As a child I read Hansel and Gretel. The story itself was a watered down version of the original Grimms fairy tale, which was anything but watered down. In case you have not read the original stories, Grimms fairy tales are full of cannibalism, gore, utterly demented behavior, and doomed heroes and heroines that had about an 80% chance of surviving the story.
The original was published by the brothers Grimm in 1812 and featured said children being taken into the woods by an abusive step-mother and left there to fend for themselves, during which they ran into a cottage covered in sweets. The cottage is owned by an old woman who invites the children to come in for a warm meal and warmth by the fire. The children are then fatted with sweets in preparation for cooking by the same old woman. The old woman turns out to be said evil witch and upon trying to roast the children finds herself outwitted, leaving the cannibalistic witch to roast in her own oven. The children then see the home for what it is, a festering filthy shack with rotting meat and fruit, the remains of other victims, and piles of jewels everywhere. They then take the jewels and return home to give to their father who is then financially relieved. The story was crafted into an opera in the late 1800's and re-printed in a more child friendly form in 1950. In the late 1900's, a revision of the stories, complete with gore, was released and republished in as close to the original format as possible. All in all, although this story was originally written about children, it wasn't necessarily written for children. Ironically enough, a similar story was also used as a plot for an episode of Buffy in which a demon pretended to be Hansel and Gretel in order to kill witches and cause mass hysteria.
The story itself bears a resemblance to other tales popular in this region of the world. In most of them it was ogres, trolls, and truly dark fairy like beings that ate children who became lost in the woods and by lakes and streams. There are in fact several classes of fairy that are fond of eating lost children. Jenny Greenteeth, for instance, would grab lost children and drag them down into her watery depths to drown. A variation of her may be seen in LOTR, as Smeegle is leading the Hobbits through the swamp. As translations expanded and society changed with it, the fairies of the forest were transformed into evil witches, usually old and ugly, but masters of glamours. This is an attribute known in every fairy related myth all over the world.
After watching the trailer, I have to say there doesn't seem to be much that resembles the old story I grew up with. Other than a character named Hansel and another named Gretel, a few hungry witches, there is practically no resemblance at all. So what is so controversial about this particular CGI flick that has Wiccans and Pagans up in arms? Wiccans and Pagans across the country are calling for a boycott of this film claiming it depicts all witches as being evil and has the catchy tagline "Burn all witches", which doesn't separate one variety of witch from the other.
Independent film director and actor, Troy H. sums it up. "The tag line is too far, witches were burned and tortured, hanged and shot. They were persecuted because of ignorance that the Christian authorities were spreading. That witches were spawns of, servants of, and worshipers of Satan. The tag line to kill all witches is a tagline that reminds me of the torture and pain my predecessors went through so that I have the right to practice without persecution. It is a spit in the face of Starhawk, Gardner, and many more in that lineage of freedom fighters for our civil rights to worship."
The issue is not the content of the film but the message it sends. The message that all witches are evil, baby eating demons and deserve to die a horrible death. However, there is another angle to this controversy.
Photographer, actor, and director Carl H. (no relation to the above director/actor), offers the film is about perspective and context. " When considering it we need to look at the roots. This maybe giving the film too much credit but the story is ultimately about how two people are dealing with a traumatic childhood situation. They point it out to a degree in the commercial. "Not all witches are bad"~voice of reason "Kill them all"~voice of emotion from trauma. The context of the film is from a fairy tale from a time when all witches were considered evil. If they go to the extent to point out in the trailer that there are differing viewpoints on witches, even in that time, it is at least brings the subject to the table for discussion."
Perhaps the tag line went too far. Perhaps kill all witches is a bit intense, however if we invite censorship for this film we have to also invite it for many others as well and many other arenas of artistic endeavor. The idea behind the film is to give viewers a glimpse into what could have happened had Hansel and Gretel grown up, acquired super-powered guns with never ending ammo, and pledged to prevent another child from being eaten by this particular variety of witch. The basic theme of the movie revolves around a small village who has experienced several losses of children. The evil witches in the movie, headed by sultry Famke Janssen, have been periodically raiding villages for children which they then eat. About midway through, you have the introduction of other types of witches. The good witches heal and perform positive magicks and are unmarked. Hansel and Gretel arrive with sidekick Mina and agree to help the village with their evil witch problem. From there on out it is a CGI gorefest. They slice and dice monstrously ugly witches hundreds of different ways, from strung piano razor wire to decapitation, hanging, to name a few. The only real resemblance to the fairy tail is the fact that neither the original writing nor the film are child friendly.
The movie itself may not have that much depth. I may be giving it too much credit, after all it is an effects based movie with tons of gore and an R rating that is killing it at the box office. It has hints of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter meets Van Helsing and has an affair with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The characters are decked out in leather, carry massive weapons, and Muriel, played by Famke Janssen, greatly resembles "Dark Willow" in seasons five and six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While some are rallying protests and boycotts of this film, others regard it as nothing more than a bad remake of a good piece of fiction.
One local member of the Savannah Pagan community Cathy F, says simply, "Its just a movie. There are so many movies out there that pick at everything. If we got upset every time a movie was made about burning witches then we wouldn't have any rest. These witches that were being burned at the stake or heads chopped off were monsters. Even Hansel states at the beginning of the movie that there are marks that are noticeable on these witches, which is later revealed that good witches do no harm and only help living things. There are more important things to worry about than some stupid movie."
So while the director has made no response to accusations that he is creating a hostile environment for modern, non-green and black faced witches, the community has plenty to say about this film and the possible reactions it could cause Pagans and Wiccans. Is it really that bad?
Check it out for yourself and decide.