Fairy Tale Films: Visions of Ambiguity

Edited by Pauline Greenhill and Sidney Eve Matrix. 2010. Logan: Utah State University Press. 270 pages. ISBN: 978-0-87421-781-0 (soft cover).


Reviewed by Daniel P. Compora, University of Toledo

[Review length: 547 words • Review posted on June 2, 2011]


Fairy Tale Films: Visions of Ambiguity is a collection of essays that analyze a number of fairy tale films that have entertained audiences during the last century. While this is clearly a scholarly text aimed at film and folklore scholars, with discussions on Disney films, Harry Potter, and Shrek, the book also holds a tremendous amount of appeal for a mass-market audience.

The text is organized in a very logical fashion, with very brief acknowledgment and foreword sections that lead to a thorough introduction penned by the editors. Ten essays by a number of scholars follow. While there is some overlap in discussion (several authors mention Disney's Enchanted, for example), it is minimal and serves to reinforce points made in earlier chapters.

Following the essays, supplemental items are included. Two pages provide a list of tale types and literary stories. This is followed by a lengthy bibliography. Most helpful, particularly for film buffs, is the five-page filmography that follows. This alone provides an invaluable resource for those who study fairy tale films. A list of contributors and an index close out the text.

The collection begins with an insightful foreword by noted scholar Jack Zipes. This essay, "Grounding the Spell: The Fairy Tale Film and Transformation," explains how this text fills a need in both film and folk studies. He highlights a number of works and ideas that are reflected in later essays, and he provides a concise explanation of Walt Disney's influence in this field.

Not surprisingly, the articles that are likely to be of the most interest are the ones discussing films with which the reader is intimately familiar. As a result, Brian Ray's “Tim Burton and the Idea of Fairy Tales” and Ming-Hsun Lin's "Fitting the Glass Slipper: A Comparative Study of the Princess's Role in the Harry Potter Novels and Films" attracted this reader the most.

Luckily, this genre has interested me for nearly my entire life, so I was familiar with a vast majority of the movies being discussed, from mainstream films like The Lord of the Rings to the relatively obscure ones like A Company of Wolves. Extensive background knowledge of the genre and familiarity with the specific examples were invaluable assets.

The lack of familiarity with a particular film, however, does not preclude one from following the arguments being made. Since all of the essays include a discussion of multiple films, knowledge of one is sufficient to allow the reader to contextualize the points being made. In fact, I found myself, at times, highly motivated to see a film as I was reading a particular essay. This was particularly true of the films MirrorMask and Enchanted, which I made the effort to view while reviewing this text.

Perhaps of greatest interest is the integration of films which one might not consider to be fairy tale films. Certainly, everyone recognizes Shrek, Cinderella, and Pan's Labyrinth as fairy tale films. Not everyone, however, would immediately think of films like Artificial Intelligence, Mars Attacks, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as having fairy tale origins, but these, and others, turn up in the conversation. While this text holds tremendous appeal for both film and folklore scholars, it should not be ignored by the scores of moviegoers who would likely be fascinated by these discussions.

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© Journal of Folklore Research, 2010. Last revised June 21, 2010.