Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Twelve Dancing Princesses in Film

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My last pick of fairy tales to adapt is the “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, a German fairy tale originally published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. The story goes something like this:

Every morning, the king finds his daughter’s shoes worn completely through. Their father promises his land and daughter of suitor’s choice if the suitor can figure out what is happening. The King executes each one that fails (ouch), until an old soldier arrives to the castle. With help from an enchanted cloak, he finds out that the princesses have been dancing every night. His journey involves three groves of trees with silver, gold, and diamond leaves, which he presents as proof. He marries the eldest sister, which I appreciate as this means he is not that specific kind of creep. The others are put under a curse for as many nights as they danced with the other princes.

Some variations of this tale treat the suitors worse, while others are kinder to them. Most of the time the suitors just disappear. It is terrible that the princesses drugged their suitors knowing their fate for failing. Still, I have always enjoyed this story in all of its variations, malicious princesses or otherwise. It is one of many fairy tales that yet to be adapted to film. The Faerie Tale Theatre television series, which starred many famous actors before their heyday, tells the story but with six princesses. Others tell the story but with three sisters.

The lesser number makes sense considering a two-hour movie is not long enough to give that many characters (not including the necessary supporting cast) enough attention. Telling the story with six princesses keeps the essence of the story but allows for more time spent on each character. Of course, the adaptations that do exist increase the level of romance between the soldier/suitor and eldest princess. Any film adaptation by Disney or, a different studio, would want to make that a focal point.

A movie like this requires some action to support the intrigue. The soldier has to be inventive to get the silver, gold, and diamond leaves as proof. Maybe each grove has a protector that the soldier has to fight and as he and the oldest sister get to know each other, she insinuates that the sisters are actually under the curse.

So the eldest sister and soldier character work together to save the sisters from both the curse and their father’s wrath. Finally the film ends happily ever after with the two engaged.

The setting should be anywhere but Europe. 1920s flapper dancers in an underground speakeasy whose father espouses the values of prohibition could be one of many versions. The curse is actually a threat by the speakeasy’s owner against the sisters. They are forced to dance as entertainment and the soldier helps stop the speakeasy owner.

Or Punjabi princesses of a Maharaja who dance to a dhol with men of all castes who want to be free from the requirements of ruling. Fairy tales provide the bare bones for quite literally endless possibilities of adaptations especially considering how many types of dance there are. I think this fairy tale’s film adaptation (beyond Barbie) has been a long time coming and would prove popular.

Image courtesy of The Cannon Theatre

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