Tommy Wirkola’s “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” may be the freshest take on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, but it’s nowhere near the first adaptation of the story on film, nor is it the only one out this year. In fact, there are at least four other versions with a release date of 2013, including the obvious cash-grab “Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft,” Germany’s effects-heavy “Hansel and Gretel in 3D,” the Asylum horror flick “Hansel & Gretel” and the stoner movie modernization, “Hansel and Gretel Get Baked.”
It’s also not the first adaptation from Wirkola, who wrote and directed a short student film titled “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” while still at school in Australia in 2006. And he’s reportedly been dying to make the feature-length for Hollywood ever since. Fortunately for him, studio execs were interested, even with all the “Hansel and Gretel” film incarnations we’ve seen over the past century. To give you an idea of the history, we’ve selected a number of these previous versions below.
‘Hansel Und Gretel’ (1908)
According to a listing by the British Film Institute, the German studio Fita Film may have produced the first ever adaptation of the story, even ahead of an Edison film in 1909. Running only three minutes, this 105-year-old version depicts the most basic details: a brother and sister are abandoned in the woods, they come across a witch in a gingerbread house who locks them up, they escape and throw her in the oven, and finally they make it back home with the witch’s jewelry.
Ray Harryhausen’s ‘The Story of “Hansel and Gretel”’ (1951)
Special effects legend Ray Harryhausen made a short stop-motion film of the story as one of a five-part series of fairy tales he produced in the 1950s (a sixth, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” began production in 1952 and finally finished in 2002). This ten-minute animation, which calls to mind the later stop-motion holiday specials of Rankin/Bass, is acclaimed for its model craft and its painted backdrops. Here, the witch’s treasure is a lot greater and is pointed out to the children by a white rabbit.
‘Bewitched Bunny’ (1954)
Chuck Jones directed this Looney Tunes short starring Bugs Bunny. The Warner Bros. animation star winds up saving Hansel and Gretel from being eaten by Witch Hazel. But then he replaces them as her prisoner and hopeful main course. There’s a running gag involving the pronunciation of Hansel, which maybe was funny 60 years ago?
‘Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy’ (1954)
Another stop-motion film, this adaptation of Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera was produced by RKO Radio Pictures and was the first non-Disney animated feature in more than a decade. There’s singing, obviously, with operatic comedienne Anna Russell providing the voice of the witch, as well as lending her likeness to the puppet. Some of the animators on board included future Jim Henson Muppet designers Don Sahlin (Rolf, Bert, Ernie, Grover, Cookie Monster) and Kermit Love (Big Bird, Mr. Snuffleupagus).
‘Hansel and Gretel’ (1955)
Lotte Reiniger’s silhouette animations are unique and wonderful delights. This ten-minute short was one of her Grimm adaptations produced for the BBC. This version doesn’t have the witch killed in her own oven, perhaps because Reiniger seems to have had to set the whole story outside the gingerbread house. Instead, the kids defeat her with help from a goose and a squirrel by breaking her magic stick, which results in a neat effect showing the witch disintegrating into many pieces.
Tim Burton’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’ (1982)
While still at Disney, <a href=”http://unpopped.blogspot.com/2011/12/tim-burtons-hansel-and-gretel.html”>Tim Burton was commissioned to direct this short live-action adaptation</a>, which stars an all-Japanese cast, features homages to “Godzilla” and martial arts films, and aired on the Disney Channel once on Halloween 1983. The 45-minute special was recently screened for the first time since at the Museum of Modern Art, which featured an exhibit and retrospective of the filmmaker’s work. Hopefully it will be released more publicly sometime soon.
Cannon Movie Tales: ‘Hansel and Gretel’ (1987)
Like many versions of the story, this is also one part of a series of fairy tale adaptations. Cannon Films produced this and nine others like it in Israel using major American and English actors in main parts. Here, the great David Warner (“TRON”) plays the father, Cloris Leachman is the witch and Gretel is played by Nicola Stapleton, who’d grow up to be a regular on “EastEnders.”
‘Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby’ (1999)
Matthew Bright’s second updated fairy tale (he modernized Little Red Riding Hood in ‘Freeway’), this exploitation film stars Natasha Lyonne as a bulimic teenage prostitute who joins up with a serial killer and ends up in the house of an evil cult-leading witch (Vincent Gallo) who rapes and eats children she kidnaps. As if the Grimm brothers weren’t dark enough with their version.
‘Hansel & Gretel’ (2002)
Notable Hollywood makeup effects artist Gary J. Tunnicliffe directed this all-star version featuring a young Taylor Momsen as the sister and the late Lynn Redgrave as the witch. Also appearing in a bookending sequence is Dakota Fanning, while the story within the story has real-life husband and wife Gerald McRaney and Delta Burke as Hansel and Gretel’s parents, Howie Mandel as the Sandman and the voices of Bobcat Goldthwaite, Tom Arnold and Sinbad as a troll, the Boogeyman and a raven, respectively. It was a critical disaster.
‘Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil’ (2011)
In this animated sequel, Hansel and Gretel are major characters, voiced by Bill Hader and Amy Poehler, the subjects of a rescue operation by the Happily Ever After Agency. The kids have been kidnapped by the witch (Joan Cusack) and must be saved by Little Red Riding Hood and friends. But there’s a twist to this version of the Grimm characters that makes it rather unfaithful to the original fairy tale.
‘Hansel and Gretel’ (2007)
Leave it to Korean cinema to give us probably the strangest take on the story yet. Actually, this imaginative horror film is more like a sequel to the Grimms’ fairy tale, but totally modernized as well. It proposed the idea that Hansel and Gretel (and another sibling) stayed in the gingerbread house after killing the witch and are now agelessly waiting for new parents to come along. But every time an adult arrives at the house, they’re trapped and mysteriously killed there. This one is not as hard to find as you might think. It’s streaming at Netflix and Fandor.
Filed by Christopher Campbell |