The Archivist #141: Escaping Reality Through THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM

“Once upon a time, there were two brothers…”

The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory-pressed Blu-ray discs. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!

It seems off to write a piece about a movie whose vibrancy and whimsical nature was just made for children at a time when so many of them — a select group of survivors of violence in particular — have been forced to leave childhood behind. Watching The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, I found myself not only taken by the mastery of co-directors Henry Levin and George Pal, but was also reminded of the sense of wonder that washed over me as a child discovering the power of movies. It’s films like this one that provide such a vital foundation for young minds. Although seen as escapist entertainment by parents, it’s precisely through movies that children’s imaginations take flight and their sense of humanity begins to form.

Even watching the movie as an adult, I was able to fully surrender to the magic of the tale, the bombastic energy with which the movie’s various stories were told, and the sense of possibility imparted throughout. As I said before, it felt odd being able to lose myself in the magic of the film given what happened earlier last week (Austin is only 3 hours from Uvalde after all), but I eventually let myself get lost in the colorful images and the sense of playfulness that bounced off the screen. The joyous feeling of letting this fairy tale world take over was not only therapeutic but possessed a value that’s just impossible to describe. It remains the kind of ethereal sensation that every child deserves to experience.

In 1962’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, the titular duo Wilhelm (Laurence Harvey) and Jacob (Karlheinz Bohm) are tasked with writing the family history of a local Duke (Oskar Homolka). While Jacob makes progress, his brother Wilhelm is more concerned with a series of fanciful stories he feels compelled to write down, including one featuring a dancing princess (Yvette Mimeaux), another with a loyal dragon-slaying servant, (Buddy Hackett), and yet another with a man the size of a thumb (Russ Tamblyn).

You can’t speak about a film like The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm without commenting on its remarkable technical features. Filmed at the height of the CinemaScope era, the camera’s panoramic capture of each scene is the best example of that film technology, as it places the already colorful, poppy movie onto an even bigger canvas. The cinematography is a dream, while the score is grand and the choreography is as sweeping as you’d expect for a production of this scale. The biggest highlight, however, comes in the form of the movie’s second tale, “The Cobbler and the Elves,” in which a number of puppets carved by a local cobbler (also played by Harvey) come to life for a spectacular stop-motion sequence from Pal that delights even all these years later.

As was the case with productions of this magnitude in the epic movie era, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm is loaded with a roster of stars that range far across the film spectrum. Harvey and Bohm are so believable as brothers, sharing a winning chemistry with each other as well as with Claire Bloom and Barbara Eden, who are both luminous as the women in their lives. Terry-Thomas as a cowardly knight and Hackett make for a hoot of a team, while Tamblyn and Mimeaux easily sweep the audience away.

It should surprise no one that the three stories told throughout the film are all variations of ones they’ve been told before, as most fairy tales tend to be. Apart from the framing device (which, incidentally, is practically a film unto itself), each vignette is an age-old classic: familiar favorites brought back to life with such life and heart that they all feel new again. Each story has plenty of the aforementioned wonder, humor, and visual panache that makes every segment feel as if the audience is hearing these fables for the first time. The romance of “The Dancing Princess,” the escapism of “The Cobbler and the Elves,” and the mixture of hilarity and morality in “The Singing Bone” are all re-envisioned with a level of imagination which shows that although we’ve heard these stories before, their power and beauty remains timeless.

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive.

Previous post CRIMES OF THE FUTURE, Meet the New Flesh, Same as the Old (New) Flesh
Next post Please Refuse this BENEDICTION