Donkey-skin is one of Charles Perrault's more disturbing fairy tales, often left out of fairy tale collections, given its subject matter - and the fact that the tale echoes both Cinderella
and parts of East of the Sun, West of the Moon
, allowing editors to justify calling it redundant. (More likely, the incest theme led to its exclusion.) As a result, the tale has rarely been filmed. Shelley Duvall, for instance, left it out of her Faerie Tale Theatre
series. A quick search on IMDb.com
lists about 40 filmed versions of Cinderella
and 19 versions of Snow White
(both lists look incomplete) and only one listing for Donkey-Skin
I last saw this film back in school in Italy, a very long ago, and returned to the States to find that no-one, but no-one, had heard of it, leading to conversations like this one:
"You know? The film with the princess and all of the blue dwarfs and the parrots?"
"Well, not all the parrots were blue. Also I think people were singing?"
I was beginning to doubt my own mind until a chance conversation at a Fort Lauderdale coffeehouse/used bookstore about blue dwarfs and parrots allowed me, at long last, to identify the film. Tracking it down proved more difficult, and I had decided that it was probably best if I just let it linger in my memory, where little blue dwarfs could dance in and out at will. Until, by complete chance, I found it again at our local library.
My memory was not exact. This pre-Avatar Peau d'ane
has a lot more blue people than I remembered (I just remembered the dwarfs), and, well, I have to say that they give you a new appreciation for the blue people in Avatar
. It's not entirely clear if the blue people are there to satisfy the vanities of the king or give the film a more fairy tale aspect, but it is clear that the makeup is very distracting, and I still can't figure out why all the dwarfs are blue. (And I just realized, in typing this, I have unconsciously shifted from my usual Tolkien-inspired spelling of dwarves or dwarrows to dwarfs which gives you an idea of just how not fantastic these blue dwarfs are.) The red people and horses who show up later are equally distracting. Also, the elephant. I had thankfully repressed the small detail that the parrots actually sing, in French.
But other elements of this are delightfully lovely and disturbing all at once. The overwrought, overly fanciful costumes that Elizabeth I would have found a little too much. (I am especially in love with the moon dress while especially in awe that the actress actually managed to walk in it.) The mists. The way the men all agree that the princess must marry her father, and the way the princess leaps on a boat to find a way out. The way the fairy godmother insists on getting dressed before helping the princess, and the completely inexplicable telephone she has in her dressing area smack dab in the middle of Roman ruins. (She also wears utterly fabulous dresses inspired by 1920s clothing.) The feather-lined coach with no coachman. Donkeyskin running through the castle where everything and everyone is frozen in place. The abundance of peacocks. The incredibly inappropriate woodland clothing that, in the manner of fairy tales, somehow manages to stay pristinely clean. Eyes and lips suddenly appearing in the middle of roses (I remembered this too, but for some reason mentally placed it with a different movie.) The mouse band. The dance with the masks. The scientists explaining that the fairies are all busy because it's the full moon. And, um, the helicopter. (Yes, there's a helicopter.)
On a deeper note, the way the princess is tempted to remain with her father. The way the women all desperately destroy, damage and break their fingers in an attempt to marry the prince. The anguish of the homeless, unemployed woman trying on the ring in her attempt to become a princess. The surprisingly disturbing undertone of the happy ending (not just because of the helicopter).
I should warn you: parts of this film move terribly slowly, as if through fairy honey, and I did find myself hitting the pause button (especially in the singing parts.) And I think we should all probably assume that the prince and Donkey-Skin are smoking pot in one particular scene. And quite a few of you will end up objecting to the helicopter. I'm not entirely sure whether or not I should recommend. I suppose it depends upon your tolerance for singing. And helicopters.
I've talked too much about the helicopter here, haven't I?