National Kids Day: The Princess Bride
As part of National Kids & Pets Day, we decided finding nostalgic childhood films was a bit easier than combining both themes. We are taking this opportunity to review ten films that have been deemed staples of the youths of varying generations. This article looks at The Princess Bride.
What makes The Princess Bride stand out ahead of the pack when it comes to family based films, is how self aware it is. It knows it’s a film for children by adults (and everyone in between). It utilizes the guardian-reading-to-a-youth trope so well, as a response. Grandpa Peter Falk says “You want a story? Here’s your story!” and proceeds to give us a typical fairy tale done differently. It’s clearly the story the kid (Fred Savage) wants, and it’s clearly the story Grandpa Falk is tired of giving. So, we get a new spin. Grandpa’s creative, resilient boredom results in our refreshing family comedy-drama. It’s actually brilliant.
This plot mechanic renders the film inventive as it goes. Grandpa wants to inject some of his own life lessons in there? He sure will, through a series of tribulations. Take his philosophical and societal views, for instance. Grandpa Falk might be fed up with the smart alecks of the world that give him verbal runs-around, so we get Vizzini as a stupid intellectual. You can apply this logic to any of the characters. Sure, they may appear in the book Grandpa is reading, but I doubt they were meant to be quite like this portrayal.
None of this is because Grandpa Falk doesn’t care. It’s because he does care; he’s just tired of repetition. Frankly, so are we. Back when Rob Reiner was still comfortable with his tightrope walk between sincerity and satire, it made sense that he would adapt William Goldman’s original novel (Goldman also wrote the screenplay, and his understanding of both mediums is a definite contribution to this film’s cleverness). The Princess Bride is silly, without question; it is still to be taken seriously, though. Every bought of stupidity comes from a place of tenderness. Nothing feels forced. It’s honestly hard to dislike this film, because it will touch your heart (with emotions), your mind (with wit), and your soul (with uplifting humour) in at least some ways.
At the heart of all of these antics, is a surprisingly deep story of retribution. A hero (Westley, disguised as the Dread Pirate Roberts) has returned to rescue Princess Buttercup from a marriage to the evil, cowardly Humperdinck. Once again, look at these names. There is no way grandpa Falk had nothing to do with these slides. That’s why this well-thought-out tale is still a shocker; there is something powerful underneath heaps and heaps and heaps of stupidity. That’s why The Princess Bride has staying power.
Children are due to have a fun time with the film’s action, wackiness, and pacing. The adults that watch this film with their kids (or on their own terms, of course) are going to have a whip-smart desecration of the sterile fantasy films that have been done to death. Does The Princess Bride follow lines of familiarity? Sure. It is still a fairy tale (of sorts), after all. It’s the off beaten path that makes it all worthwhile: the fourth wall breaking, the irony, the sarcasm and the maturity (that hardly resorts to crude humour).
Why is young grandson Savage learning so much? The kid is staying home from school because he is sick. He doesn’t really feel like hearing Grandpa’s story right now (perhaps this is a tale Grandpa Falk told Savage’s parents again and again). Otherwise, the kid’s not really done anything bad to warrant a life lesson. That also makes the film work, though. The heavy handiness that could have been, isn’t. Maybe Grandpa Falk just wanted to bond with his grandson, whilst giving him a good story and some irrelative life tips (like be confident, don’t be a swindler, patience is a virtue, and be careful of gigantic rats).
None of these characters are confined by their roles. Inigo Montoya — then villain — is fleshed out into a warrior trying to avenge his father’s death. It isn’t just Westley that has motivations to change the course of the storybook narrative. This makes every character real to grandson Savage, and to us as well. In 2019, The Princess Bride is a mainstay for youths, families, and even adults that just want to revisit the film. It’s a well of laughs, and an unexpected invitation of emotions. By the final “As you wish” from Grandpa Falk, all hearts will be cleansed of malice. It’s a rare film that can be a fairy tale as intended for children as it is for adults, and I don’t believe its crown is being taken away anytime soon.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.