Monash University

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Once upon a time? Re-designing the traditional tale: exploring the boundaries and opportunities of contemporary folk tale adaptations in film and associated media

posted on 2017-02-08, 05:19 authored by Jordan, Tamara
The creative outcome of this research project is an animated film called Secrets of a Tale. With hundreds of hand-drawn figures and sets, music and spoken narrative, the imagery is set into motion to an ancient story, partly derived from the famous Snow White narrative, best known through the collection of the Brothers Grimm and the animated film version of Walt Disney. The project of creative adaptation has been conceived in a critical context, where the various semantic possibilities of the story grew in my mind through a historical and philosophical study of the received material. This exegesis is an attempt to provide the background of fact, conjecture, and artistic and ideological implications that informed the audio-visual work. In modern society most people experience folk and fairy tales through new media formats, rather than the traditional form of verbal story telling. The tales have been shifted from the oral tradition, to fixed literary forms and are now transmitted via mass media reproductions such as film and associated media. The lucrative marketability of folk and fairy tale adaptations in the popular realm of film and associated media has resulted in traditional tales having been largely sanitized and altered into trivial sweet romances and light entertainment, to satisfy the consumer needs of the booming children’s entertainment industry. Duplicating the already popular stories ensures that film companies capture the interest of a broad audience; and it could appear to any researcher with a feeling for the integrity of the original material that the contemporary focus lies on gaining maximum profit through easy accessible entertainment rather than revealing the meaningful insights of the traditional text or expressing important cultural impulses. The lack of creative diversity in the realm of filmic and animated interpretations of folk literature is evident: beyond the hegemony of the ruling “Disney formula” it is difficult to find alternatives in the children’s entertainment industry, which demonstrate in content and visual design opposing and innovative qualities. The uncritical duplication of these popular models is concerning, as they may repeat and perpetuate unwanted values such as the promotion of old-fashioned ideologies, stereotypes and questionable portrayal of gender roles. As a critical response and as a counterweight to the dominating ideologies and aesthetics of animated mainstream folk tale adaptations, I created a textual and visual folk tale revision, which tries to question and to challenge the traditional popular story upon which it reflects, and which presents a unique and distinctive visual interpretation through the interdisciplinary combination of film making practice and the visual arts. This exegesis attempts to document how the exploration of the multifaceted insights of socio-cultural, historical and psychological layers behind the tale and the investigation of its lyrical and spiritual dimensions can lead to new discoveries and can function as starting points to create innovative adaptations with the ability to engage old and young alike. To blend the critical approach with the magical “fairy tale spirit” I constructed in a postmodern sense a reflexive narrative structure where the quest of the heroine is to find the tale; and therefore the story becomes its own metastory. Alongside this, the filmic language is purposefully hand-drawn and resists the slickness of commercial fantasy. Instead of copying and recycling popular concepts and outdated values in a new design package, I responded through my studio research work to broader philosophical needs identified through the course of my theoretical research. Critics of various scholarly fields, for instance, indicated the negligence of verbal storytelling in our days, which guided me to emphasize the narration in my adaptation; as a consequence I combined narrative, music and animated images to create on film a narrated “fairy tale picture book” in motion. I adapted my textual revision into the visual language of drawings and finally captured it on film. Each medium has its own specific language, which I used to convey a distinctive artistic message. Instead of plainly depicting a “pseudo reality”, I focused on the ability of the media of drawing, traditional “cut out” animation and music, to visualize the coded symbolical language inherent in folk and fairy tales and to express internal emotions, surreal implications and poetic dimensions. The pure drawing and handmade imagery keeps it individual and idiosyncratic in character and stands in contrast to the uniform, slick and clean-cut style of mainstream animation. I hope my work demonstrates that instead of using folk literature solely as vehicle for easy entertainment for a mass audience, the subversive potential of folk narratives can be reused in a positive way, urging the audience to think about the values behind the text in relation to current issues. I hope that the project provides avenues for how we might create meaningful work in the field by means of challenging but sympathetic innovations in content and visual design, as a sincere contribution to culture.


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Principal supervisor

Robert Nelson

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture

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