terrifying short script which will raise plenty of questions about whether the end justifies the means.

What’s It About? A wicked stepmother kills her stepson, and in order to cover up the crime, transforms the body into sausages, which she serves to the rest of the family for dinner. However, the boy is re-incarnated as a bird, and engages in an elaborate scheme to get a gruesome revenge on the stepmother.

Why Would It Work As A Horror Short? The Juniper Tree is famous for being one of the nastiest fairy tales in the Brothers Grimm canon, but it is also incredibly imaginative and well-written. Surprisingly, there are very few conventional adaptations of this fairy tale. This is probably because it can be hard to depict the gory excesses of the story without making them seem silly. However, I think that there are no shortage of screenwriters and directors able to do justice to the vivid and memorable scenes. A short adaptation of The Juniper Tree will resoundingly satisfy the demands of those who want to see plenty of gore, but it hopefully, it will be able to capture the atmosphere of the source material, and use the gruesome elements of the story to enhance this.

What’s It About? When his younger brother saves a village from a terrifying boar, a crafty and arrogant man becomes jealous, kills the sibling and takes credit for his achievements. His crime is kept secret for many years, but when a Shepard discovers a mysterious bone, the truth is revealed.

Why Would It Work As A Horror Short? The storyline of a long-hidden crime coming to light is inherently interesting, and converting The Singing Bone into a short allows it to be explored in a bit more depth. The source material is focused almost entirely on the narrative and the message, and adapting it for a film (even a short film under ten minutes long) means that there will be more emphasis placed on the characters, particularly the devious elder brother. This will generate extra psychological depth, and make the tale more interesting. If an adaptation of The Singing Bone is handled effectively, it could bring to mind other chilling tales with a similar storyline, such as Edgar Allen Poe’s classic The Tell Tale Heart.

What’s It About? A family is harassed by the ghost of their recently deceased child, who is seeking two farthings he kept hidden whilst he was still alive.

Why Would It Work As A Horror Short? Ghost stories, such as 1963’s The Haunting, stand out as excellent proof that a tale can be scary without needing to rely on excessive gore, and The Stolen Farthings is one of the most notable ghost stories in the Brothers Grimm collection. It is very short, but the message about coming to terms with the death of a child is very interesting. This story may not have gore or a shocking ending, but it can be turned into a short full of mystery and atmosphere.

What’s It About? A dim-witted youth has no idea what it means to shudder in fear. He visits a variety of places and meets a number of strange monsters, but none of them are able to elicit the reaction he desires.

Why Would it Work As A Horror Short? The One Week Challenge featured a number of comedic horror stories, but these were generally based on more conventional tales. However, The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was proves that more obscure fairy tales are also well suited to the comedy horror subgenre. The protagonist meets a number of seemingly terrifying monsters (such as demonic cats and dogs, and a corpse which comes to life) but his unconventional way of dealing with them has the potential to generate plenty of comedy. Just because a short film is full of scary elements, it doesn’t have to be dark and miserable, and The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was is a great example of a story which can be adapted into a short which is both funny and scary at the same time.

What’s It About? Three expert surgeons aim to show off their skills by removing their hand, heart and eyes and restoring them the following morning. However, when the body parts get lost, the maid looking after them finds some unorthodox replacements, which have unexpected side-effects.

Why Would It Work As A Horror Short? The concept of someone receiving body parts which develop a life of their own is a popular horror trope, as it plays upon our fear of changes to our body. The Three Army Surgeons plays this fear for black comedy (For example, the doctor who receives a pig’s heart instead of his own develops an inclination to act like a pig) but it is genuinely unnerving to lose control of vital body parts. If this fear is handled effectively, then The Three Army Surgeons can be transformed into a creepy little short.

What’s It About? A soldier marries a beautiful princess. When she dies, he uses three mysterious leaves to resurrect her, but the princess soon turns evil and tries to kill her husband.

Why Would It Work As A Horror Short? The idea that interfering with death has disastrous consequences has informed mythology, superstition and horror stories since time began. The Three Snake Leaves represents an interesting fairy-tale spin on this concept. Although there are some problematic elements to the story (I am not keen on the negative portrayal of the princess), I think that the premise of a resurrection going wrong represents an intriguing basis for a scary short.


The point of this article is not to criticise the competitors in the SimplyScripts One Week Challenge, but to point out that there are many overlooked fairy tales which should provide inspiration for any aspiring writer or filmmaker. The best storytellers are those who can avoid a conventional, clich├ęd approach and do something different and interesting. By highlighting the ten fairy tales mentioned above instead of better-known ones, I’ve aimed to show that the most obscure fairy tales can inspire short films more interesting than yet another scary take on Hansel and Gretel.

One of the best things about fairy tales is the fact that they can be adapted in any way the storyteller wishes. People reading this article should not forget that it only refers to one type of film (5-10 minute shorts), in one genre (horror), based on the work of one storytelling duo (the Brothers Grimm). There are many different fairy tales to adapt, and an almost infinite number of ways to adapt them. You are only limited by your imagination. 

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Exclusive Review – A Monster Calls

(Note: This film is not going to be widely released in cinemas in the UK or USA until January 1st, but it was screened at the London Film Festival earlier this week, and that is where I saw it. I’m going to try and avoid giving too much away, but as this is a detailed review, it contains a number of mild spoilers.If you want to avoid these, skip to the conclusion of this article.)

Who Made A Monster Calls?

A Monster Calls is directed by J.A Bayona. The screenplay was written by Patrick Ness, and based on his 2011 book of the same name. The Source Material was based on an original idea by the author Siobhan Dowd, who died of cancer in 2007.

What’s It About?

A Monster Calls tells the story of Conor (Played by Lewis MacDougall), a troubled twelve year-old boy from Britain. His mother (Played by Felicity Jones) is suffering from cancer, and her health is deteriorating rapidly. He struggles to get on with his often domineering grandmother (Played by Sigourney Weaver) and is harassed by bullies at school.  One day, Conor is visited by a giant humanoid Monster (Voiced by Liam Neeson) who emerges from a giant Yew tree in the middle of a nearby cemetery. The Monster tells Conor that he will provide him with three stories which may grant him the answers to his problems. In return, Conor will have to tell the Monster a fourth tale about himself and his deepest fears.

My Review

(Note: Although A Monster Calls is based on a novel as opposed to fairy tales or mythology, storytelling is a central theme, and a couple of fairy-tale type stories play a prominent part in the narrative. Therefore, I am publishing my review on this blog.)

I haven’t yet read Patrick Ness’ book, so my decision to see A Monster Calls early was based on the trailers, which promised a powerful and emotional movie. The film turned out to be every bit as moving as I hoped it would be.

A Monster Calls is a relatively short film, lasting only 108 minutes, but felt longer. This is not an insult, but actually indicates how ambitious the movie is. It tackles difficult subjects such as terminal illness and the need to express emotions, and features a number of epic scenes (especially those featuring the Monster, who was brought to life via motion capture) which contrast with a simple, character-driven story. There are many impressive moments, especially one involving a cemetery collapsing into the ground, which stands out due to the impeccable cinematography and the intense soundtrack. Overall, the increased scale of the epic scenes helps to make them even more powerful.

However, for all the epic moments, the best aspect of the film is the way that it says so much in so few words. The opening scene provides an indication of this, as it shows Conor preparing breakfast for himself. Without any unnecessary dialogue, this scene foreshadows the extent to which Conor’s mother has been rendered invalid by her disease. Later, in scenes where Conor interacts with his father (Played by Toby Kebbel) who’s arrived to visit from his home in LA, the pauses and facial gestures communicate the distance between the two. In fact, the two best scenes in the movie are done with very little dialogue. In the first of these scenes, Conor’s Grandmother returns home to find out that Conor has destroyed her room in a fit of rage. In the second scene, which I found especially moving, Conor finds his Grandmother watching a video of his mother teaching him how to draw. Both scenes powerfully convey the developing relationship between Conor and his grandmother, and show their struggle to come to terms with the circumstances affecting them. There is no dialogue because words aren’t needed to express the emotions which the characters feel.

Although it’s not very violent and has little bad language, A Monster Calls is rated 12A in the UK and PG-13 in America due to its often distressing nature, and this is especially apparent when it depicts the effects of Cancer. The physical effects of the disease are portrayed in some detail, as Conor’s mother relies on a large amount of medication to sustain herself, and loses her hair to time-consuming treatments which turn out to be ineffective. However, A Monster Calls is more interested in the effect the disease has on her family, particularly Conor and his Grandmother. That said, there are still a few moments of levity, such as a scene where Conor’s mother tries on a wig provided by his Grandmother. These humanise the characters and make their experiences feel more realistic.

The actors all do a very good job. In the role of Conor, relative newcomer Lewis MacDougall (Pan) feels like a natural- it doesn’t take long to forget that he’s acting, and whilst not flawless, he is often incredibly effective in a very demanding role. As the Monster, Liam Neeson (Taken) provides what is probably his best performance in ages, blending wisdom and authority with an intimidating edge – there are even times when the Monster can seem a bit sinister, which makes him even more interesting. Although many will draw comparisons between the monster and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy (another giant humanoid with a body made from a tree), the Monster feels reasonably unique. Another strong performance comes Sigourney Weaver (Alien), who plays Conor’s Grandmother, probably the most complex character in the film. She is very stern towards Conor at first, but as it becomes clear that she is also struggling to cope with her daughter’s condition, a bond begins to form between the two. Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) plays Conor’s mother, and whilst the film is more focused on her condition than her personality, her love of drawing and vintage films make her feel like a realistic character, and Jones manages to portray her suffering convincingly. It is also worth mentioning Toby Kebbel (War Horse), who does well with a rather small role.

Also of interest are segments where the Monster tells Conor two of his stories. The first story, set in a medieval kingdom, concerns a Prince whose Grandfather and wife die, seemingly at the hands of the kingdom’s new Queen (the Grandfather’s second wife). The Second story, set in the 19th century, depicts a parson whose hatred for an “apothecary” (Medicine man) has disastrous consequences. The depictions of these tales blend watercolour animation, CGI and the motion-capture used to bring the Monster to life as he tells them. Whilst the animation and basic outlines of these stories evoke comparisons with all manner of fairy tales, the two stories turn out to subvert the moral certainties associated with the Fairy-tale genre, highlighting a very important message; There are very few people who are purely good or purely bad – most of us are somewhere in between.

If there is one weak point of the film, it is the subplot depicting Conor’s struggles with bullies at school. The bullies are very flat characters (especially compared to Conor and his family), and whilst the scenes featuring them shed light on Conor’s isolation and increasing anger, the resolution of this plot thread feels a little silly. However, compared to the successful elements of the film, this is a pretty minor problem.


A Monster Calls is a powerful depiction of how we use emotions and stories to cope with our deepest fears and problems. Whilst the messages and characters it depicts are pretty familiar, the film’s honest and moving portrayal of difficult issues allows it to stand out. The movie feels genuine – you can tell that this story means a lot to the people involved in bringing it to life, and this elevates it above more manipulative tearjerker films. The acting is very strong, and the directing is excellent. Patrick Ness also deserves praise for the script, which successfully transfers his writing to the highly visual medium of film. Overall, this is a film I definitely recommend seeing when it's finally released.

Once You’ve Seen This Movie, See…

Big Fish – A 2003 film from director Tim Burton, Big Fish is another film about storytelling, centred on a relationship between a parent suffering from Cancer and their child. Although the parent in Big Fish is a father, it’s interesting to see how the film tackles many of the same themes and issues as A Monster Calls.

Kubo and the Two StringsA Monster Calls is not the only movie of the past few months with a child protagonist to discuss mortality and the value of storytelling. Kubo and the Two Strings also has similar themes. It’s an excellent film, and defiantly worth a watch.

Pan’s Labyrinth – A fairy tale film for adults only, Pan’s Labyrinth is a lot darker and scarier than A Monster Calls, as it depicts the brutality of life in 1940’s Spain. However, like A Monster Calls, it depicts an adolescent using fantasy to cope with the unpalatable realities of their home life. It’s worth noting that the producer of A Monster Calls, Belen Atienza, previously worked on Pan's Labyrinth.  

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Is Storytelling An Act of Theft? – A Response to Two Criticisms of Moana

(A quick note before I start: In previous articles on Moana, I have been unsure of what Polynesia actually entails, and used the term “Oceanic/Pacific” to refer to the Polynesian region. However, as I now understand that the term Polynesia refers to the 14 Polynesian islands, including Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa and Easter Island, I will now use the term “Polynesian” to describe the area and the culture which unites it)

I am really excited for Disney’s new film Moana, which will finally arrive in cinemas in two months. It looks like an enjoyable adventure movie which will feature interesting characters and wonderful animation. Most importantly of all, it will shine a light upon Polynesian culture, introducing many people to a way of life and a mythology which has generally been neglected by the Western World. The film features a Polynesian writer (Taika Waititi), a Polynesian songwriter (Opetaia Foa’i) and a mostly Polynesian cast (With Dwayne Johnson and Nicole Sherzinger the two most prominent stars). In addition, numerous experts in Polynesian culture contributed to the movie’s development, ensuring that it will depict the culture as respectfully as possible.

However, not everyone from Polynesia is enthusiastic about Moana. Honolulu Civil Beat, a passionately left-wing website focusing on Hawaiian issues, has published not one but two articles attacking the movie. They are written by Tina Ngata and Anne Keala Kelly, both experts in Polynesian history and Polynesian issues (especially those concerning Hawaii), and accuse Disney of exploiting their native culture in order to make a profit, presenting a simplified and stereotyped view of it which will reinforce negative perceptions of Polynesia and exacerbate many of the problems facing the region. In this article, I will respond to the criticisms raised by Ngata, Keala Kelly, and others opposed to the film, by looking at various areas of concern which they mention.

Popular Culture as a Colonising Force

Both Ngata and Keala Kelly focus on attacking Disney, who they accuse of “stealing” Polynesian culture in order to gain money. The idea of Disney, a quintessentially American corporation, depicting Polynesian culture, has worried those who are reminded of the history of colonialism in Polynesian areas. As major powers such as USA, Britain and (to a lesser extent) Germany sought to impose control in the region, they oppressed Polynesian natives and their culture. The loss of Polynesian culture was reinforced by the Western perception that they were “Savages”, which was perpetuated by many works of art and literature at the time. This negative stereotype often resurfaces in modern media, especially in the field of advertising (the use of Polynesian deities to sell alcohol is particularly unpleasant), so Polynesian people have a good reason to be worried about whether depictions of their culture will continue to dehumanise them.

Focusing solely on Moana for the moment, I understand why many Polynesian people would be anxious about the effects of the film on their culture. First of all, Disney’s animated films have an annoying habit of overshadowing their source material, particularly if that source material is very obscure, or has not been depicted in a major film before. As far as I can tell, Moana is the first movie to depict Maui in any way, so it will probably have a huge impact on the numerous viewers who are unfamiliar with his stories. If that leads to them seeking more information on Polynesian mythology, that is a good thing, but if they watch Moana without understanding the culture which inspired it, it could be very problematic.

Secondly, the Polynesian areas lack representation in today’s political culture. This is especially apparent in Hawaii, which is controlled by the USA and subject to many dubious American actions which have a negative effect on the Island and its culture. This is why the perceived errors with Moana (e.g the merchandising, the controversy over Maui’s weight) have had such an impact. If Chinese or Japanese culture is “whitewashed” by a Hollywood movie, it is very annoying, but China and Japan have enough independence and influence to set the record straight and counter any problematic narratives. The Polynesian areas don’t have this, so people depicting them need to be extremely vigilant in order to avoid spreading negative stereotypes which could have a corrosive effect.

However, I disagree passionately with a central point made by Ngata and Keala Kelly, that any American depiction of Polynesia represents a form of theft. Today’s world is focused on promoting diversity and multiculturalism, and many Americans, including numerous filmmakers, are opposed to the excesses of the US government. Therefore, they are inclined to depict Polynesia positively, and this should be encouraged. In addition, Keala Kelly’s claim that “native collaboration” with American filmmakers legitimises oppression is problematic. For many, such as the Hawaiian independence campaigner "Bumpy" Kanahele (Who appeared in the widely-criticised 2015 film Aloha) American films represent an especially powerful platform for Polynesian causes. In addition to combatting any negative portrayals of their culture, Polynesian people need to encourage positive portrayals, even if these aren’t from Polynesian filmmakers. These could help play an invaluable part in giving Polynesian people a voice and a positive narrative which they can use to combat the mistreatment they have suffered. For many Polynesian people, especially those involved in its production, Moana represents a major opportunity to provide an enlightening portrayal of Polynesian culture. As one member of the Oceanic Story Trust said to Moana’s director, Ron Clements, “We’ve been swallowed by your culture. One time, can you be swallowed by our culture?” If Moana provides a sufficiently faithful portrayal of Polynesian culture, it could encourage millions, and even billions of people, to develop a positive perception of it, fuelling a new mind-set could which prove invaluable for Polynesian culture.

The Environmental Impact

There is one aspect of Ngata’s article with which I completely agree, and that is her claim that the merchandise which is accompanying the film is going to have a negative impact upon the environment. In her article, she points out that many pieces of merchandise end up in the ocean, with plastic products having a particularly devastating effect upon marine life. With many aspects of Polynesian life being centred around the sea, and many islands threatened by rising water levels, we all need to make an effort to combat the threat posed by pollution in this area.

For Disney, merchandise is, at the very least, a necessary evil. It generates increased revenue for the company, and creates publicity for their films which endures years after their initial release. However, whilst merchandise is a key factor in Disney’s success and influence, they should be doing a lot more for the environment, especially when promoting a film where the ocean itself is a central character. Reducing the amount of plastic packaging they use, or making large donations to environmental causes, will help Disney do their bit in combatting the destruction caused by pollution. I think that Moana will raise a lot of awareness for the Ocean and its importance, but in order for the film to make a difference, Disney need to take action in order to combat pollution, and so should everyone else.

The Oceanic Story Trust

Both Ngata and Keala Kelley regard The Oceanic Story Trust, a team of experts in Polynesian culture designed to ensure that Moana depicts it faithfully, as a proverbial “figleaf” to provide legitimacy to Disney’s attempt to steal Polynesian culture. However, I think that this perception is false. Moana’s Oceanic Story Trust includes academics, historians, linguists and even tattoo artists. Disney’s in-house screenwriter Jared Bush has talked about how lines from the film were vetted by writers from Fiji and Hawaii as they were being recorded, with several being cut because they have negative connotations in some of the Polynesian islands. With the Trust having such a prominent effect on so many of the little details, I think it’s inconceivable that they would allow anything which would cause offence to the majority of Polynesian people.

In addition, it’s evident that the writers and producers of Moana are genuinely fascinated by Polynesian Mythology. In spite of Disney’s status as a corporation, its films are the work of numerous individuals, all of whom seem to have a great deal of interest in Polynesian culture. Producer Osnat Shurer has talked about how the Oceanic Story Trust “enriched the story” by adding details from their culture. Moana’s two directors, Ron Clements and John Musker, have talked about how they aimed to avert the westernised focus of most works set in Polynesia, and have talked about how Maui’s “bigger-than-life exploits and personality” would be “rich to see in animation”. In fact, Maui was originally supposed to be the protagonist, until Clements and Musker decided to make the titular heroine Moana into the central character. Overall, I have a feeling that these people would never set out to make a work which perpetuates negative stereotypes of Polynesian culture.  I acknowledge that there are probably going to be mistakes and issues with the finished film, I think that their decision to set up the Oceanic Story Trust was based on a respect for Polynesian culture and a desire to depict it as accurately as possible.  

The Characterisation of Maui

Much of the criticism surrounding Moana has focused on the perception that it will depict the revered Demigod Maui as (using Keala Kelly’s words) “a ridiculous, clowning sidekick”. The film seems to be depicting Maui as a washed-up figure whose great exploits (such as controlling the sun, or making the islands of New Zealand rise from the sea) occurred in the distant past. Based on the trailers and plot descriptions, it seems like a central aspect of the film will be about Maui rediscovering his strength and heroism.

Given that Maui is such an important figure for many Polynesian people, Disney are under a lot of pressure to depict him with sufficient respect, and many are worried that he is not being taken seriously enough. The trailers place a lot of focus on his overconfident nature, with many scenes being played for comedy. Let’s face it, some of the lines from the trailer, such as “blow-dart in my buttcheek!” do not make Maui seem like the hero he’s meant to be.

However, before we attack Disney for making Maui seem like a fool, there are two things to consider. First of all, trailers for recent Disney animated films have placed much emphasis on the comedic aspects, at the expense of the more dramatic ones. For example, Frozen’s initial teasers placed too much focus on comic relief sidekicks Olaf and Sven, at the expense of the relationship between sisters Anna and Elsa which defined the film. The trailers for Moana have provided roughly 5 minutes of footage from a 104 minute film. Based on this, I have a feeling that Maui’s most heroic moments are being kept a secret. Once we’ve seen these, it may cause us to reassess the perception that Maui is a mere comedic sidekick.

Secondly, the portrayal of Maui seems to have much in common with some of Disney’s best male characters, such as the Genie from Aladdin and Flynn Ryder from Tangled. These characters are charming, charismatic rogues with hidden depths, and by following in this tradition, Maui seems like he could be a real scene-stealer. As important as it is to please Polynesian viewers, the majority of people seeing Moana have little to no knowledge of Polynesian culture. If viewers like Maui and find him engaging, it could inspire them to find out more about him. Ultimately, regardless of whether Maui is portrayed seriously, or as a comedic character, all that matters is that he is interesting and likeable enough for viewers to understand why he is such a significant figure in Polynesian mythology.

The Lava Monster

The promotional material for Moana has focused almost entirely on Moana and Maui, with other characters being shown very briefly. However, this hasn’t stopped Ngata and Keala Kelly from criticising a central character glimpsed briefly in these trailers – a mysterious “Lava Monster” who seems like one of the film’s central antagonists. They believe that this figure bears too much resemblance to Pele, a powerful volcano goddess who, according to Hawaiian mythology, resides on the Hawaiian Islands. The Hawaiians regard her with a great deal of respect, so the mere idea of creating a “Lava Monster” based on Pele in any way has annoyed some.

When I heard the criticisms, I did some research and read some of the stories about Pele, and she is a fascinating character. However, like the better-known Greek gods, Pele is highly flawed. She has a fiery temper, and seduces many men. Her rivalry with her sister Namakaokahai was based on her seduction of Namakaokahai’s husband. In addition, a well-known legend depicts Pele turning the character of Ohi’a into a tree for choosing to be with another woman. Based on these stories, it is not hard to see how Pele can be turned into an antagonist. This comment is not intended to denigrate Pele in any way, as her flaws make her more interesting and relatable, contributing to the connection which many Hawaiian people have with her. Even though the “Lava Monster” may not actually be Pele (I read an online article saying that the “Lava Monster” is actually a male being called Teka), the idea of dehumanising Pele in any way can seem offensive.

Personally, I don’t mind the idea of Pele inspiring an antagonist, as long as they remain interesting. A Lava Monster would provide a fascinating contrast with the water-based environment of Moana, and I would rather see a fiery villain who retains all of Pele’s compelling characteristics than a dull protagonist. Even though Disney’s 1997 film Hercules (made by Clements and Musker) received a lot of criticism for its irreverent portrayal of Greek Mythology, it actually portrays Zeus and Hera, the two primary Greek Gods, in a positive fashion. However, by cutting out many of the aspects which gave Zeus and Hera their edge (Zeus’ womanising and Hera’s jealousy are not suitable subjects for a Disney film), the film made them seem a lot less fascinating. As long as the “Lava Monster” seems like a powerful and engaging character, I am willing to accept any negative characteristics it has.


I have a mixed opinion on the articles published by Ngata and Keala Kelly. I wholeheartedly agree with their concerns about the environmental and social problems facing the Polynesian Islands, and I respect the significance which they attach to Polynesian mythology. However, I do not agree with the claim that Moana will contribute to the subjugation of Polynesian people. I acknowledge that the film will have a number of flaws, but I think that it’s definitely being made with noble intentions. I think that it’s too early to judge whether or not the film will treat Polynesian culture with enough respect to win over those who are sceptical of it, but I think that, at the very least, it should inspire many people to take up further interest in Polynesian mythology, which is probably the primary aim of all those involved in the production of the film.

That said, it was interesting to read these articles, even if I didn’t agree with every word they said. Regardless of one’s opinion on Moana, the film has ensured that Polynesian culture has received an unprecedented amount of attention, which seems like a triumph in itself. Hopefully, the increased publicity will allow Polynesian voices greater exposure and contribute to a greater understanding of their culture. In the long term, I believe that this will lead to the increased representation and political and social reforms which many Polynesian people are demanding.