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Damsels in Distress Are a Thing of the Past

  • Penelope Poulou

Recent movies are reinventing the fairy tale, showing young princesses who are strong and emancipated, rather than the traditional damsel in distress.

In the animated film "Brave," Merida, a Scottish princess, defies tradition and rejects marriage, while two recent movie versions of Snow White present the fair maiden either as cunning or battle ready.

In 1937, Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" captured the imagination of children the world over.

The princess, from Grimm's fairy tales, was presented as fragile and helpless, waiting for her prince to rescue her from the wicked stepmother.

But that's not the case in recent movie fairy tales. "Brave," the newest one in theaters, takes us to Scotland and Merida, a princess who rejects marriage and shows up the men in archery.

Even Snow White gets a remake in two recent films.

In "Mirror Mirror," the lighter twist on the story, Snow White is feisty and smart.

She still ends up in the prince's arms. But she also outsmarts the queen and wins the kingdom.

The second version, "Snow White and the Huntsman," is more ominous. The wicked stepmother is a dark soul.

Not only does Snow White battle for her kingdom, she also saves her man.

These films and others like them are sparking the appetite of young children for fairy tales, says Wendy Tucker, a librarian at a Washington-area elementary school.

"When the movies come out, they want the book, which is great for me," says Tucker. "I try to encourage them to read the book before the movie, and often times they've seen the movie and I tell them there is a book. They get excited."

While going for the newer takes, kids still appreciate the classic tales.

"They give us a different look of different time periods and how people acted back then," says one young student at the library. "Also they include magic and fantasy."

"Sometimes I like the calm elegance of the old ones," says another. "But sometimes I sort of feel like I need a big production to be in front of me."

Once upon a time, according to Tucker, parents used to read these stories to their children to teach them lessons.

"They wanted to emphasize how dark something was in order to make the beauty shine," she says. "And a lot of the fairy tales and fables were told to children before television [and] radio was invented, as a way for parents to control and teach good versus evil."

The stories still teach today, but the lessons have been modernized.