Reviews 2016

Fairy-Tale Films Beyond Disney: International Perspectives

Fairy-Tale Films Beyond Disney: International Perspectives. Ed. Jack Zipes, Pauline Greenhill and Kendra Magnus-Johnston. New York and London: Routledge, 2016. 356 pages. $150.00 (hardback).

Despite the well-established link between film and folk/fairy tales, and the immense popularity and financial success the genre enjoys today, fairy-tale films remain a surprisingly under-researched niche within both fairy-tale and film studies. With the exception of films produced by the indomitable Walt Disney Studio, fairy-tale cinema has attracted little scholarly attention—at least until the publication of Fairy Tale Films: Visions of Ambiguity (eds. Pauline Greenhill and Sidney Eve Matrix, 2010) and Jack Zipesʼs The Enchanted Screen (2011). Envisioned as a follow-up to Zipesʼs aforementioned study, Fairy-Tale Films Beyond Disney challenges the popular tendency to equate cinematic fairy tales with Disney by providing a long-overdue look at global fairy-tale cinema.

Under the able editorship of Pauline Greenhill, Kendra Magnus-Johnston and Jack Zipes, the collection under review brings together 23 international contributors in an attempt to both expand the global map of fairy-tale film and provide different perspectives on this insufficiently explored phenomenon. Framed with a foreword, preface, list of contributors, index, and an extensive filmography and bibliography, the 20 essays that constitute this dense, insightful and stimulating volume cross geographical, cultural and disciplinary boundaries, weaving together insights from film, literary and gender studies, folkloristics, (popular) culture studies, etc. The majority of the highly informative contributions outline the histories, and discuss the creation, function and reception of fairy-tale films in various countries across six continents. The discussions are typically complemented by analyses of case studies, often selected from more contemporary instances of the genre. The essays—inevitably differing in length, breadth of scope and methodology—consider both animated and live-action, short and feature-length films, films aimed at child, adult and crossover audiences, as well as television productions.

The thematically-organized collection may tentatively be divided into two parts: the first one encompasses three essays dealing with various film-related topics, while the remaining 17 discuss individual national cinemas. Part one opens with a contribution (the first of three) by Jack Zipes, who reflects on the current vogue or, as he creatively terms it, a "globalized cultural tsunami" of fairy-tale film (1). Kendra Magnus-Johnston analyses live-action biopics of fairy-tale authors and collectors, while Sofia Samatar provides an overview of stage and film adaptations of tales from A Thousand and One Nights.

Each of the remaining essays is dedicated to the tradition of fairy-tale film in a given country or continent: Paul Wells examines British animated fairy-tales and the representation of the faerie world in childrenʼs films, Anne E. Duggan discusses fairy-tale films in France, and Zipes in Germany. Cristina Bacchilegaʼs contribution challenges the notion that Italian cinema has mostly shown disregard for folk and fairy tales, while Elisabeth Oxfeldt examines the role of folklore traditions and "national" authors (e.g. H. C. Andersen, A. Lindgren) in Scandinavian fairy-tale films. Marina Balina and Birgit Beumers focus on (post-)Soviet (animated) fairy-tale films (including TV productions), especially in relation to political and social changes in the country. The rich and distinctive tradition of fairy-tale cinema in the Czech and Slovak Republics are the focus of Peter Hamesʼs contribution, while Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak and Marek Oziewicz present the 130-year long history of fairy-tale films in Poland.

Susan Napierʼs "Not Always Happily Ever After" discusses the specifics of Japanese fantasy and fairy-tale traditions in the context of Japanese fairy-tale cinema, especially animated film. In her examination of folktale films in the Peopleʼs Republic of China, Jing Li focuses on the love story, representation of women and gender politics in post-1949 cinema. Sadhana Naithani analyses fairy-tale elements in Bollywood films which, although not based on fairy tales, are often closely associated with the genre. Sung-Ae Lee describes several currents within Korean folktale films, the main functions of which, she claims, "have been cultural conservation and socio-political allegory" (209).

Conceding the impossibility of reducing the "bewildering multiplicity of [Africaʼs] folkloric, oral, and written traditions" to a single strand of cinema, Jessica Tiffin opts instead to analyse representations of "indigenous African folkloric narrative" on the big screen (222), as well as its portrayal in non-African films. Elizabeth Bullen and Naarah Sawers point to the lack of an indigenous fairy-tale tradition in Australia and the problematic links between indigenous (non-fairy-tale) storytelling traditions and those imposed by colonizers. Pauline Greenhill and Steven Kohm discuss thematic threads and motifs characteristic of Canadian fairy-tale cinema, while Laura Hubner offers an overview of fairy-tale films made in Latin America. The collection comes full circle with a closing contribution by Zipes, who—while critical of the majority of contemporary folk- and fairy tale adaptations—analyses what he deems to be successful alternatives to the Disney model, such as Tim Burtonʼs Sleepy Hollow (1999) and The Corpse Bride (2005), and Peter Jacksonʼs adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkienʼs The Hobbit (2012–2014).

The strength of this engaging and illuminating volume, advertised as "the first book-length multinational, multidisciplinary exploration of fairy-tale cinema" (book blurb), lies both in its totality and its individual pieces. The comprehensive essays bring together a dazzling array of relatively unknown films, the majority of which are, as the editors proudly point out in the preface, "gathered for the first time under the rubric of fairy-tale film, and many are given serious academic attention for the first time, or for the first time in English" (xviii). The volume is both highly educational and engaging as the thought-provoking and informative content is presented in a most accessible manner. Given the immense breadth of the topic, the book is inevitably incomplete as many countries and even more films remain beyond its scope. However, the assembled contributions provide both a basis for further research into this vibrant field and a model for discussing cinematic traditions not included in the present volume.

By providing a compelling account of fairy-tale films across the globe, Fairy-Tale Films Beyond Disney is more than likely to succeed in its effort to "add to the growing interdisciplinary study of fairy-tale films and prompt more scholars to take fairy tales more seriously than they have in the past" (xi).

Nada Kujundžić
University of Turku, Finland
University of Zagreb, Croatia
Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies, University of Alberta, Canada