Don’t Eat the Candy
Fairy tales employ recurring motifs and plot devices for a reason: They work. In fact they work so well that a scholarly index of tale types was compiled by folklorist Antti Aarne more than a century ago. But the same successful archetypes don’t translate so easily to Hollywood cinema. Oh no. Here in America we’ve got our own formula, and the first rule is: There must be bloodshed.
So this new film version is not the Hansel and Gretel you’re familiar with. The principle reason they’re in the forest (which the OG Hansel and Gretel know: Mommy and Daddy can’t afford to feed them anymore) is nonexistent in the re-imagined, MTV version of the Germans Grimm. Though Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters purportedly picks up where dear Jacob and Wilhelm left off, the cute little ones never reunite with their father. Instead they travel far and wide seeking retribution against every witch alive.
“It” boy Jeremy Renner stars as the strapping Hansel, who does most of the gun-wielding, though without passion. Along with diabetes and apparent superhuman strength (he knocks down trees with such ease in the film), he’s picked up a foul mouth and a mission to save abducted children. His sister, played by a Brit (Gemma Arterton using an American accent), gets much more physical. And I don’t just mean she’s walking around in tight leather pants with cleavage gracefully displayed. I mean she’s also a head-butting, face-biting bitch who has a job to do and will destroy anyone in her way. I mean, what else are orphans for?
Our story takes place in a small town at an indeterminable time (conflicting language usage and accents, dress and weaponry may or may not be anachronistic), years after Hansel and Gretel burn their first witch and escape the candy cottage. A large number of children have gone missing and the Sheriff, a forceful little man fiercely played by Peter Stormare (who also had a role in 2005’s The Brothers Grimm), has been unable to capture the witch responsible. The mayor hires the siblings to bring justice to their community, despite the Sheriff’s protests. When Gretel discovers a plot involving a horde of witches, she enlists a convenient array of helper characters (some formulas never change) and joins Hansel in employing some state-of-the-art witch-tracking. Mission: Destroy them all before the Feast of the Blood Moon.
With gruesome dismemberment, evisceration and decapitation (I can’t imagine watching the 3-D version), no wonder this film is rated R. But if you can handle gore, plot holes and inconsistencies, this is your action flick of the week. It’s so clearly made to entertain. And it does–there are no dull moments–just not in any novel way. Which left me wondering: Is this film necessary?
The original Grimm tale is important, if scary, teaching us that even if our parents selfishly abandon us and a witch tries to roast us, deception and quick thinking can save our asses from the fire. It’s still a good message: Never get into an oven, and never give up. These days, film studios take it even further, so that instead of living happily ever after, violence is the happily-ever-after. Because heroes are never complacent and heroes must kill.
Maybe the generations of children who grew up with the original H&G need to know heroes are not just one-hit wonders, but morally upright characters who will continue to fight rather than become couch potatoes, or worse, suffer from PTSD. Meh. I liked it better as a lesson to never take candy from strangers.