Movie Review by Debbie Winkler
Starring: Anna Russell, Constance Brigham, Frank Rogier, Mildred Dunnock, Delbert Anderson, Helen Boatwright
Director: Michael Myerberg & John Paul
Release Date: 24 December 1954
Length: 72 minutes
Movie Rating: G
View Format: Streaming on Computer
My Rating: 3/5 stars
“Considered by many to be the definitive rendering of German composer Engelbert Humperdinck‘s classic children’s opera, this innovative 1954 version uses hand-sculpted dolls, stop-motion animation and lavish sets to bring the production enchantingly to life. The stellar cast of performers providing voices includes Constance Brigham, Frank Rogier, Mildred Dunnock, Delbert Anderson, Helen Boatwright and diva Anna Russell as the cannibalistic witch.” — Netflix.com
The music in this movie is the highlight. This is a children’s opera so there is a lot more singing than there is speaking and the songs help tell the story. There are several songs sung by a boy’s chorus during the film that are absolutely beautiful. The songs were in English in this version, which was nice, as I could understand most of what was being sung. I could definitely visualize this production being performed on stage and hope that, somewhere in the world, it is. The soundtrack would benefit from being digitally remastered as the volume is quite low and the sounds are not crisp, which sometimes makes the singing a bit difficult to understand.
I enjoy watching stop-motion animation, but the animation in this film is quite jerky. It is hard to remember that the animation is actually quite good if you take into account the age of the movie. We are so spoiled with the stop-motion animation we see today (Tim Burton‘s The Nightmare Before Christmas or The Corpse Bride) or so accustomed to seeing the Christmas shows (Rankin/Bass‘ Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, etc.) that feature this type of animation that I think it is easy to forget how time-consuming and difficult it is to animate an entire film this way. The jerkiness of the animation did not really bother me, really, once I got used to it. The mouths move at different times than the singing or talking is taking place, but that is pretty normal for animation and/or puppet shows. I don’t think children will really notice one way or the other.
The main issue with the movie is that it is has not been remastered. The film needs – and deserves – a good cleaning. All of the colors are muted and dull and dingy looking. The scenes are dark and nothing really sparkles or pulls children in. This is unfortunate as I really enjoyed so many aspects of this version of Hansel & Gretel. I am not sure if this movie is not popular enough to warrant the cost of the updating it, but I would love to see a revised version. This could be a great movie to share with your children and introduce them to musicals and operas in a child-friendly way that is very accessible if they put a little bit of money into cleaning it up.
I enjoyed watching it and would say that it is worth a rental, but really it is only worth a rental for the music, not for anything else. I am not convinced that children will sit through it as it is kind of difficult to tell what is going on as the colors are so dark and kind of fuzzy looking.
The witch can be a bit scary for younger viewers, but there is really nothing frightening that happens in the movie. If you have read any version of the classic fairy tale, then nothing is going to be a surprise in this version. Appropriate for viewers of all ages.