So here I am, waiting for Disney to release The Princess and the Frog, and feeling bummed. You said 2009, Disney! It’s 2009! I drank the champagne! When’s the movie coming, hmmm?
That being said, I want to take another look at the actual fairy tale, which (unknown to most) actually has two titles. The first is “The Frog King,” but the second is “Iron Heinrich.” “The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich.” That’s right. Only the first half of the tale is about the Princess and the Frog. The original tale’s second half is all about the Frog King’s servant, Heinrich.
So what’s the deal with the servant? And why do I think Disney has a chance to do something great?
First of all, here’s a recap of what actually happens in the second half (actually more like fourth, but eh) of the story (translated from the original German by me).
The Frog turns into Prince charming, who tells of how he was bewitched and turned into a Frog. He and the Princess fall asleep (ooooh). In the morning, a carriage drawn by eight white horses with eight white feathers on their heads and in golden tack comes to the palace. Driving the carriage is the young king’s servant, named “true Heinrich.” True Heinrich had been very disturbed when his King was turned into a frog, and because of this he had his heart bound with three iron bands, so that his heart would not break with sorrow. But now he had come with his carriage to take the young King back to his Kingdom. Heinrich saw them both into the carriage, lept up to the reins, and was filled with happiness. And after they had driven a little ways from the palace, the young King heart something crack behind him, as if something had broken. He turned to Heinrich and said: “Heinrich, the carriage is broken.” “No, Sire, the carriage is not broken, it is an iron band around my heart, my heart which was in such pain when it saw you turned into a Frog.” Again and once again the young King heard that cracking noise on their drive, and each time he thought that the carriage had broken, but each time it was a band around Heinrich’s heart, for he was so happy that his master was at last freed.
Ta da! That’s a different ending from what we’re used to! And it’s interesting, isn’t it? The Grimms loved that status quo, you have to admit. In fact, in fairy tales like “Eve’s Unequal Children,” they have G-d himself telling Eve how it is his will that her children be segregated into different societal ranks. And this fairy tale also drives that idea home: the reader is left not with a message of romantic love, but of societal love, of a servant’s llove for his master. A reaffirmation of the status quo.
In other places, the Grimms actually destroy that status quo, but I’ll rant about that another time. Their work is so full of interesting paradoxes! But I do think that most modern readers would agree with me: despite the Heinrich story’s “awww” factor, it isn’t exactly a desirable moral.
Disney’s new version might actually do something interesting here. On their released cast list (read this post for more), they list “Lawrence,” as a character. He is, according to Disney’s official site, Prince Naveen’s “pompous” valet.
Gasp! This could be interesting. Think about it. If Disney decides to make the servant character into a “pompous” character, they could be describing someone who aspires “above their station.” They could be creating a servant character who, in fact, has a less-than-ideal relationship with their employer. Maybe Lawrence doesn’t want to do the work. Maybe he doesn’t want to be a servant. Maybe he, at the end of the film, takes off into Jazz-Age New Orleans. It could happen!
Of course, knowing Disney, that pomposity is unlikely to be interpreted that way. More likely he’ll be portrayed as someone who should be doing his job, but isn’t. Or as a figure of fun. Either way, the movie will more than likely re-enforce the status quo; Princes are Princes and Servants are Servants.
But hey, I can dream!