LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Winnie-the-Pooh in Popular Culture

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Is it without second thought to realize that Winnie-the-Pooh has been a well-known piece of work for nearly a century. It has revolutionized the entire genre of children’s novels, that authors have striven to emulate and should strive to emulate. In fact, this text has had such a huge, positive impact on the world that it has had a great deal of adaptations, including: theatre, audio, radio, film, and television. I would like to expand on all of these subsections of popular culture.

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In terms of theatre, there have been two plays adapted from the original text, one called “Winnie-the-Pooh at the Guild Theatre” in 1931, and more recently one called “Bother! The Brain of Pooh” in 1986, which was a one-man show, which is pretty interesting. In terms of audio,  Pooh stories were read in different decades by many different people, including: Maurice Evans,  Peter Dennis, and, David Benedictus. In two different instances, famous celebrities, Carol Channing and Stephen Fry both were involved with Winnie-the-Pooh. In terms of radio, Winnie-the-Pooh was debuted in England almost 7 years before it was debuted in the United States.

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In terms of film, Disney has had a number of adaptations, which were divided into theatrical featurettes and full-length theatrical features, the former being short films, that had varying success. The Soviet Union also had film adaptations, and made a trilogy. The aspect that is interesting about the Soviets, is that unlike Disney, the animation team made a new look for every character, and did not base their ideas on illustrations of Shepard. They played close attention to the original work by Milne, and utilize specific characteristics representative of the characters’ personalities that Disney neglected to do. In terms of television, Winnie-the-Pooh was separated into television shows, Holiday TV specials, direct-to-video shorts, and direct-to-video features.

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Pinocchio: Characterizations in Book and Disney Film

The original poster to the Disney film.

The original poster to the Disney film.

When the media behemoth known as Disney decides to adapt a story for modern audiences, the staff involved usually edits the material to make it more accessible and child-friendly. In the case of the classic book The Adventures of Pinocchio, Walt Disney and his crew changed the presentations of the characters in a number of ways. Although many people may take these changes at face value, I find it more interesting to analyze the reasons why certain changes in particular characters exist, most notably in our titular protagonist.

Disney: making odd children's books more accessible since the early 1900's!

Disney: making odd children’s books more accessible since the early 1900’s!

Collodi’s and Disney’s characterizations of Pinocchio differ in subtle ways. In the classic novel, Pinocchio can be see as the quintessential  petulant child in that he constantly makes mistakes, diverges from his instructions, and treats his authority figures with indirect contempt. Even though he affirms to himself that he will follow the instructions of his father and the blue fairy, he almost always gives into temptation and disobeys them. This character trait parallels the Disney version of Pinocchio, who succumbs to the same temptations; however, the Disney Pinocchio displays much more innocence than the book version. Disney’s Pinocchio lacks basic knowledge of human nature and is fooled repeatedly by the fox and the cat, which can be attributed to his naivety. Collodi’s Pinocchio, although also lacking knowledge, disobeys his superiors much more often than the Disney Pinocchio and even treats his father badly at time. When Pinocchio first meets his father in the book, he insults him and gives little respect for the fact that he created him. This lack of respect becomes a recurring theme early in the book, especially when Pinocchio sells the ABC book his father gave to him, which he paid for by selling off his only coat. The Disney Pinocchio loves his father tremendously and never purposely insults him nor abuses him, which adds more to Disney’s characterization of an innocent but naive Pinocchio. On a more aesthetic level, the book Pinocchio is often presented in a creepy, realistic fashion in illustrations, while the Disney Pinocchio is much more anthropomorphized and looks almost like a normal little boy.

The illustrations of the book Pinocchio are a tad creepy…

Why does Disney characterize Pinocchio as an innocent, naive boy while the original character displays much more insensitivity? I think the answer lies in a cultural shift. When the book was published, nearly almost all of books for children were created primarily to teach lessons and give children examples of morality. Although Disney’s film still recognizes and demonstrates the same basic lessons, the idea of entertaining the audience is much more prevalent. If Pinocchio had remained as rude as he was in the novel, audiences probably would not have responded well and ignored the film. By giving Pinocchio a more child-like innocence and cuteness, Disney has not only given children a character to relate to but also one that parents can sympathize with and adore. Although Collodi’s message may be subdued, Disney’s adaptation reflects a much better understanding of what appeals to both parents and children.

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Novel VS. Film: The Princess and The Goblin

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After watching the trailer to the 1991 animated film adaptation of George Macdonald’s The Princess and The Goblin in class, I was interested in seeing how close of an adaptation the film was to the original novel. The European animated film was directed by József Gémes and released in the United States on June 1994, which coincidentally was in direct competition with Disney’s The Lion King. One could imagine the reception The Princess and The Goblin received when it first came out in the states, but beside the point. The film’s portrayal of the wide variety of characters from the classic tale is surprisingly left intact with a few minor alterations to entertain the modern audience. In order to appease the younger demographic, the antagonists have been toned down quite a bit to incorporate some comic relief. In addition, the movie includes a few musical segments in which the novel had placed a big importance on in terms of singing when confronting the goblins. There was also the use of symbols, such as the roses that represented Irene’s Great Great Grandmother.

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In terms of the characters being portrayed in the movie, the film version did an excellent job bringing to life an animated version of Princess Irene and Curdie. Both protagonists could easily relate to their respective audience. For instance, Curdie’s character is a young boy with a sense of adventure and bravery and, like his novel counterpart, is a hardworking young man who would go out of his way to battle goblins to protect the princess. To a young boy, Curdie could be viewed as a very influential figure and a good influence to all boys. Princess Irene, on the other hand, is portrayed as an elegant and very intelligent girl. Although she appears to be a little older and had a different design than her novel counterpart, she goes through a form of quest to mature and gain a sense of independence with the help from her great great grandmother.

The adults are portrayed as wise and responsible individuals that are often present to support the two children protagonists, with the exception of Lootie who seems to have gone through a complete personality shift compared to the Lootie in the novel. She is not as dedicated to her work and paranoid about losing her job like her novel counterpart. Specifically, Lootie in this film is portrayed as careless, absentminded, and clumsy. For instance, in the beginning of the film, Lootie falls asleep instead of keeping watch over Irene and thus leaves Irene to fend for herself when she is being chased by the goblin creatures. Undoubtedly, she is still the character who scolds Irene and shows no interest in locating or believing in Irene’s grandmother, but one can conclude that she was given a more comedic personality. Another interesting thing to note is that most of the adults in the castle are completely unaware of the existence of goblins and believe that goblins only originated from miner’s tales. This contrasts with the novel as Irene was the only one left in the dark about goblins. Therefore, the adult soldiers and guards are constantly questioning what exactly they would be fighting against since they do not know how goblins look like and at one point mistake Curdie for a goblin.

The goblins in the film are not as intimidating or menacing as the ones portrayed in the novel, in fact, they serve as comedic antagonists. The primary antagonist in the animated film version is perhaps the only character to have his name changed. Originally Prince Harelip in the novel, he is known as Prince Froglip in the film version and is shown as a spoiled and childish goblin with an exaggerated and slobbery lisp. The Goblin Queen is illustrated as an overweight goblin with hilarious big lips and a bossy and petulant attitude to complete the set. Interestingly enough, the film version decided to leave out the fact that the Goblin Queen was a stepmother. Then there is the Goblin King who is constantly sneezing as emphasized by his huge runny nose. He seems to be very submissive to his wife’s wishes and is usually just present to make announcements to his people while his wife makes all the decisions for him. With that, the goblin family could be seen as “the three stooges” of the film as they do not pose much of a threat to the protagonists. To modern viewers, the antagonists were given these characteristics to keep the lighthearted aura within the film and, of course, make the kids laugh at their antics.

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Finally, the animated film added an extra character known as Turnip the Cat or as one would call it “the mascot of the film.” Although the cat made no appearances in the novel, in the film it serves as a plot device. The cat led Irene to the attic where she found her great great grandmother and also helped lead Irene in some cases.

Spoiler Alert: Also, in the end, Curdie does not get his kiss on the mouth like in the novel.
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Caution Kids: Dancing in Red Shoes May Cause Death (or psychosis).

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At the end of a comment I made on a blog post from last week, I happened to mention that Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Red Shoes (1845) was adapted into a horror film by South Korean director Kim Yong-gyun, who was inspired by Andersen’s tale. After I posted the comment, I actually watched the film and realized that this reimagining encapsulated a lot of the same themes as the fairy tale, and even subtly included moral messages.

The film revolves around a recently separated wife and her daughter. The mother (Sun-Jae) stumbles upon a pair of cursed pink high heels, which are so intriguing that she snatches them off of the subway platform and runs home with them. She soon comes to find out that her daughter (Tae-Soo) has become frighteningly obsessive over the shoes, which leads her mother to do some investigation of the cause of the shoes power. She then discovers that although the original owner of the shoes escape from harm, the person who takes them will die with their feet chopped off.

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Throughout the film, there is a lot of conflict between the mother and daughter. Tae-Soo knew about her father’s infidelity and immediately began to disobey her mother. The shoes, acting as a catalyst for Tae-Soo’s erratic behavior, push things farther (and add an essential horrifying element). The shoes also affect the character’s normal psyche by compelling them to act outside of their nature. The mother becomes more and more aggressive with her increasingly rebellious child.

Morality comes along after the shoes do the bidding. The shoes act in revenge against the “thief,” and forces them to repent for their sin (via payment by bloodshed). This is not too far from Andersen’s tale, which ends with young Karen having her feet chopped off by the executioner. Towards the end of the film, the mother realizes that this–in theory–inanimate object has warped her sense of priority: as a mother, as a friend, and as a human being.

Sun-jae: [Angry] Mommy loves Tae-soo very much… But mommy really hates when Tae-soo lies.
Tae-su: [Crying] It’s not a lie! Daddy really came! He said he’s too cold and to take him out!
Sun-jae: [Angry] Don’t lie to me!… I told you that daddy couldn’t come here. How can he? I told you he can’t come here, so how could he? How can he?… Why did you lie? Why did you lie?

I was overall impressed with how the film combined elements from a child’s fairy tale into a more adult themed movie. Although both versions can be considered “horror,” the familial themes and morals faced are still relevant today.

 

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