Guillermo del Toro (of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy fame) recently did an interview about his new movie Rise of the Guardians, and he had some interesting things to say about fairy tales and darkness in children's stories, both favorite topics here on Dark Forest!
What's the biggest mistake people make in telling stories about children, or for children?
Well, I think that one of the things is to actually try and create a sense of darkness in the tale. A lot of people just make this sanitized super happy-go-lucky, "bright sunshine and clouds" type of childhood movies. And you really need an element of the dark in it. In the case of Kung Fu Panda 2, we really came up with a psychotic, sociopathic villain. In the case of [Rise of the] Guardians, we have Pitch, which is an incredibly sophisticated and articulate guy that tries to control your fear. In the case of Puss in Boots, we had a bad guy who was Humpty, who was capable of changing and capable of doing a good action at the end. He was incredibly neurotic.
And I think that people don't acknowledge that kids have all these sides. Kids are neurotic, kids deal with fear, kids are confronted by really hostile impulses from the adults around them and the other kids, and you know, movies should acknowledge all this and create these fables that help them deal with those things....
What's the difference between a monster movie and a dark fairy tale?
It's a very, very, very thin difference. I think that horror stories come from fairy tales, in a way. They share a lot of similarities. I think the difference is tonal. You know, the fairy tale contains a lot more elements of magic and whimsy and the the horror story contains a lot more, sort of, almost existential feelings — sort of dread, and ultimately they are similar melodies, played at a very different key.
Is there a limit to how dark a movie for kids can get? And do you think animated films are getting closer to classic children's books, and less like cartoons?
One of the master of children's fiction is one of the guys who acknowledged fully the darkness of the world — that is, Roald Dahl. He did really brutal passages in The BFG. There's really very, very creepy and violent [stuff] in The Witches. And so on, and so forth. He really scared a lot of [kids] from that side. He is the reason why... when the line is crossed, and then it doesn't function as a children's story any more — it can become an adult fairytale. It can become a fairytale that adults can enjoy. And I think there are some of those, particularly in the Eastern cultures. Like 1001 Nights — a lot of those stories are very harrowing. And people forget that a lot of the tales that the Grimm Brothers collected, they were actually meant to be told to adults. People think, "Oh, they were children's stories" — [but] not in the beginning. They were meant to be told to adults, to entertain them. But yes, to answer your question: It can get too dark.
That was one of the challenges with [Rise of the] Guardians. We wanted to keep that balance at all times. It would still be fun, it would still be a ride.
You can read the rest of the interview here at Io9. I must admit, I wasn't that excited for this movie, but it seems to be playing around with some fun ideas!