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We Are The Best (2013) Storytelling

We Are The Best is a Swedish film adaptation of Coco Moodysson’s (director Moodysson’s wife’s) autobiographical graphic novel which she never completely finished.

We Are The Best film poster

PREMISE OF WE ARE THE BEST

Three girls in 1980s Stockholm decide to form a punk band — despite not having any instruments and being told by everyone that punk is dead.

STORY WORLD OF WE ARE THE BEST

  1. The year is 1982. This is the world of punk, and without having the graphic novel in front of me (which looks like it stars punk characters), the director definitely prides himself on being a punk and antiestablishment. In the early 80s punk had supposedly died and New Wave ruled.
  2. The creator of the autobigraphical graphic novel says there were no role models around that time for girls of this age. There were Swedish girl bands, but they were older and their songs were about having sex “and we thought that was disgusting. We wanted to look tougher, like boys.” A modern audience might at first read these girls as proto-lesbian but context is clue; these girls are perhaps a little femme phobic, and have definitely grown up in an environment which equates toughness with masculinity. So that’s where that comes from.
  3.  Stockholm, Sweden. These are city kids who seem to attend public school but without the ‘inner city’ problems you might find in somewhere like America. There’s enough money. That’s where some irony comes in — these girls are too young and too sheltered to really know what they’re standing up against.
  4. Winter.

STORY STRUCTURE OF WE ARE THE BEST

Self-revelation, need, desire

This is a coming-of-age story. I believe the characters are 13. Mira Barkhammar, who plays Bobo , was actually 13 during filming. Mira Grosin, who plays Klara, was only 11; Liv LeMoyne, as Hedvig, was the eldest at 14. Anything around this age is the classic time for a coming-of-age tale.

In the first scene Bobo has already begun her transformation. She has cut her hair, and we see her mother embarrassing her by pointing out the new short cut to a large gathering of adult friends at a party. Over the course of this story, Bobo learns that she doesn’t need to play second fiddle to her more exuberant, prettier friend Klara. She takes the first step with a boy. Rather than being the follower of Klara, the addition of the conservative Christian Hedvig to their group means that Bobo learns, like Hedvig, to think for herself. She also learns not to let a boy come between her and her best girlfriends.

At the beginning Bobo already knows that she doesn’t want to be like everybody else. This is what has drawn her to punk. But she hasn’t yet learnt to be her own person entirely — she’s under the influence of Klara.

She is wrong about her own uniqueness and individuality. She professes to not care about what others think of her, but she is deeply wounded by rejection from the boys who she doesn’t even like. She’s on the right track to intellectual freedom, but her need for peer acceptance is holding her back.

She is also dismissive of everything and anyone who doesn’t fit her version of cool. She can’t accept Hedvig as a friend without wanting to change her first. She is dismissive of other people’s musical tastes, including Hedvig’s.

At first it seems as if Hedvig changes the most — why isn’t she the (secret?) hero? But take a closer look and you’ll see that even though Hedvig has her hair cut, she hasn’t changed that much; she is solid and independent at the beginning of the film, and remains so throughout. Sure, she’s gained two new friends and become more cool than she was, but she is still the same basic person. Bobo definitely ‘grows’ more than either Hedvig or Klara. Klara doesn’t really demonstrate that she’s changed at all. She thinks she’s the best at the beginning of the film, and even in the final scene she declares ‘I am the best’, showing that she’s all about her own self. She genuinely doesn’t care about other people, or what they think — even when those people are her best friends.

Ghost

Later in the film, when Bobo is being comforted by Klara after throwing up on Klara’s older brother’s records, Bobo tells Klara that she’s sick of Klara getting all the boys and being invited to all the parties. We don’t know it at the start, but Bobo has a history of rejection. This explains in retrospect why she has been drawn to punk and to Klara, and why she is so upset when Klara hooks up with the punk boy they go to meet.

Story World

The arena is a school and its local surrounds in Stockholm, Sweden.

They are heading into winter time and snow has settled on the ground. This means the characters are forced to basically live indoors, except for the scene on the roof, when Bobo sort of threatens to jump off. The season is significant because it’s an ironic one — coming of age stories are often about ‘blooming’, and therefore spring, but punk is an ironic, subversive, transgressive genre, and so the story inverts the usual season and has Bobo heading in to winter.

The city is an entirely man-made space.

The important tool for the girls is an electric guitar, because an electric guitar will propel them into the realm of ‘cool’, or so they think.

This is a contemporary story set around 2013.

Weakness & Need (& Problem)

Bobo has distanced herself from the crowd, which is fine, except her only ally in the world is Klara, who is an imperfect friend. Klara can be a little callous, and is inclined to take the limelight. Bobo has no self-confidence. Feeling she is ugly, she has cut off her hair and refused make-up to buck the expectations of her gender.

Under Klara’s influence, Bobo also can treat others badly, which appears when the two of them basically bully Hedvig into getting a punk haircut.

Bobo’s crisis at the beginning of the story is that she is not accepted by her peers, namely boys. She has no idea how to fix this and doesn’t even know she wants to.

Inciting Incident

Bobo and Klara impetuously decide to start a punk band and participate in the autumn concert. But they are too late, and the middle-aged woman in charge says they’ll have to come back next year. This annoys Klara so much that she thinks if she can’t play in the autumn concert she doesn’t want to play at all. But they decide to keep playing so they can show everyone just how good they can be.

But actually there is a series of three inciting incidents. This is preceded by the older boys calling them ugly. The girls decide to book the drum room, partly to piss them off and partly because they genuinely want to start a band. The desire to perform in the autumn concert comes out of that.

The audience can see that these girls are nowhere near good enough to play in any concert. They’re full of verve but have no skill. By putting themselves forward, they’re risking further and more permanent rejection, which puts the audience on edge. (Similar to About A Boy.) In this way, the two girls have got themselves into ‘the worst trouble of their lives’.

Desire

Bobo wants to be cool in a non-mainstream way. She is a conformist non-conformist. The goal that extends throughout the story — the concrete goal — is to perform in front of an audience and achieve accolades of some kind.

The importance of this desire increases throughout the story because with the addition of an accomplished and gifted musician (Hedvig) they become genuinely accomplished. The stakes become higher because the friendship between Bobo and Klara is compromised over a boy, so they need to reunite, and they can do this by working in unison to perform a concert.

Ally/Allies

Bobo’s main ally is her best friend Klara. Klara and Bobo share the same desire of wanting to prove themselves punk and prove themselves to be cool.

Opponent

The most obvious opponents (though they are numerous they’re basically one personality) are the older boys at school who refuse to take the girls seriously. They call them ugly and try to bar them from the drum room and insist on calling theirs a ‘girl band’. The boys, too, are competing for the goal of performing on stage and winning cool points.

Bobo’s mother is oblivious to Bobo’s inner workings, and doesn’t realise that by drawing attention to her daughter’s hair in front of a crowd she is being excruciatingly inappropriate — Bobo cut her hair to avoid attention rather than to get it — her whole point is that looks shouldn’t matter, so compliments defeat the point.

Fake-ally opponent

Klara is the fake-ally opponent — sometimes ally, sometimes opponent — if only because she does ‘punk’ better. She has a more genuinely punk hair cut. She probably rates higher on the sociopathic spectrum, and is able to genuinely not care. Bobo doesn’t have this luxury. She is empathetic, as demonstrated when her mother breaks up with the latest man friend. By following Klara, Bobo is self-sabotaging, somewhat. Klara wants Bobo to be cool, but she wants to keep her in her place. She doesn’t want her to go out with her brother, for instance, shitting all over the fact that Bobo likes him. Both Klara and Bobo are competing for the exact same goal, so that’s good.

Klara has sufficient complexity to be this person. She knows about the party the boys are having, but hasn’t revealed it to Bobo. She appears to be up-front about everything, but her candour comes across as aggressive. “I just want to check you’re not jealous, or anything.”

The other interesting thing about Klara is that she starts to feel more like Bobo’s ally as the story progresses. By the end of the film they are on a more equal footing, despite Klara maintaining that ‘she’ is the best, despite Hedvig protesting that ‘we are the best’.

In this story, Klara was introduced after Bobo. Klara has no specific plan to bring her friend down — hers is more of an ignorant dilemma.

Changed Desire And Motive/First Revelation & Decision

While the girls started off wanting to perform in the autumn concert not caring that they sounded shit, they changed to wanting to learn their instruments properly after witnessing Hedvig on stage. (The reveal is that Hedvig is pretty good at music, even though she’s super uncool.)

Plan

Now they’ll persuade Hedvig to teach them about music, and in turn they’ll draw her out of Christianity so she can be cool like them. (And she won’t bring them down.)

Opponent’s Plan and Main Counterattack

The boys continue to undermine the girls.

Klara has a plan to contact some punk boys they know of, so they can go and meet and make boyfriends. But she doesn’t really care about whether the other two make boyfriends. While Klara is not deliberately evil, these scenes give the audience a chance to see the regular dynamic that goes on between these two best friends.

Drive

Klara decides to get Bobo back. She calls the boy who liked Klara (though he doesn’t seem to any more) and arranges a meet up. She wants to persuade him to be her boyfriend, not Klara’s. She manages this, though the boy tells Bobo he’ll have to break up with Klara first, then never does. Calling your best friend’s boyfriend is a bit of an immoral action, even if the relationship seems to have fizzled. But Bobo is desperate for acceptance. We see this when she spits on her own reflection in the bathroom mirror.

Bobo’s actions have now changed in a fundamental way because before this she would never have gone behind Klara’s back, or assumed she could take a boy from Klara.

Attack by ally

There are two plots in this story: There’s the conflict between Bobo/Klara and Hedvig (or Hedvig’s mother), then there is the battle between Bobo and Klara as they each wrestle for power within the relationship.

In the first plot line, Hedvig’s mother is the voice of reason when she calls the girls to her house for tea and biscuits then gives them an example about how they shouldn’t try to change someone just because they want to be her friend. You have to accept people as they come.

In the other plot line, Hedvig (her mother’s daughter) is the voice of reason the whole way through, encouraging the girls to reconcile. She’s not a very outspoken girl, so she needs to be pressed to say much, but there are conversations in bedrooms during which Hedwig refuses to join in with the other two when it comes to shitting over other people’s likes.

Apparent Defeat

Despite every effort to be cool, even cutting her hair short like Klara’s, Bobo still misses out on a boy she really likes. We see how devastating this is for Bobo when she jumps around on the roof, risking her life, trying to divert the hug that’s going on between her best friend and the boy she likes.

Obsessive drive/changed drive

The revelation Bobo has is that: No matter how hard she has tried, she cannot win boys as long as Klara’s around.

She’s going to have to take control.

Audience Revelation

Sure enough, when we see Klara and Bobo in action with the boys, we not only see the day in its own right, but we see the whole history of their friendship. We see that Klara is indeed more popular with the boys (at first) and that Bobo plays second fiddle. We are probably older and wiser (this is a film for adults) and know more about the friendship dynamics than Bobo does. Because of this history, we are now given a little distance between ourselves and Bobo, and we’ll see why she does what she does, by calling the boyfriend.

Gate/Gauntlet/Visit to Death

Bobo spitting on the mirror shows us that she has reached rock bottom in self-esteem. It happens after their visit to see the boys.

Battle

Sure enough, there is a showdown between Bobo and Klara when Bobo tells Klara that the boy has been ‘cheating on you… with me’. The fight gets physical and is broken up by pacifist Hedvig. This shows how similar Bobo and Klara are at this point.

Self-revelation

Bobo learns that she can’t be Klara, but she is just as worthy as Klara.

Bobo has also learned from Hedvig that you can’t change people in order for them to be your friend, and she applies this same revelation to herself. She can’t change herself to fit her ‘ideal version of a friend’.

Moral decision

Bobo has learned that she must ‘be herself’ rather than be a follower. She demonstrates this resolve onstage with the audience booing at her.

New Equilibrium

This is demonstrated on the bus home in the final scene after their disastrous concert. They have been rejected in the most terrible way — an entire audience turned against them. But they are determined to call themselves ‘the best’ anyway.

Film Study: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is a metafictive coming-of-age film based on a young adult novel by the same name. The book is an example of sick-lit.

Greg […] is coasting through senior year of high school as anonymously as possible, avoiding social interactions like the plague while secretly making spirited, bizarre films with Earl, his only friend. But both his anonymity and friendship threaten to unravel when his mother forces him to befriend a classmate with leukemia.

Deadline Hollywood

 

Okay, I admit it. I thought, “This is very much like The Fault In Our Stars.”

But remember, the sick-lit genre popular in this Third Golden Age Of Children’s Literature did not actually start with John Green’s YA novel — it started way back in the late 1990s with The Lovely Bones.

The YA novel by Jesse Andrews Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was published in 2012 and released as a film three years later in 2015. Jesse Andrews was the main scriptwriter for that. Here I’ll be talking about the film because I haven’t read the book.

Apart from a breakdown of story structure, in this post I’d like to touch on:

  • “sick-lit” — yes, it’s a derisive term but what else can I call it?
  • the female maturity principle
  • mothers in coming-of-age stories
  • tear-jerkiness and how to achieve it
  • the metafictive elements of this self-aware coming-of-age tale

TAGLINE OF ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

“A little friendship never killed anyone.”

GENRE BLEND OF ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

drama, comedy >> coming-of-age tearjerker

DESIGNING PRINCIPLE OF ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

I’m having trouble with this. Could it really be as simple as:

Sometimes it takes proximal death to teach us the value of life?

STORYWORLD OF ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

The author himself attended Schenley High School, Oakland, Pittsburgh, not that long ago (as of 2017 he’s only 34). The story is set there, and suburban surrounds.

The majority of the film adaptation was actually taped at Schenley High School.  When the cameras showed us the corridors from above I noticed that the tops of the lockers were dusty and the place had a general run-down look to it compared to slightly more glossy depictions of high schools in other teen dramas coming out of America. As it turns out, this may not have been because the set designers were actively aiming for a run-down state school — the real Schenley High School closed its doors back in 2008 after 99 years. This was originally an expensive school to build — one of the first to cost a million dollars, which was a lot back then. In 2013 the historic but closed school was sold to some developers who plan to turn it into luxury apartments. Anyhow, the filmmakers must have scooted in there before that happened. Continue reading

The Hunchback Of Nowhere Courage The Cowardly Dog

The  Hunchback of Nowhere is from the first season of Courage The Cowardly Dog. As ever, this modern re-visioning takes inspiration from a wide history of storytelling, including from The Bible.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOWHERE

Any adult viewer will know immediately that this is inspired at least partly by The Hunchback of Notre Dame, though the writers can’t expect a young audience to know this. Instead, they have to come up with a story which is complete in its own right while also nodding to the earlier story. A lot of viewers may have seen the 1996 film, however, which was only a few years old when this episode of Courage came out in 1999. (The Hunchback was having another moment.)

STORY STRUCTURE OF THE HUNCHBACK OF NOWHERE

Taking a break from the hero’s journey and Robinsonnade structures of previous episodes, this is a carnivalesque story as seen in many picture books. There is no battle sequence in a carnivalesque story. Instead we have a whole lot of fun, though it can look precarious in parts. There is no real opponent in this story either, apart from Eustace who we already know to be his own worst enemy.

WEAKNESS/NEED

This story opens with a shot of the rain pelting down.

raining-in-nowhere

We’ve had thunder storms a plenty in Nowhere but we haven’t seen much rain. Once again the story opens at night time, with a cute but ugly character going from door to door hoping for some shelter.

Rain is often used in comedy (and in genre fiction) as pathetic fallacy, in which rain equals sadness, sunshine equals happiness, and so on.

As Elizabeth Lyon says in her book Manuscript Makeover, readers are like ducklings; we fall in love with the first character we ‘see’. The same is true for the screen. (It’s clear the writers of Courage know this really well — a later episode features a duckling falling madly in love with the otherwise unloveable Eustace.)

The writers of Courage have opened with an opponent before, for example with the fox who wants to make Cajun Granny Stew, and this makes the opponent less scary for a young audience. Here we need genuine affection for the Hunchback in order for the rest of the story to work. So we see him as an outsider. He is recast as a modern hobo.

A square of light from inside emphasises the darkness without -- squares of light are also used to 'imprison' characters on the screen.

A square of light from inside emphasises the darkness without — squares of light are also used to ‘imprison’ characters on the screen.

Here we see the Hunchback on the other side of a door.

Here we see the Hunchback on the other side of a door.

And here we have a high angle view, making the Hunchback look small and powerless.

And here we have a high angle view, making the Hunchback look small and powerless.

The next thing done to help the audience identify with the Hunchback is to have him look in the window. Like the audience, he is observing the Bagges going about their routine. He is the audience as much as we are.

The next thing done to help the audience identify with the Hunchback is to have him look in the window. Like the audience, he is observing the Bagges going about their routine. He is the audience as much as we are.

DESIRE

Eustace wants Courage to fetch his raincoat from the barn.

Courage wants Eustace to let the Hunchback stay. He says to the camera (because Eustace can’t understand him speaking English), “Why can’t he stay in the attic at least?”

The Hunchback wants to avoid getting wet.

OPPONENT

Eustace. Had Muriel opened the door to the Hunchback there would have been no story. Muriel is accommodating by nature.

PLAN

The Hunchback takes refuge in the Bagges’ barn.

Courage has found a friend so he intends for the Hunchback to stay until it’s no longer raining, keeping him safe from the grumpy, uncharitable Eustace.

Eustace plans to annoy the Hunchback and insult him until he leaves.

BATTLE

Instead of a battle sequence there is a play sequence in the barn. The barn is the Nowhere equivalent of the Notre Dame Cathedral because it allows for great contrast between high and low places — the highest point of the barn is really quite high, and we are reminded of this fact numerous times via high angle and low angle contrasting shots.

low-angle-shots

low-angle-shot

We find lots of high-low juxtaposition in stories about social inequality, which is very much what we have in the Hunchback story.

In this carnivalesque story we have scenes right out of an actual carnival/circus, with Courage and his new friend swinging like circus performers and playing tunes with the set of bells the Hunchback has brought with him.

The play scene includes plenty of tension because of the risk of falling from the high swing and also because Eustace comes into the barn demanding to know why Courage still hasn’t retrieved his raincoat as he was asked.

swinging

There is a comical game of shadow puppetry using a torch, in which Courage and the Hunchback make all sorts of improbable shapes using only their hands (even funnier because Courage has three stubby fingers.)

hunchback-torch

playing-shadow-puppets

The play scene isn’t quite enough to make a complete story, however, and the writers know this. There is a battle of wits at the breakfast table the next morning after Muriel invites the Hunchback for a pancake breakfast. “Any friend of Courage is a friend of mine.”

muriels-pancake-breakfast

Eustace doesn’t want this and insults the Hunchback. Pleased to have a ‘voice’ at last, Courage writes notes to the Hunchback, who gets at Eustace’s most self-conscious feature — his baldness. Eustace stamps out in a huff.

The third part of the battle happens on the barn roof, in which the roof is a domestic stand-in for a cliff in the natural world. Courage and the Hunchback are up there playing a concert to the appreciative Muriel, who is perfectly happy to listen to them under the cover of her umbrella below.

rooftop-concert

eustace-appears-through-the-belfry

eustace-and-hunchback-on-roof

 

SELF-REVELATION

Eustace has a self-revelation (which won’t last, naturally) when the Hunchback pranks him. Eustace has been pranking Courage all along with his scary tricks, especially throughout this episode. Noticing this, the Hunchback gives Eustace a taste of his own medicine. Anyone watching realises immediately that Eustace can give it but he can’t take it.

In stories, revelations often happen in high natural places. Hey, it even happens in the Bible.

eustace-mask

barn-cliff

eustace-falls

Eustace falls from grace and literally falls from the roof. But he’s all right. He is able to get up again slowly.

When the Hunchback says goodbye he pulls out a huge bell. Why does he do this, apart from the laugh? Throughout this story the Hunchback has been a more powerful version of Courage due to his being able to talk and also outwit Eustace by scaring him with his very own face. The Hunchback is saying he has won on behalf of Courage, with his identical but much smaller bell. (The bell = voice.)

big-bell-little-bell

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

The Hunchback says he hopes to find other kind people on his travels.

hunchback-walks-away

The Best Quiet Children’s Films

By ‘quiet’ I mean the anti-Dreamworks of yak-yak that drives you crazy when you’re listening to it in the background. These films will help a child to feel calm rather than revved up, especially if viewed without fizzy drink and choc-tops.

These quiet movies are set close to nature, feature classical soundtracks relatively little (if any) dialogue. (For some reason the mother is usually absent.)

Please bear in mind that by ‘quiet’ I don’t necessarily mean ‘appropriate for all kids all of the time’. Quite the reverse. Some of these quiet films are confronting, because when something horrible does happen in a quiet film, it feels all the worse for being isolated from all that babble. That said, my 8-year-old daughter has seen all of them numerous times, and she saw some of them when she was quite young. She tends to absorb story to the extent to which she can understand.

Some of these stories are not for children specifically.

Notice these quiet but often disturbing films are not coming out of America? For a fulsome list we must leave Hollywood.

LIST OF QUIET FILMS FOR FAMILY MOVE NIGHT

1. THE BEAR (1988)

el-oso-lours-1988-online

 

My father took me to see this in the cinema when I was ten. It’s still great. Like many classic stories for children, the mother dies. But the mother bear dies on screen, so it’s not like Cinderella or something like that, in which we never even mourn for the dead mother. The other note about this: There is a bear mating scene. I remember asking my dad in the theatre what they were doing. “They’re mating,” he whispered. I still didn’t really know what that meant, but I knew enough not to enquire further right there and then!

It’s essentially a father/son story. It’s actually pretty unrealistic if you know the real truth about male grizzlies, who are in reality inclined to eat their sons. So in fact this is an anthropomorphised story which glamorizes fatherhood after getting rid of the pesky mother (a story we see all to often, even in modern films).

For some reason I still love it.

Young viewers may need to be reassured that no animals were harmed in the making of the film.

Fly Away Home also has a shock opening and follows with a quiet story, but I can’t really recommend it here. My kid finds that one not only quiet but boring.

2. MINUSCULE: VALLEY OF THE LOST ANTS (2013)

minuscule-valley-of-the-lost-ants-2014-movie-poster

There’s no talking in this — the sound effects can sometimes be a bit noisy, because the insect world is depicted using human traffic sound effects, but overall this is a great before bed movie and I can’t think of any particularly disturbing scenes. It’s the safest of the films listed here. You’ll even empathise with a spider.

3. THE FOX AND THE CHILD (2007)

the-fox-and-the-child

There’s very little talking in this, which is good, because if you’re watching in English you can see they’ve dubbed it pretty badly! (It doesn’t matter.) This appears to be a calm, nature-loving story — until the battle sequence. My eight-year-old fox loving kid burst into tears. But then it gets better… I feel it’s a shame they did this.

Spoiler alert:

[The fox appears to be dead but then it’s not really.]

The moral of the story is that you can’t tame a wild animal. You have to appreciate nature for what it is without anthropomorphizing.

4. MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO (1988)

my-neighbour-totoro

I could list a bunch of Studio Ghibli films here.

In My Neighbour Totoro, we again have an absent mother (sick in hospital), and a story that glorifies the relationship between a father and his two little girls, who move to the country to be near the mother as she convalesces. They enter a spiritual world which feels very Japanese but is wholly imaginative, and meet some cuddly creatures.

This appeals to the younger set, even preschoolers. Another in the same vain is Ponyo. I write in detail about that film here. The mother isn’t entirely absent in that one — the father is.

5. SPIRITED AWAY (2002)

spirited-away-movie-poster-2002-1010340447

This is one of the Ghibli films for an older audience (compared to Totoro and Ponyo). The scene where the parents are turned into pigs is confronting for a little kid. But overall the pacing is slow and dreamlike. The parents eventually reunite, after Chihiro learns to work hard. (I thought this was a peculiarly Japanese characteristic of story until I read Brian Selznick’s Hugo Cabret!)

I won’t list all of the Ghibli movies — all of them are on the quiet side. Their latest film (2016) is The Red Turtletheir first non-Japanese production (though not the first non-Japanese adaptation).

6. RABBIT PROOF FENCE

rabbit-proof-fence

This historical story is the first live action on the list. Of course, the movie poster features the face of a white dude, rather than the Australian Aboriginal children it actually stars. This isn’t specifically a children’s film.

7. MARY AND MAX (2009)

mary-and-max

Another fine Australian film, claymation, so appealing to kids but really it’s not specifically for kids. It mixes real life scenery with animation (claymation), similar to the Minuscule movies.

It’s said this movie is not for kids. I think this needs saying because we expect claymation to be only for kids. I say it’s a movie for everyone.

8. TEMPLE GRANDIN

templegrandin

While we’re on the topic of neurodifference, I totally recommend this biopic of the world’s most well-known autistic woman.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Clare Danes as an actor — I felt she touched her hair too much in Homeland — but after watching her play Temple Grandin, I have a renewed respect for her breadth.

Children with sensory processing issues will identify with Grandin. (And may be the reason you were looking for a list of ‘quiet’ children’s movies in the first place.)

9. WHAT MAISIE KNEW (2012)

what-maisie-knew

Perhaps not what you’d recommend for a kid? It’s true that not all stories about children are for children, and this is a film for adults, based on a short story for adults. Nevertheless, my daughter loved it.

Since it’s about a girl watching on as her parents go through a divorce, I’d not recommend it to a child in the middle of similar trauma themselves.

The entire film rests on the acting abilities of the child actor, who does an amazing job.

10. THE PRIZEWINNER OF DEFIANCE, OHIO (2005)

the-prizewinner-of-definance-ohio

Speaking of the wonderful Julieanne Moore…

This is the least ‘quiet’ of all the films above, because it centres on the life of a big family, told from the perspective of a mother’s grown-up daughter. It’s based on the daughter’s memoir. I’d like to include it in this list to bolster the number of mothers. Overall it’s a feelgood film, though the scenes with the moody father might be a bit confronting.

11. WAITRESS (2007)

waitress

I’ve written about that film here. After watching this my daughter started an imaginary game of cafes, wearing an apron, writing menus and making food out of plasticine.

It will require prior knowledge of, or a discussion about, babies and where they come from, and how women sometimes end up with babies they didn’t plan, and have to make the decision about whether or not to keep them. This is something which can prey upon young girls’ minds anyway, so I feel such a discussion is never a bad thing. Overall, the message is conservative. The waitress ends up with a daughter, played by the writer/director’s real life daughter. The writer/director was subsequently murdered in real life by a man, but no need to mention that to your kid.

As I keep coming back to, real life is way worse than fiction. Might as well scaffold real life with slightly confronting fiction.

 

 

Slut Shaming In The Fantastic Mr Fox Film

The dialogue is fast paced and I suppose an audience too young to get the jokes are also too young to follow fast dialogue.

But there’s a big question  mark hanging over that assumption.

It somehow looks more disturbing written down:

fantastic-mr-fox-movie-slut-shaming

Gender Inversion As Gags In Children’s Film

There’s this gag in many funny children’s stories which almost everyone else finds hilarious and I find really troublesome. It’s when a male character dresses as a female character. This gender inversion in itself is meant to be funny. But why?

gender inversions paddington bear

Very few people talk about sexism in children’s films but to me it sticks out like a shart on a plane.

Humor can be either very dependent on an escapist mindset or the very opposite. Laughter is a diversion, much like fantasy, though it also often requires an understanding of what is actually going on.

– Film School Rejects

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Sleeping Beauty And Cannibalism

Sleeping Beauty In The Woods Angela Carter

If you’ve already read Angela Carter’s original short stories, in which she rewrites famous tales as feminist ones, you may well hear her scoffing silently in your head as you read these tales, mostly by Charles Perrault, who added his own paternalistic, misogynist morals as paragraphs at the ends. And if you’ve never read these tales by Perrault — and you may not have, because many different versions have been written since — it’s worth a look. This tale is quite different from any I read as a child. This is probably because modern tellers of this tale have simplified it.

This 1982 collection of fairytales translated into English from French by Angela Carter is illustrated by Michael Foreman, who has had a prolific career since then. You may have seen his work in the books of Michael Morpurgo for instance. He’s been working from the 1960s through to now. It seems he can produce up to about 8 or 9 books per year — a phenomenal work rate, especially considering his painterly style.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PERRAULT’S TALE AND MODERN VERSIONS OF SLEEPING BEAUTY

Sleeping Beauty Ladybird well loved tales

In Perrault’s version of Sleeping Beauty from the 1700s, there is not one but two wicked women — the version I remember from the childhood stories is one of the Ladybird Well-Loved Tales.

In this much simplified story from Ladybird there is no second ‘chapter’. The prince arrives, Beauty and Prince get married and they ‘live happily ever after’. In order to beef out the story a bit we have a succession of princes who try to get through the thick brambles that grow around the castle, but none of them is able to get through until the lucky dude who arrives at exactly the right time, at the 100 year point.

Both Sleeping Beauty and Snow White have been bowdlerised for modern children in a similar way, to the point where you might even get them a bit mixed up if you’re out somewhere and your kid asks you to recount a fairytale from memory. In modern adaptations of both stories Beauty is awakened by a passing Prince, she marries him and they live happily ever after. It’s all good.

There is no happily ever after in the earlier version of Sleeping Beauty; nor is it a tale easily conflated with Snow White.

Illustrators vary in how they portray the fairies. In the Ladybird version above, the fairies all look like youthful Miss America finalists from the 1970s, with their long, blonde hair contrasting with the part witchy/part nunnery black costume of the old, evil fairy. Think a bit harder about what this says about women’s worth in general: Women are only ‘good’ if they are sexually alluring. An old woman dressed in a cross between a witch’s costume and a habit is as far away from sexual as you could possibly get. Therefore, we are to assume, she is no good. It’s therefore a slight feminist improvement that the most recent adaptations of Sleeping Beauty tend to feature ‘Tinkerbell’ type fairies rather than this Ladybird woman from the 1970s.

Perrault’s version of Sleeping Beauty isn’t even the worst one. It seems he sanitised it his own self.

Still older versions of the same tale type, among them Sun, Moon, and Talia, replace the prince with an already married king. In these versions, he rapes the princess while she lies sleeping and she gives birth to twins before waking up when one of the babies sucks the splinter out of her finger. The cannibalistic queen in this case is the king’s wife. Compare The Brown Bear of the Green Glen“.

TV Tropes, Sleeping Beauty entry

Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty” describes the enchanted castle in Gothic terms: blood-chilling and full of death. A frequent element of gothic novels is the heroine who falls into a death-like state. The links between death and sleep appear in many gothic works, not just in this very well-known tale. They tend to feature entrapment and towers.

CHARACTERS IN SLEEPING BEAUTY

In Perrault’s version we have not one but two evil women: first the evil fairy, next the evil mother-in-law. The girl never sees her own parents again, for although they’ve made all their staff and attendants fall asleep so she will be well looked after when she awakes, the bereaved parents leave their castle forever and go somewhere far away. There are two distinct parts to Perrault’s version, translated by Angela Carter in 1982. Honestly, it’s not ‘going-to-sleep’ book, as the title may seem to imply. This is a young adult tale, designed to warn young women not to rush into marriage. Now, it baffles me how Charles Perrault drew this particular moral from the tale, considering the girl in question had already been asleep and dreaming of this prince for 100 years!

Sleeping Beauty’s transgression is that she attempts to spin when it’s actually beneath her social class to do so. Spinning kept peasant women alive but will kill her.

STORY STRUCTURE OF SLEEPING BEAUTY IN THE WOODS

Whose story is this? While the title tells us the tale is about ‘Sleeping Beauty’, the girl is only a plot tool of a character. She has zero agency. At first I thought this was a story about the girl, but when I try to fill out the story structure it becomes obvious that actually the main character in this story is her evil mother in law. The whole thing about the evil fairy, that’s what Hitchcock would have called a MacGuffin: an event to get the story going. In the end, we don’t even think about what happened to that evil fairy.

maleficent-fairies

The good fairies from Maleficent

WEAKNESS

The mother of the prince — I assume — feels usurped by the beautiful new daughter in law and is envious of the time her beloved son now spends with her.

DESIRE

She wishes her daughter-in-law gone and her son back.

OPPONENT

Sleeping Beauty, whose very beauty and privilege of birth mean she has lost her own boy forever.

PLAN

She will first eat her two grandchildren and then she will eat her daughter-in-law. (She is part ogre.) But her plans change once she realises the son’s wife and children are not dead at all, that they have been hidden in the cellar by a sympathetic servant man. Now she plans to kill Beauty in the most heinous way herself. She orders a huge vat to be brought into the courtyard, filled with horrible creatures. She’ll have the daughter-in-law and her children thrown into it.

BATTLE

This part is much truncated and rather unsatisfying in Perrault’s version. All we know is that the king comes back early from faraway. He gallops into the courtyard and presumably there is some sort of showdown that the reader doesn’t get to read about. The evil queen rather impetuously, I feel, throws her own self into the vat of vipers instead.

SELF-REVELATION

The self-revelations of Perrault’s tale are actually ‘reader revelations’ and they come by way of the ‘Moral’ tacked onto the end of each transliteration. Don’t rush into marriage or you’ll end up with a mother-in-law who wants to eat you, is what Perrault gets from the story.

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

“The king could not help grieving a little; after all, she was his mother. But his beautiful wife and children soon made him happy again.”

 

SLEEPING BEAUTY AND CANNIBALISM

Sleeping Beauty in the woods love quote

Strangely enough, the cannibalistic nana has been left out of modern versions for kids. But look around at other fairytales and you’ll find that kid-munching mummies aren’t all that rare. These tales date from much earlier eras in which famines were common, and mothers did occasionally eat their own children:

George Devereaux, citing “Multatuli (1868),” pseudonym of novelist Edward Douwes Dekker, reports that during medieval famines and “even during the great postrevolutionary famine in Russia” the “actual eating of one’s children or the marketing of their flesh” occurred. He concludes that “the eating of children in times of food shortage is far from rare.”

Voracious Children: Who eats whom in children’s literature

But Maria Tatar argues that although mothers did eat their children, it was generally only due to mental derangement caused by her own starvation. In medical/legal documents it was always a baby who was eaten rather than an older child. The child eating mothers of yesteryear are therefore mostly a myth, but have captured the public imagination and been incorporated into oft-shared tales, much like an urban legend of today. (Urban legends often have their origins in bits taken from real-life heinous crimes which have been sensationalised by the media.)

SLEEPING BEAUTY AND MODERN FILM

Writing of Sunset Boulevard, John Truby describes Norma’s house in what is a separate kingdom of Hollywood (a fairytale world):

This fairy-tale world, with its haunted house, its thorns, and its Sleeping Beauty, is also the home of a vampire. […] Sunset Boulevard does not end with the death of the hero. The opponent literally descends into madness. Her ability to distinguish fantasy from reality now gone, she is both her character—“Down below, they’re waiting for the Princess”—and an actress performing in another Hollywood movie. As the newsreel cameras roll, Norma walks down the grand staircase of the “palace” into a deep sleep from which no prince will awaken her.

Notes From: John Truby. “The Anatomy of Story.”

Annex - Swanson, Gloria (Sunset Boulevard)_06

Maleficent promised to be excellent, as a dive into the backstory of that evil fairy. But the 2014 film did not get good critical reviews. When will filmmakers understand that when you change the best known version of a well-loved tale too much you’re going to run into strife? The other problem for filmmakers though: Which version do you take as the ‘true’ version of the tale? Fairytales change so much, it’s not surprising they make huge alterations themselves in the name of original art.

In 2011, Australia produced a film called Sleeping Beauty — a rather disturbing look into a certain kind of sex work. (The girl is drugged unconscious and used by men with a certain kind of fetish.)

Sleeping_Beauty_film

FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Sleeping Beauties: Transformation and Codification from Karen Healey

Sleeping Beauty, zombified and turned into a comic from Mary Sue

Angela Carter utilised Perrault’s  Sleeping Beauty in her radio play Vampirella and in its prose variation The Lady of the House of Love.

…she felt as if she had become the heroine of “The Sleeping Beauty” and this feeling started manifesting itself in her daily behaviour.

a documented case of someone hallucinating a fairytale.

The ‘Forced Sleep Trope’ is used in many different modern stories, in which a character is forced to fall asleep by means of a spell or magic potion. This can get very dark in stories about date rape and so on.

Review: ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Rests Uncomfortably and Unsuccessfully Between Nightmare And Wet Dream, from Film School Rejects

Short Film Of The Day: Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty from Film School Rejects

La belle au bois dormant : The sleeping beauty

Pygmalion And Talking Toys In Children’s Literature

toys-wish-fulfilment-in-childrens-fantasy

Toys have a place in certain types of wish fulfilment stories: The wish to have a friend and also the wish to never die, especially when toys are mended, or when they can be re-wound, in the case of a wind-up toy. (I suppose the modern version would be having its batteries replaced, if this kind of story were more common today.)

THE INFLUENCE OF PYGMALION ON MODERN STORYTELLING

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The Mechanical Behaviour Of Fussbudgets In Comedy

Fussbudgets, sticklers, officious types, whatever you want to call them — they are comedy gold. We’ve all had run-ins with them, which makes the comedy aspect universal.

TV Tropes calls these characters Sticklers For Procedure.

An essential component of the comedic fussbudget is ‘mechanical behaviour’. The scene above is from the film Meet The Parents. Note how both women behave like robots. If they really were robots they’d more appropriately fit into horror or sci-fi, but when the setting is realist, their fixed smiles, lack of emotion and recognisable, stock-standard responses enhance the humanity of the straight-man, our underdog hero, and for some reason we find mechanical behaviour in humans extremely funny. The adult equivalent of putting a hat on a dog.

Perhaps it’s even more funny when the mechanical person is a woman, as it often is (though not always, by any means). Is this perhaps because in real life we’d expect more emotion and empathy out of a woman than we would out of a man? In any case, when a woman behaves in this way there’s a distinctly Stepford Wives vibe to it.

We have a slight variation in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

The audience, as well as Steve Martin’s character, is shown the robot’s human side first before she snaps into robotic mode. This makes the comedy all the sweeter when she slips out of it again at the end of the scene, and turns into a Jerkass who sticks to the rules just because she knows it will inconvenience someone who’s just been rude to her.

The ‘Computer Says No’ series of Little Britain sketches uses the same mechanical behaviour — the more sketches you watch the funnier they become, because you know the line that’s coming. But here is the first one:

These are all examples of extreme robotic behaviour, but if we widen the definition, it includes any situation in which X occurs and Character does Y. Catherine Tate’s creation Lauren is funny because we know, after any provocation at all, she will embellish the initial slight and eventually she will ask, ‘Am I bovvered?’ and  ‘Are you disrespecting my family?’

Howl’s Moving Castle: Team book or team film?

Howl's Moving Castle Miyazaki

tl;dr: The Novel

The novel affords Sophie more agency than the film, especially if you watch the film with the English dub, which turns Sophie into more of a passive traveller than the original Japanese does. I hope this is to do with the wish to basically sync syllables with mouth animations rather than some deep-seated desire on the part of Disney to keep girls in check, but you gotta wonder when you see what else Disney has produced over the years…

Here is an excellent breakdown of main differences between the YA novel and Hayao Miyazaki’s film adaptation, from a feminist point of view. Though both Miyazaki and Wynne Jones are known to be feminist storytellers, the feminism of the elderly Japanese man is quite different from that of the Welsh woman.

One thing the film did do though, was to broaden the audience for this otherwise obscure YA fantasy novel from 1986.

Howl's Moving Castle three book covers 

 

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