Today’s lecture looked at fairy tales and their role in modern film structure. Apparently it’s a well kept secret that most films follow the format of a standard fairy tale.
A fairy tale is a ‘wonder tale’ involving marvellous and fantastic elements but not necessarily about fairies. Their intended purpose was to convey information or advice to groups of people in a world before widespread media. They weren’t just for children but for everyone as it was the best way to covey a message that would stay in the mind. As these stories are lessons, they all end with justice being served and good prevailing.
Quite often the names of the heroes are kept from us or they’re just given a nickname so that the listener can project themselves into the character. They’re lessons for every man and woman.
Now in a world with film, fairy tales have left the format of spoken word and paper and progressed to the medium of film. Georges Méliès was one of the first people to bring fairy tales to film when he made his version of Cinderella. He used very simple special effects to add the magic to the story with various characters arriving by puffs of smoke and turning into clock faces. However, the magic of that is lost in time. Until very recently, special effects in live action film haven’t been up to the job of portraying a truly fantastic fairy tale, which is why animation has been the home of fairy tales in film.
Lotte Reiniger adapted Cinderella to film when she used silhouette animation to recreate the tale in 1922. I was amazed to learn the film was that old as I think it still so compatible with today’s audience. It’s simplicity works to its advantage as it doesn’t need sophisticated special effects to capture the wonder of the story.
Vladmir Propp analysed 100 Russian folk tales and discovered that they all shared a basic structure that can be broken down into 31 functions that not necessarily all of them had. They also shared a few different characters that he called Villain, Donor, Magical Helper, Dispatcher, Hero, False Hero and Princess.