The opening scene of the movie describes it best: "Once upon a time there lived in Denmark a great storyteller named Hans Christian Andersen. This is not the story of his life, but a fairy tale about the great spinner of fairy tales."
A completely fabricated biography of the famous Danish fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen featuring several of his stories and a ballet performance of "The Little Mermaid". Written by
Col Needham <email@example.com>
In order to cover the necessary camera tricks, and to add "magic" to the Little Mermaid ballet, it was decided that, rather than presenting it as an actual ballet, they would have Hans imagine how it would look. This allowed them to do things on the screen which would be impossible on the stage. See more »
In the 'Thumbelina' scene where Hans licks his right thumb and presses it against is left thumb to make a 'playmate' for Thumbelina, the faces are not mirror opposites. In fact, the 'new playmate' has a nose that Thumbelina lacks. See more »
Opening credits: "Once upon a time there lived in Denmark a great storyteller named Hans Christian Andersen. This is not the story of his life, but a fairy tale about this great spinner of fairy tales." See more »
A sugary children's movie? -actually, it's rather daring
Every single biopic of a creative artist tells the same story, whether it's true or not: the Philistine World, or some part thereof, rejects the artist, and fails to see his greatness; but later on, perhaps during his lifetime, perhaps not, it sees the error of its ways. That happens here. Hans Christian Andersen is a village cobbler whose compulsive inventiveness is little thought of until he makes good in Copenhagen, after which...
But there's much more going on.
There's no doubt that Andersen was a great artist, in some sense. `The Ugly Duckling' and `The Emperor's New Clothes' are two of the greatest short stories - fables, folktales - all of these - ever composed. But he had his limitations. There were many kinds of stories he just couldn't write. His fertile talent for anthropomorphising was often a millstone. In many respects he seems to have been a childish and naive man. But get this: all of these limitations make it onto the screen. Both the story and Danny Kaye's performance (a great performance) make Andersen into a human being who is NOT the greatest storyteller since Shakespeare, but who can be admired for what he is.
The main story isn't the `unrecognised genius' bit: it's a story of unrequited love. While in Copenhagen Andersen spends most of his time banging his head against the wall over an unattainable ballerina, whose interest in him is, as they say, purely professional. He manages to be quite cruel to a close friend in the process, right up to the point where it's unclear that a reconciliation is possible. (Indeed, it's unclear whether or not one occurs.) When he realises what a fool he's been he just trudges back, defeated, to his village. And it's here we have the obligatory scene where the villagers realise how great he was after all, mainly by singing the highly memorable refrains of the movie's songs, one after the other. Well, the film needed some ending. I'm inclined to forgive this one.
There's also a lengthy Little Mermaid ballet - seven minutes long? more? - danced in its entirety. (We see a LOT of the ballerina's craft in Copenhagen.) This sort of thing wasn't too unusual in the 1950s but it's a genuine gamble in context - and one that I think pays off. By the time the ballet appears the cheery story of an eccentric village storyteller had become surprisingly dark. Vidor, it seems, would rather risk having people leave the cinema than insult those who remain. Good for him. I can't claim that this film works in every respect, and perhaps you won't like it, but I'm sure you won't feel cheated by it.
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