Sunday, August 18, 2013
The Polar Bear King
Welcome back followers and I am pretty sure most of you are female as I continue my lighter side of looking at films that I love but if you so happen to be a man I appreciate you sticking it out with me as I talk about today's film. Now I have tackled only one film so far based on a fairy tale and let's admit it was a little heavy-handed and not exactly kid-friendly (if you missed it you can check out my blog post on Snow White: A Tale Of Terror) but today's movie I am going to discuss is quite suitable for children...at least in my opinion. First of all you may ask is why does a 30 year old woman want to talk about fairy tales in the first place? Answer: I enjoy fairy tales because you can do so much with them. Fairy tales come from cultures all over the world and can be told in so many ways such as poetry, music, books, films, plays, ballets, art and other forms of media.
Let's face it we all grew up hearing them at bedtime, during school and most of us grew up watching Disney films based on fairy tales and as we get older we become parents and tell them to our children. For me personally as I have gotten older I have discovered that there are so many obscure fairy tales we never got to discover as children and The Polar Bear King is based on one of those. The plot of this little known movie is actually a mash up of two Norwegian fairy tales, East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon and the almost similar White Bear King Valemon, but also based on Greek mythology and a Scandinavian version basically of the French fairy tale Beauty And The Beast. A lot to take in I know so why don't I just explain the way I always do except since we are dealing with a fairy tale it goes a little more like this...
Once Upon A Plot...
In a kingdom where it is winter all year round, an old king has three daughters and his youngest is of course the prettiest and kindest mostly because her oldest sister is the meanest and her middle sister is well the middle child isn't she? Anyway, the youngest daughter is the heroine of our tale and she has been having dreams about a land where flowers grow and seeing the figure of a handsome prince moving through the trees...well we are meant to believe he is handsome because the princess can never really see the prince's face (this is a major plot point so hold onto your spoilers!). Fortunately for us, we get to see that the prince is indeed handsome since the place our winter princess is dreaming of is quite real: a land of constant summer where the king has died and now his son, Valemon, is its ruler. On the day of his father's death and his crowning as king, a witch who has been lusting after him offers Valemon the chance to rule by her side and when he refuses, she turns him into a polar bear and some what less than stellar 1990s puppetry and animatronics ensue!
Now the Polar Bear King (hence our title) must stay this way for seven years (wow that witch really must have been ticked off huh?) and in that span also find a wife who can look past the bear and love the man within. So naturally the princess finds our bear king and with one look can tell that this is the man she has been dreaming of and accepts from it a golden chain (given to the king by his mother just before he was turned into a bear) that pretty much works as a wedding ring. So leaving her winter wonderland behind, the princess travels to the bear king's kingdom and finds out that at night her husband can come to her as a man but she can never see his face. So whether you find it creepy or romantic, King Valemon and the princess have royal relations at night and though she never sees his face, she bears his royal heirs but every time the witch comes to steal them only for the newborn babies to be spirited away by the king's mother using her more kindly magic.
Depressed over constantly losing her children, Valemon tells his bride to visit with her family after she receives a gift of enchanted snow (go with me here it's a fairy tale...) from her father which seems to give her strength. So the princess goes home and of course her sisters give her grief over being married to a bear and not seeing the face of the man who has fathered her children when he is no longer a wild animal. The oldest daughter gives her little sister a rather impressive lighter for an enchanted Scandinavian fairy tale land and tells her to finally discover whether she has been hooking up with a troll even though it's clear from what we saw of the babies that they were perfectly human. Curiosity of course wins out and the princess soon discovers that disobeying her promise to Valemon has now put him in an even worse situation than being a bear for seven years and now she must do whatever it takes to free her husband from the evil witch...
That is as much of the plot as I can tell you without spoiling the whole film but since we are all intelligent people here you can pretty much come to the conclusion that there will be a happily ever after. The middle part of the story as to what the princess must do to save King Valemon from the witch is pretty much the only part that I will not tell you because the fairy tales of which The Polar Bear King are based have different plots concerning our heroine's journey and the way in which the ending of the tale concludes are just as different. I don't expect most of you to watch The Polar Bear King to try and find out unless you have kids or you are just curious but that doesn't mean you also can't get on the Internet or even go to the library or even find a bookseller to find out what happens. If I have done anything it's at least sparked your interest in reading up on obscure fairy tales or even in reading an actual book and that makes me proud because reading is actual quite fun ya know?
Back to The Polar Bear King as a film, if you aren't that into fairy tales you can at least sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the movie. I'm not much of an outdoor person and certainly not a winter outdoor person but I do like to look at snow when its fresh and white before being trampled over and seeing how beautiful Norway looks in this film, I don't think I would mind it as much. One thing that might throw you off if you do watch The Polar Bear King is that the dialogue is completely dubbed over by American voices I believe if not by the actors themselves speaking English. Most of the actors in the film are Norwegian, Swedish, German or even combinations of the three so for American audiences of children to understand the story you could have it narrated completely (half of the story is actually narrated) but it's always nice to have fairy tales acted out.
Since I discovered this movie when I was about out of elementary school going into middle school, I don't mind the dubbing so much but to find a non-English version with English subtitles might be a nice find and bring out the true beauty of the tale. As an adult, I still love The Polar Bear King for the story and the cinematography but the witch and the "polar bear" are the only aspects that may make me a tad embarrassed. The actress who plays the witch, Anna-Lotta Larsson, seems to be having a ball but because of the dubbing I don't know if it's really her voice spouting out those over-the-top lines of dialogue. Sometimes translating one language to another isn't easy so I can't tell if it's the Swedish-born Larsson speaking her lines in English making the translation sound so cheesy or if the English speaking actress dubbing over her lines is just over-acting because she's the villain.
The polar bear puppet which ironically was created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop may look okay to a child's eye but now as an adult I can tell how fake it looks with no offense to all things Henson I grew up with. Also when the "bear" speaks it can throw you off a little because it does have a gruff voice but again because of dubbing it might not be that bad in the original. The rest of the cast and their dubbed over performances are not as jarring to me and I actually think they translate well before I even knew this film was dubbed I always assumed they did sound that way. Actor Jack Fjeldstad who plays the princess' father was actually a well-celebrated and respected Norwegian actor and the actress who plays the heroine, Maria Bonnevie, is a Swedish theatrical actress. Bonnevie was only 18 when she made her movie debut in The Polar Bear King and she does look the part of a Nordic princess but not just a pretty face either in showing the strength behind her blonde locks as well.
The last character of note of course is King Valemon and the actor who plays him Tobias Hoesl, a German actor. I mention them both because well I feel sorry that we don't get to see more out of Tobias because well I admit he is quite handsome and sadly, that's all I can say about him. Most of the movie his face is shrouded in shadow because that's just how the story goes as well as being that his character is a bear most of the time. Since the film is dubbed, I can't judge Hoesl's vocal performance either but I seriously want to cling to the fact that maybe he did dub his own voice in English because the voice of King Valemon when he is human is perfect to a romantic like me.
So is The Polar Bear King an Oscar caliber high fantasy film? No but it is a good film to watch with your family because the story is simple to follow. It is beautifully filmed and the costumes are nice. It may not be appropriate for really young children and at times the acting may be over the top but you can blame it on bad dubbing or the story being lost in translation due to trying to decipher the script to English-speaking audiences. In my own personal opinion, The Polar Bear King gets high marks for taking on a less known fairy tale with a strong female hero and having her save the prince or in this case king for a change. In short do I feel silly for enjoying this movie and fairy tales in general? Answer: No not at all and maybe that is the real reason I love fairy tales because of the romance and fantasy because it appeals to me on a level that just refuses to grow up and throw away those rose-tinted glasses of childhood and The Polar Bear King is no exception.
NEXT TIME: Sticking with the fairy tale theme but going in a whole other direction a more musical one if you will involving The Slipper And The Rose