I can probably count on my two hands the total number of Disney films I’ve seen in my lifetime, and most of those I watched as an adult. I didn’t have a childhood filled with carriages and ballgowns and evil stepmothers. I didn’t grow up singing about wishing for my prince to come. I wasn’t really exposed to fairy tales in that way.
That’s not to say that my childhood was devoid of magicality or fantasy (or films). In fact, my favorite childhood movie was The Wizard of Oz. And my love for that movie has carried on long past my adolescence, providing me with the inspiration for the title of this very blog.
It’s also not like I didn’t ever hear about fairy tales. I was read versions of The Three Little Pigs, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and Cinderella. My brother and I even had a stuffed bear that would read a picture book version of Sleeping Beauty when we pressed its toes. (That bear, by the way, did the voices of all the characters, so there is one page where the bear proclaims in a raspy, witchy voice that the princess is going to “prick her finger on a spinning wheel AND DIE!!!” It’s a very scarring experience to have a cute, innocent-looking bear suddenly shout about the death of a beloved character.)
I bring this up to say that, though I was familiar with fairy tales, I had very little attachment to them, especially compared to other people in my generation. They’re not my darlings. I don’t have to worry about protecting my love for them.
And I love subverting them. Destroying them, even.
I don’t remember how old I was when my teacher read The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, but I do remember that I instantly fell in love with it. I enjoyed hearing a familiar story from a different perspective, and I felt horribly bad for the wolf. For the first time, I was challenged to hold two different perspectives in my head at the same time and acknowledge that both the wolf and the pigs deserved empathy, which is a difficult but exhilarating task for a child. And it was all thanks to a fractured fairy tale.
Fast forward about a decade to my senior year of high school when I stumbled across the YouTube video “After Ever After – Disney Parody,” performed by Jon Cozart and posted to his channel, Paint. This video takes melodies from The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Pocahontas and tells the stories of the princesses after the endings of their films. The song examines real-world issues that are related to the settings of the movies (like how over-fishing and ocean oil spills would affect Ariel from The Little Mermaid), and, in the case of Pocahontas, it points out the ways that Disney glosses over and sugar coats the realities of cruelty and disease in the experiences of the real people who became characters in the film. It made me think about the princesses in the context of true problems that they might face. The parody video is well-written, well-sung, and thought-provoking.
It’s also rather dark. I showed it to several friends, and they were horrified. They, unlike I, did grow up watching and adoring the Disney versions of these fairy tales*. Through showing them this video, I had unintentionally murdered their darlings on their behalf and held the corpses of those now-dead films up to them with an expectant smile on my face. I understand why they were shocked and displeased. It’s easier to love a fractured fairy tale when you aren’t so attached to the original version.
That said, I think most people who have loved and watched and shared “After Ever After” were Disney fans. As I’m writing this post, that video has nearly 90 million views–a level of fame (or infamy) that I don’t think can be reached with an audience that is only mildly interested in the original fairy tales it parodies. Additionally, from anecdotal experience, most of my generation and the generation below me (both of whom are the target audience of this type of video) saw these movies repeatedly throughout their childhoods. Some people just like having their favorite fairy tales fractured, and others, like my friends from high school, just don’t.
And speaking of loving having your favorite childhood fantasies fractured, you didn’t think that I would possibly end this post without murdering my own darling, The Wizard of Oz, did you?
Okay, okay, to say that Wicked, my favorite musical of all time, murdered The Wizard of Oz is more than just a stretch; it is wrong. But hear me out. My favorite character in The Wizard of Oz is Glinda, the Good Witch of the South. I even dressed up as her for Halloween when I was in kindergarten, complete with a floofy pink dress, bejeweled sneakers, and a shiny wand. And Wicked does not treat Galinda** too kindly. Yes, she is endearing, and yes, she changes a lot throughout the musical, but for the majority of the run time, she is self-centered, unapologetically self-agrandizing, and (charmingly) annoying. Glinda, this character who I adored so much that I wanted to be her, was the butt of so many of the jokes in the musical.
And I loved it.
I loved the fact that Galinda was not the heroine of the story. I loved that Wicked gave the Wicked Witch of the West a name and a personality and a cause. I loved that I had to come to terms with the possibility that not every villain is actually evil or even bad and that not every good guy is flawless or even pleasant to be around.
Wicked gave me the chance to fall in love with a new character, Elphaba. I appreciated her story, I felt for her heartbreak, and I hoped for her to win in the end.
All these fractured fairy tales (and one fractured fantasy) gave me the opportunity to think about the characters in different and more interesting ways. They presented me with the shades of gray that exist in the world and helped me practice viewing other people as flawed yet valuable humans with their own set of complex needs and desires. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
My call to action is this: in the words of John Green who was himself inspired by other authors and philosophers and friends and strangers, “imagine others complexly” and consume media that challenges you to do so. For me, that concept of imagining people complexly was first introduced by a fractured fairy tale. For you, it may have come from a TV show or a movie or a million other sources. Whatever that thing is that inspires you toward complex thought and empathy, seek it out. Devour it. Just maybe don’t show it to your friends if it might ruin their childhoods.
*I know that Pocahontas is more historical fiction than fairy tale, but I’m going to lump it in here because, to be honest, Disney treats the story as if it were just another fairy tale. I think that’s wrong, but, as I’ve previously acknowledged, I have zero nostalgia attached to that movie, and I haven’t even seen it the whole way through, so take my criticism with a full dash of salt.
** not a typo
Other Amazing Fractured Fairy Tales:
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems
The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
“Little Red Cap” by Carol Ann Duffy
Twisted a Team StarKid musical
What amazing fractured fairy tales/fantasies did I leave out? Let me know in a comment!