They’re just stories. You know … for children.
Have you ever listened to a fairy tale and lamented the poor villains simply trying to survive? You hear “Little Red Riding Hood” and think about how the wolf is operating by instinct. He sees a potential meal and using cunning ingenuity does all he can to acquire it. When you really step back and look at the story objectively, he’s doing what we all would in his situation. But because we’re human, it’s assumed we will align ourselves with the human and deem her heroic. She survives, helps avenge her grandmother, and does her part to make the woods a little safer with one less predator lurking in the shadows. We hope she grows old and starts a family, forgetting those loved ones the wolf leaves behind.
Well, Roald Dahl and illustrator Quentin Blake refused to forget. They put a different spin on traditional yarns from our childhood back in 1982, allowing for surprise endings where those getting their just deserts aren’t always the ones we remember. And now Jan Lachauer and Jakob Schuh have brought their Revolting Rhymes to life via two half-hour shorts that compile the six remixes into one hybrid parable narrated by a Big Bad Wolf (Dominic West). While the two were constructed and released in the UK together in 2016, however, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences deemed the first part self-contained and successful enough to stand alone as an Oscar nominee. I would whole-heartedly agree since its wickedly delightful open-ended finale is the perfect unorthodox capper.
The gist: all those folk tales we think we know are wrong. The book Miss Hunt (Tamsin Greig) has in her possession while passing time before her evening babysitter job therefore catches the eye of a friendly wolf passing by. He scoffs at its characters’ glowing appearances—an anger rising from within due to so many details being wrong. Miss Hunt is confused considering she knows each to be fictional, so the wolf must set the record straight and explain how the “heroes” of those stories are actually the villains. He has two dead nephews (Rex and Rolf) to prove his point and thus commences his account of the incidents long ago that centered upon two young best friends named Red (Rose Leslie) and Snow White (Gemma Chan).
The result isn’t like Shrek because it still adheres to the stories themselves. These familiar characters aren’t simply co-existing within a single world removed from their historical significance. Still beholden to those trajectories, the circumstances of their lives are merely altered slightly so they may be woven together within a more realistic universe such as ours. For example: one of the “Three Little Pigs” is a banker loaning money to the others to build their faulty homes. The wolf terrorizing those three swine and the one who eats Red’s grandma are brothers. And Snow White’s “dwarves” are actually seven retired jockeys with a bad gambling addiction. With a pistol and some twisted vigilante revenge, those saccharine morality lessons that have become universally known are suddenly new again.