A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hansel and Gretel is not the 2013 R-rated theatrical release Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Many parts of this live-action fairy tale may be frightening for very young or sensitive kids. The wicked witch is portrayed with blackened teeth and fingernails, warts on her face, wild white hair, and a pointed chin. She's sometimes shot in extreme close-up, with intense eyes glaring into the camera, wild hair flowing, bared teeth, and a cackling laugh. A duck is dropped into a cauldron of boiling water and then into a fiery oven. In the climactic scene, the wicked witch is sent into the boiling pot, then into the oven, and finally is blown up. Other scenes take place in a dark forest and are infused with sounds of ghostly laughter, pleading voices, and pitiful shrieks. Hansel and Gretel's mother is distraught and angry early in the film and berates her children and husband continually.
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What's the story?
Based on a story from The Brothers Grimm with some music from the Engelbert Humperdinck opera of the same name, HANSEL AND GRETEL is another in the low-budget series of Cannon Fairy Tales -- live action, star-driven musical films from the late 1980s. Hansel and Gretel (Hugh Pollard and Nicola Stapleton) are the children of a poor woodcutter (David Warner) and his wife (Emily Richard). As punishment for bad behavior, their mother orders them to pick berries for dinner. They wander into a forbidden part of a nearby forest -- from which other children have disappeared -- and get lost. While their distraught father searches frantically for them, they find themselves in the domain of Griselda (Cloris Leachman), a grandmotherly type who welcomes them into her enticing gingerbread house with open arms and trays of delicious sweets. But she soon divulges her true identity: Griselda is an evil witch intent upon fattening up Hansel, then eating him. Gretel will work as her servant until she, too, becomes a tasty meal. The tension builds as the woodcutter searches and the terrified kids try to delay their fate.
Is it any good?
HANSEL AND GRETEL could actually be enjoyable and provide a good scare for not-so-sensitive kids who care little for production quality. Among a series of films noted for shoddy production values -- flimsy sets (some of which show up in several of the movies), a mostly amateur cast (also repeat performers), mediocre original songs, and outrageously inept special effects -- this movie stands out, if only because it's smaller in scope and cast, thus less likely to reveal the tackiness of the effort.
Leachman is the witchiest of scary witches, obviously having a wonderful time slavering over the prospect of eating the children. The two young actors are passable, and Warner worries with the best of them. Still, there are some unintentional laughs: a poor duck's (as well as the witch's) emergence from a boiling cauldron is particularly ludicrous, as is the moment when the tasty house erupts in a river of oozing red and green goo.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what makes a film scary. Are you more or less frightened by events in animated films or live-action films? What tools did the filmmakers use to make Griselda so terrifying?
Hansel and Gretel's mother is angry because her family is poor and hungry, so she treats her children thoughtlessly. How can people handle anger and frustration more constructively?
There are many versions of this fairy tale. It might be fun to read the original Grimm's fairy tale. What did the filmmakers change, and why?
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