The Legacy of Swan Lake

Today's fairy tale breakdown is one that you might not expect. "Swan Lake" was a ballet composed by Tchaikovsky in 1875. The ballet's popularity in recent years inspired several movies, including The Swan PrincessBlack Swan, and one of the first Barbie movies. Perhaps it was Tchaikovsky's haunting score that made the story so irresistible or perhaps it was the classic princess elements, such as the magical transformation, like in "Cinderella" or the tragic betrayal of true love, like in "The Little Mermaid." Whatever it is, the ballet has become a favorite among princess fans for over a century.

Little is known about origins of the story. Two popular theories are the Russian fable, "The White Duck," and the German fairy tale, "The Stolen Veil." These only vaguely resemble the tale of Princess Odette, though. If any bird that turns into a princess inspired "Swan Lake," you can just as easily argue that the anime Princess Tutu was inspired by it, especially considering the ballerina influence. Regardless, "Swan Lake" tells a captivating story about a princess put under a curse by the evil sorcerer, Rothbart, and only her true love can save her. In the ballet, Rothbart's daughter, Odile, transforms into a double of Odette to trick the prince into making a vow to the wrong woman, causing her downfall. The psychological trauma of having an evil twin inspired director Darren Aronofsky to create the psychological thriller, Black Swan in 2010, in which Natalie Portman plays a ballerina who struggles to capture the essence of both Odette and Odile.

The obvious fairy tale elements of the story make it a natural choice for an animated children's movie. In 1994, Richard Rich released The Swan Princess under Nest Family Entertainment. Prior to this film, Rich's only experience with the company was on animated children's biblical videos. A princess movie with no underlying religious message was therefore a bit of an odd choice unless he was to capitalize off Disney, a theory strongly held by the Nostalgia Critic in his review. Still, the movie did have its charms, featuring some memorable songs, fun montages, and goofy sidekicks. Jean-Bob, Odette's froggy friend, made constant references to another fairy tale, "The Frog Prince," which I will be exploring tomorrow. A few notable changes that The Swan Princess made from the ballet include a memorable sequence of Odette and Derek growing up together and turning Odile's character into a nameless old hag who followed Rothbart around for seemingly no reason. For some reason, the names "Odette" and "Rothbart" remain constant among all versions of the story, but the prince's name, "Siegfried" was always changed. I guess nobody likes the name "Siegfried."

Though The Swan Princess could hold its own as a decent stand-alone fairy tale classic, Nest decided to take advantage of its success and did something that made Disney's "cheapquels" look like Oscar-winning masterpieces. They turned The Swan Princess into a franchise of second-rate direct-to-DVD supplements. Don't get me wrong--The two hand-drawn sequels they released in '90s, Escape from Castle Mountain and The Mystery of the Enchanted Kingdom were not the worst ever as far as direct-to-video sequels go. If they had stopped there and called it a trilogy, their act of betrayal would have been forgivable. After all, children's biblical videos can only sell so much.

Nope, it gets worse. In 2012, Richard Rich decided to ruin all of our childhoods by releasing the barely watchable CGI Swan Princess Christmas movie, featuring some of the worst animation I have ever seen in my life. He then proceeded to rub salt in the wound by continuing to release one after another sequel each year, veering ever further from the lovely tale of "Swan Lake." The most recent of these only came out a few months ago, and the worst part is that there may still be more to come. Clearly, greed has blinded Rich. He is now entirely beyond help. I suppose I should be grateful that he's keeping the franchise alive, but no one ever asked to see Odette and Derek adopt a child twenty years after the movie and watch her go on boring and irrelevant adventures. It is a terrible shame Tchaikovsky's libretto was cheapened in such a way, but I digress.

The other adaptation was released in 2003 and aptly named Barbie of Swan Lake. It borrows elements from the 1877 libretto by giving Odette (played by Barbie, of course), a magical crown that protects her from Rothbart's enchantments. The Barbie version also paid a lot more tribute to its source material by featuring Tchaikovsky's original score and showing tons of ballet sequences throughout the course of the movie, and I do mean tons. The sequences were so drawn out that they detracted from the story at times. They also made Odette a peasant from the village instead of a princess, but she still fell in love with a prince, named Daniel (not Siegfried), who. It kept the character of Odile as Rothbart's daughter in tact, which made more logical sense and told the story better than having a random old hag around all the time. It is also worth mentioning that the 2013 Barbie movie, The Pink Shoes, contained an alternate version of Odette. It was about a magical pair of ballet shoes that brought famous ballets to life when Barbie danced in them, including "Swan Lake" and "Giselle," who the 2006 heroine of Disney's Enchanted was named after.

"Swan Lake" is no different than any other fairy tale. The story was told and retold for many years and in many different forms. Whether it's on stage, where many other princesses have found their home, or on screen, Odette's transformation is breathtaking to behold. Just please, for the love of everything good and magical in the world, stop making these awful sequels. I'm begging you.


Cupcakedoll said…
My favorite version of Swan Lake is The Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey. It has a bit of rape-related problematic, but the rest of the book is a solid easy read, one of Lackey's best.

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