“The Shape of Water” is a mature take on the Disney fairy tale

| December 15, 2017

From the first striking image of an apartment submerged in water accompanied with a whimsical, whistling tune and a mention of a princess and a monster, “The Shape of Water” definitely digs its foundation in fairytale territory.Shape of water

And it is indeed a fairy tale with a promised princess, a monster and a small ragtag supporting village. But it’s all different from the Disney cartoons. Elisa, a mute cleaning lady performed to charming perfection by Sally Hawkins, doesn’t get introduced through a singing musical number due to a damaged voice box, but the musical movies she watches with her neighbor makes her wish she could.

Like all fairy tales, Elisa meets a person with barriers that prevent them from being together when she forms a connection with the captured Amphibian Man imprisoned in the research facility she works in. In Elisa’s case, the barriers are both biological and structural with

Director Guillermo del Toro takes the fairy tale idea and subverts it in several ways, keeping the cute, stomach-warming innocence that they tend to bring while addressing more adult issues stories like “Beauty and the Beast” or “The Little Mermaid” skirts around.

This gives the story a sort of fearlessness that lets it build the story with 2017 elements. The film’s red blooded American villain, played by Michael Shannon, who finds himself locked in the past and loathing of anything he views less than human, finds himself at odds with a mute, an African American, a homosexual and an immigrant as he tortures his captured Amphibian Man for the sake of career preservation.

This is where the film hinges on its secret weapon: long time del Toro collaborator Doug Jones. Jones, who has played several of del Toro’s prior monsters in earlier films takes a center role as the film’s love song to The Creature for the Black Lagoon. The Amphibian Man is played as a living, breathing entity with curiosity, compassion and anger when provoked. In some ways, Shannon’s bigoted Strickland is correct in thinking of the Amphibian Man as inhuman, but Jones still gives the being a soul worth saving when put in danger.

With the year that 2017 has provided, this fairy tale hits a little closer to home as the oppressed team up to help someone they view as one of their own. And as 2017 draws to a close, perhaps that’s the antidote many need to conclude the year.

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