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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Girl Without Hands is an animated retelling of a dark, disturbing Brothers Grimm tale: the story of a poor miller who makes a deal with the devil, unknowingly including his own daughter in the exchange. The French-language (with English subtitles) drama doesn't shy away from depicting mature subjects (sex, war, childbirth), although none of it is overly graphic or gratuitous. On the violence front, a woman is killed by a pack of dogs/wolves, a man chops off his daughter's hands, swords draw blood during battle, and more. And in the sex department, a man goes underneath his wife's skirt on their wedding night; she begins to moan. Nonsexual nudity takes place in bathing and birth scenes. As families well-versed in foreign animated movies may already know, many movies in this category are most appropriate for middle schoolers and up. Because of the hand-drawn animation, spare dialogue, and tough subject matter, this critically acclaimed film is too heavy for the Frozen/Finding Dory crowd. But it has much to offer the right audience: The main character demonstrates courage and perseverance, and there's a clear message about familial love mattering more than material wealth.
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What's the story?
Based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, THE GIRL WITHOUT HANDS follows the story of a poor miller (voiced by Olivier Broche) approached by a poor stranger (Philippe Laudenbach) for some bread and water. When the farmer says he has neither, the mysterious man makes him an ominous offer: riches in exchange for what stands in his field. Thinking that just means his fruit trees, the miller agrees. And by the time he returns home, gold flows freely on his property. But all is not well, the miller's wife explains: Their daughter (Anaïs Demoustier) was in the tree when the stranger made his offer. When the stranger, who is actually the devil, returns for the daughter, he deems her too "clean," too pure to take at the moment. He insists she be allowed to get dirty. The stranger returns later, but the now foul-smelling daughter cries her pure tears on her hands. Rather than punish the miller, the stranger commands him to chop off her hands, and the father reluctantly obeys. Handless, the daughter cries on her stumps, leaving the devilish man frustrated with her purity. He promises the miller and the girl that he'll get his revenge. The daughter leaves her father behind and eventually encounters a lonely prince, whom she marries. But the devil hasn't forgotten his promise and attempts to sabotage her life as a wife and mother.
Is it any good?
French director Sébastien Laudenbach's debut feature film is a haunting Brothers Grimm adaptation with unforgettable visual style and a powerful message about greed, hope, and love. The distinctive animation is vibrantly colored, with hand-drawn characters and set pieces that are more sketch-like silhouettes than intricately detailed landscapes and people. While it takes a few minutes to get used to, it works beautifully for the story. The voice acting is superb, with distinguished actor Laudenbach's deep baritone sounding impressively creepy as the villainous devil/stranger. The girl also encounters a maternal goddess (Elina Löwensöhn) who lives in the sea, and her voice is appropriately ethereal and lovely.
Like many foreign animated films (and Grimm fairy tales, if we're being honest), The Girl Without Hands isn't aimed at young kids. The movie doesn't shy away from mature themes like sex, war, and childbirth, or the idea of infanticide and supernatural violence. As the young girl becomes a woman through marriage and motherhood, she continues to have a special relationship with nature, whether it's in the form of fruit trees, animals, water, the goddess, or mountains. She's also a loving earth-mother to her only son, and it's ultimately that role in which she's finally truly happy. A must-see for animation cinephiles, The Girl Without Hands should also appeal to families with middle schoolers and up who enjoy animated Studio Ghibli and European movies.
Talk to your kids about ...
Talk about how the movie depicts sex, violence, and childbirth. Why do many people assume animated films are always OK for even the youngest moviegoers? Who do you think this movie's intended audience is?
Discuss the supporting characters. Who helped the girl, and how? Why are they important?
What lessons are ultimately learned? Can you think of other stories with similar themes? What gives the Grimm tales such lasting appeal/resonance?
- In theaters: July 21, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: February 20, 2018
- Cast: Jérémie Elkaïm, Anaïs Demoustier, Philippe Laudenbach
- Director: Sébastien Laudenbach
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Book Characters
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 76 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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