I was surprised to see numerous differences from the original Grimm Brothers fairytale when watching the MGM version of Hansel and Gretel. For one, as creepy and unnerving as the story already is on paper, the director of the film clearly had fun adding a few theatrically weird and freaky effects to engage – or terrify – the viewer. For example: the freaky ghostlike voices laughing and calling out to Hansel and Gretel while they wander through the woods innocently picking berries. If that isn’t enough to scare a small child, I don’t know what is…
Plot-wise there were quite a few changes as well, though they didn’t affect the way by which the story unfolded or ended. In order to fill an appropriate time length for a feature film, the director added a scene during which the children and their father go into town to do some 19th century-style grocery shopping. A new sub-plot was then created where we learn that the father has issues with the local baker, who refuses to pay what he rightfully owes, increasing the extent of the family’s financial struggles. Another significant change in plot is the fact that the mother actually cares about her children. Not only that, there is never any discussion between her and her husband of abandoning their children in the middle of the woods. In fact, unlike in the original story, the mother is portrayed as the strongest member of the family in that she makes sure that everyone is well taken care of. For, if it hadn’t been for her, the father never would have returned to the baker to claim his money. She is portrayed as the “meaner” of the two parents, but in the end, we, along with Hansel and Gretel, come to discover that she is an important character and loving mother.
Though there are differences, the film still stays true to the original text. Aside from the fact that the children are not abandoned by their parents, the basic order of events stays pretty much the same: Hansel and Gretel find themselves lost in the woods; they come across a house made of cake and candy where they meet a practically blind witch who then holds them captive so that she can later eat them; and in the end, the children manage to kill the witch, escape and return home along with an enormous pile of jewels.
There are many reasons for the story to be modified for the film, the main one being to appeal to a wider range of audiences. It was still kid friendly, but with the slightly scary additions like the weird voices in the woods or the “graphic” cooking of the duck and witch herself, the film most likely attracted a slightly older age group. Also, why not have Gretel push the old witch into the oven herself? Perhaps it was too gruesome or portrayed Gretel as somewhat of a murderer? There are many ideas for why these changes were made but all the same, the story of Hansel and Gretel, both in writing and film, is a timeless and unforgettable story we all know and appreciate no matter how strange or spooky.