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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Hans Christian Andersen (1956)

It occurred to me, as I watched this, that I had only ever seen it in pieces on TV. I bought the DVD when it passed in front of me at the used bookstore I worked at because I thought, "oh I love that movie!" and then I never watched it. Sitting down to watch it now, I was a little preoccupied by one of my favorite rabbit holes of 2022, Hans Christian Andersen's personal diaries and what a beautiful g-d mess of a human he was. I wondered if this sweet Frank Loesser(!? I never clocked that before) musical would totally avoid that aspect of Andersen's life. I was convinced it would, reading the opening title card that describes the movie not as a biography but a fairy tale of Andersen's life. 1956? No way will Hans be the hot mess bisexual express he was in real life. And reader? I was mostly wrong. (Danny Kaye does not play him as bi but come on, you knew that wasn't going to happen.)

I had such conflicting feelings revisiting this film. It both doesn't hold up (for me) and way exceeded my expectations. I love Danny Kaye. Love him. Had a big ol' crush on him in my youth. He's a ball of charisma and talent. But something about him in this movie is incredibly off putting. There's an intensity to how earnest he is that made me look away a lot. Truly I was so uncomfortable during Thumbelina and The Ugly Duckling, sweet moments in which he connects with children in a really lovely way but I wanted to leave the room. What's that about? Who knows?! (I was also surprised that despite the songs being lovely and Danny Kaye being charming, song after song after song didn't really work. Kind of left me numb and longing for the movie to really dig in to Hans' TERRIBLE LIFE CHOICES.)

I could go on and on about Real Life HCA but I'll spare you (and my wrists) and just encourage you to google "Hans Christian Andersen visits Charles Dickens." Hans wrecked Charles Dickens in the best ways and I love him for that. My memory of the plot of the movie was that Hans fell in love with a ballerina who was in a terrible marriage and she fell in love with Hans too and he wrote her The Little Mermaid and AWW happy ending. WRONG. It actually parallels the real life story of how The Little Mermaid came to be. Hans was staying with a kind family and he fell in love with their son who thought Hans was just his dear pal who very curiously left gifts under his pillow. When the son got engaged, Hans freaked and begged the fiancee to call it off. She didn't. Then, heartbroken, he wrote The Little Mermaid (have you read it recently? it's *dark*. Basically it comes down to "well if you don't love me I'll just DIE.") and GAVE IT TO THIS GUY AS A WEDDING PRESENT! Hans. Bubbe. No. So that the movie has him falling in love with a happily (?) married ballerina, getting all the wrong vibes, and writing her The Little Mermaid is not too far off. (I'm tired and need to make pizza so I'm going to spare you the tirade I have in me regarding the ballerina enjoying her abusive husband because you know some women are into that... but know that I have THOUGHTS.)

I honestly hate the costumes except for the transparent crinoline bell skirts. What's going on with those shoulders in the wedding sequence???

Acrylic paint on canvas


-I honestly enjoy painting sad men. I don't know why. Gonna be a thing.

-I was so very unmotivated to work on this this week. I wasn't terribly inspired and the week between Christmas and New Year's is just so.... blah. Plus I'm so eager to put my current job behind me and move on to the next one. I just feel like I'm suspended in jello. I opted for a much smaller canvas than I usually do (5x7" instead of 16x20" or so) and I was pleased that it only really took me an afternoon. It's not perfect (what is) but I'm ultimately pleased with it and it's finished which is really what it needed to be.

-Something about the style of it reminds me of the paintings that were used for movie posters and album covers in the 1950s and that's kind of terrific. Not what I set out to do but I like it!

-I did not intentionally give him a black aura. My brain just kept thrumming on "black and purple because sad" and going back and reading my notes, yeah, I see a real darkness around Kaye's portrayal that I still can't totally put my finger on.

-He looks pouty-er than intended. It's kind of how I see him though so...

Next week! The most relatable Disney princess (as far as I'm concerned): Rapunzel in Tangled!

I hope this coming week and this coming year! treat you so beautifully. I hope you spend more time measuring your marigolds than you do chasing married ballerinas. (Sometimes I think of these closing paragraphs as tarot readings. I'm pulling the imagery out of the movie but I hope some part of it speaks to where you're at. And this week I really, desperately hope it doesn't literally apply to you.)

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