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Are children's stories too genteel in today's world?

Posted by TP Toys on 7th January 2015

Are children's stories too genteel in today's world?

We like nothing more than a good debate around issues that are important to us here at TP Toys, and the latest has been sparked by British actress and Hollywood darling Emily Blunt.

She will soon be appearing on our cinema screens again in a Disney movie adaptation of the musical Into the Woods - and she recently told the Guardian she was glad to see a dark story after too many years of sanitised entertainment.

Modern stories 'too coddling' 

The 31-year-old pointed out that tales for children used to be much darker than they are now, with even Disney 'cleaning up' what it presents to youngsters compared to its earlier offerings.

"Bambi loses his mother, Dumbo is wrenched away from his mother, who is chained up and tormented and bullied. It used to be darker and more challenging," Blunt insisted.

She added that she thinks sanitising stories is a trend that has gone too far, resulting in kids becoming too sheltered.

"Nobody goes through life unscathed. If you want to fairy tale the sh** out of everything, you're doing everyone a disservice. It's just sad that we're choosing to coddle our children that way, because no one's more perceptive than a child," the Devil Wears Prada star said.

Into the Woods might have suited Blunt's requirements for entertainment even if she didn't happen to appear in it, as it sees a host of different tales from the Brothers Grimm collide and intertwine, with Meryl Streep playing a witch, Johnny Depp playing a wolf - and one character's eyes getting pecked out not too far into the movie.

However, perhaps you disagree with Blunt and think it's a good thing that Disney stories no longer contain scenes that cause tears before bedtime.

Too much, too young?

Richard Dawkins recently sparked controversy by saying that he thinks we should be "fostering a spirit of scepticism" in children rather than telling them about supernatural themes, but most of the debate around fairy stories centres around them being - contrary to Blunt's belief - too scary.

According to a poll carried out by the TV channel Watch back in 2012, one in five parents has ditched classic tales such as Snow White in favour of more modern stories, with a third revealing their children have been left tearful because of the gruesome details in Little Red Riding Hood.

In addition, almost half of mums and dads have refused to read Rumplestiltskin due to its themes (kidnapping and execution, apparently) - and a quarter said they won't read a fairy tale to their kids until they are at least five.

General manager of Watch Steve Hornsey said at the time: "Fairy tales can be dark and dramatic tales so it's understandable that parents worry about reading them to young children."

Actually, if you go back to the time when the Grimm tales were first collected, they were aimed at adults as cautionary stories, not at youngsters. What's more, they used to be significantly darker than the versions most of us think we know, with the 1812 translation featuring Hansel and Gretel's mother abandon them because she can't afford to feed them and Rapunzel becoming pregnant.

Scary stuff - but who is right in the debate for and against? After all, didn't we read these stories (albeit not the most horrific ones) and enjoy them as children?

And couldn't their risque nature be doing our own offspring some good? In the 1976 book The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim insists that such stories can help youngsters deal with emotional problems by providing them with a symbolic space where they can face their anxieties safely. 

So, what do you think? Are fairy tales outdated yarns that deserve to be consigned to history because they're too gruesome? Or should we be teaching our kids about the darker side of life, as Emily Blunt believes? We'd love to hear from you.