Fairy Tales Aren’t for the Faint of Heart…
Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm released the first volume of their collection of folktales “Kinder- und Hausmärchen” (Children’s and House Tales) in 1812. The first edition included 70 different stories, but the Brothers Grimm count eventually reached somewhere over 200.
If you’ve never read any of their original fairy tales, they are an interesting read. I took a class in college called “Twice Told Tales” and we spent about half of a semester just studying the story of Little Red Riding Hood. I was fascinated to see what details changed or were added over the centuries. And believe me when I tell you that any picture-book version you read as a kid was very watered down. (Spoiler: in the original Red is an accidental cannibal and she dies in the end.) I would only recommend reading the originals to children if you want them to have nightmares. You can access English translations of many early fairy tale compilations through the University of Pittsburgh website.
Now on to the Film!
I am a big fan of Terry Gilliam (who wrote and directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail, among other things) and he definitely does not disappoint in this, his first PG-13 movie. He actually rewrote much of the Brothers Grimm screenplay, but did not receive credit.
The story opens with a young Wilhelm Grimm comforting his mother and ailing sister. He promises that his brother Jacob will return soon after selling the family cow. Jacob brings back a handful of beans rather than the much-needed cash.
Next, we see the brothers as adults. Wilhelm is played by Matt Damon and Jacob by the late, great Heath Ledger. Fun fact: they were originally cast in opposite roles. Gilliam wanted Johnny Depp to play Jacob, but thought Depp wouldn’t be a big enough box office draw. This was before Pirates of the Caribbean came out, remember.
The city of Karlstadt is in need heroes to fight a witch that is terrorizing their town and the Grimm brothers arrive to save the day. Too bad for the townsfolk that the witch is a hoax and the brothers are scam artists. Jacob has spent his life collecting folk tales, but Wilhelm is an avid skeptic and is only out to make a buck (or Deutschmark, or whatever).
Soon, the brothers are forcibly recruited by an Italian torturer named Cavaldi (a surprisingly funny character played by Peter Stormare.) He’s employed by the French. During the Napoleonic Wars, French forces occupied Germany, and led by General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce). He tells them of a town called Marbaden and the 10 children who have disappeared. According to the peasants, a supernatural force took their children, but Delatombe believes it is another con artist like the Grimms. So, he sends them to expose the fake and help bring in an Age of Reason to the foolish bumpkins.
When they arrive in Marbaden, (accompanied by Cavaldi and a cavalcade of French soldiers) they need a guide in order to enter the foreboding forest . The only person who can help them is “the cursed one,” Angelika (who is a super bad-ass huntswoman played by Lena Headey of Game of Thrones). They call her this because her father and sisters have all gone missing. And because, let’s face it, she wears pants and hunts with a bow, and this is the beginning of the 19th century.
In order to save the missing children (and their own skins from the French) they must defeat the immortal witch/evil queen (Monica Belluci) who lives there and hope for a happily ever after.
What I Thought of the Brothers Grimm (2005)
I totally love this movie. Steampunk fans that feel that technology defines the genre will be disappointed; most of this movie takes place in small, rural villages. But the time period skirts the edge of the era on which the genre draws, and fairy tales were certainly read to children in Victorian nurseries.
The chemistry between the characters and their development is really compelling. You even end up rooting for the torturer in the end, which is no mean feat! And the sets and costumes make you feel like you’ve been transported back to the early 1800’s.
I don’t usually get nightmares from movies, but there is a scene with a horse that is terrifying, so think hard before watching it with kids under 10. It’s rated PG-13 for a reason! The crooked houses and spooky forest set the stage for this fun and sometimes downright frightening film.
Have you seen this movie, or any other fractured version of Grimms’ tales? Leave us your thoughts in the comments!