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A Nazi-killing Heidi and a serial-killing Winnie the Pooh: Why have children’s classics become ultra-violent? | Culture




A couple frolic naked in an idyllic spot in the Alps. The woman asks the man to stay a little longer, but he says no: “Goats need love too. They don’t call me Peter the Goatherd for nothing.” The scene, which looks like a porn version of Heidi, is really the introduction to the movie Mad Heidi, a take on the children’s classic with the endearing Alpine orphan now an anti-fascist guerrilla who stands up to the totalitarian Swiss regime that revolves around the cheese monopoly, cheese that Peter is secretly trafficking.

A grindhouse-style movie, Mad Heidi is a story of revenge that sits halfway between Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds, where Miss Rottenmeier is unsurprisingly recast as running a concentration camp and Clara loses her legs in a fight.

Image of 'Mad Heidi,' with its protagonist, Alice Lucy.
Image of ‘Mad Heidi,’ with its protagonist, Alice Lucy.

Produced in Switzerland and made on a €3 million budget through crowdfunding, the film will also be released this week in Germany, Austria and France. The villain of the piece, a dictator who exterminates lactose intolerant people who are seen to be betraying the Swiss homeland, is played by Casper van Dien, the star of the cult film Starship Troopers: The Space Brigades (1997). The movie brings to mind Our Robocop Remake (2014), a send-up of the 1980s classic.

That film was distributed as a not-for-profit venture because it did not have the rights to the character. In the case of Mad Heidi, the adaptation can be commercialized because it does not reference the Japanese-style animated version, but rather the original 19th century book by the Swiss author Johanna Spyri, which is now in the public domain.

For the same reason, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, a horror movie to be released in 2023, in which the Hundred Acre Wood’s bear turns psychopathic killer due to neglect from Christopher Robin. The general public will remember Winnie the Pooh from the Disney cartoons and the stories written in 1926 by A.A. Milne. The original classic moved into the public domain in January this year.

Winnie the Pooh, pure evil in 'Blood and Honey.'
Winnie the Pooh, pure evil in ‘Blood and Honey.’

Piglet, Pooh’s friend, will also appear in the movie, though not other characters such as Tigger, which are still under exclusive license for Disney, having been developed years later. The new adaptation is inspired by the original model and cannot be reminiscent in characterization or dialogue of Disney’s version. This is similar to the case of Mickey Mouse, whose entry into the US public domain is scheduled for 2024, though this does not mean that it can be reproduced in any way one sees fit, but rather exclusively from the original black and white Steamboat Willie image from 1928 – and without using the name, which remains a registered trademark.

Horror variants of children’s classics are a whole subgenre. In the last decade, for example, up to six adult feature films have been produced based on Hansel and Gretel, the tale the Brothers Grimm published in 1812, including the bloody Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), produced by comedian Will Ferrell and made by the director of Nazi Zombies, and Gretel and Hansel: A Grim Fairy Tale (2020), a serious horror movie that enjoyed a certain cult following thanks to the boost it got from streaming during lockdown.

The American slasher movie Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996) – what seemed to be a reaction to the sugar-coated version of the tale by Disney in 1940 – justified its existence with the argument that in the original published by the Italian Carlo Collodi in the 1880s, Pinocchio was not all good. Among other things, he murdered the cricket – his conscience – as soon as he met him.

Latent fears

But María Victoria Sotomayor, professor of Spanish Literature and Children’s Literature at Madrid’s Autonomous University of Madrid, has reservations regarding the argument that these films simply highlight the original elements of terror that were eliminated or distorted by Disney. “I don’t think the spirit of these tales was to terrify,” she says. “In general, folk tales from an anonymous author and originating from the most primitive oral tradition, were not created just for children but for everyone. Naturally, life is full of danger, problems, joys and fears, encounters and misunderstandings, friends and enemies, and what is being represented here is an exaggeration of the negative, difficult or conflictive content, when I believe its true function is to offer a lesson in how to face and overcome that.”

'Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,' from 2013.
‘Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,’ from 2013.

Sotomayor dismisses the idea that Hansel and Gretel or Pinocchio sought to dissuade children from leaving home by exposing them to the disturbing threats in the outside world, such as the witch who wants to cook the siblings in Hansel and Gretel or the moment Pinocchio is turned into a donkey when he runs away. “Hansel and Gretel do not abandon their home; it is their parents who abandon them in the forest. And Pinocchio is also a fable that goes far beyond warning children of dangers. According to many interpretations, Pinocchio is a faithful representation of a flawed human being – contradictory and weak, but also good and noble, who stumbles towards maturity. As we all do.”

Netflix will release a new animated version of Pinocchio next December, directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson. Not strictly horror, this adaptation is nevertheless faithful to Del Toro’s fantastic imagination, with Gepetto as a sort of tragic Dr. Frankenstein overwhelmed by his creation. Also, a co-writer of the screenplay, Del Toro places the story within the context of Mussolini’s fascist Italy, which lends new meaning to the theme of obedience.

Although, Mad Heidi and Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey are spoofs, they still bring to mind terror motifs such as the invisible friend that accompanies virtually every child in a horror movie, and that invariably turns out to be a ghost or a demon; or other typical terror props, such as the clown from It or the porcelain doll Annabelle from The Conjuring Universe.

A scene from 'Mad Heidi.'
A scene from ‘Mad Heidi.’

“There might be a certain awareness that childhood fears form part of the fears that stay with us into adulthood and, also, the new stories that we forge in a cultural system that questions and conditions us,” says Sotomayor. “Childhood is the origin of everything: of fear, of life and of one’s own personal identity. It is logical to return to it.” Sotomayor then quotes the writer H.P. Lovecraft: “Of all human emotions, the oldest and most powerful is fear, and of all fears, the oldest and most powerful is the fear of the unknown.”

If Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey is successful when it’s released, director Rhys Frake-Waterfield has said he would create a cinematic universe based on fairy tales. The next on the list is Peter Pan: Neverland Nightmare, as J.M. Barrie’s story is also about to move into the public domain.

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Jennifer Lopez thought she was ‘going to die’ after her breakup with Ben Affleck | Culture




The story of Jennifer Lopez, 53, and Ben Affleck, 50, is still providing new twists and turns after more than 20 years. When it seemed that one of the most famous couples in Hollywood had made as many headlines as possible with their reconciliation and subsequent marriage, the singer has made the news again by sharing more details about how they got together in 2002 and why they broke up two years later.

Reflecting on their relationship, Lopez said that it wasn’t a case of love at first sight. “I think what happened is, as we worked together, we became such good friends,” she said in an interview with Apple Music. The two met while filming the movie Gigli (2002), but at the time, Lopez was married to choreographer Chris Judd. The chemistry between the two, however, was undeniable. “We realized that we were crazy about each other […] It’s like you just knew it. It’s just like, ‘This is the person I want to be with.’ And that happened over a period of months.”

And then, from one day to the next, it was over. “It was so painful after we broke up. Once we called off that wedding 20 years ago, it was the biggest heartbreak of my life. I honestly felt like I was going to die,” she said. In the interview, Lopez said she even stopped performing songs inspired by their relationship because it was too painful. “It was a part of me then that I had to put away to move on and survive. It was a survival tactic, for sure.”

“It sent me on a spiral for the next 18 years where I just couldn’t get it right,” she continued. “But now, 20 years later, it does have a happy ending.”

During their separation, Lopez starred in dozens of movies, performed at hundreds of concerts (including the Super Bowl halftime show) and found love with singer Marc Anthony (with whom she has two children) and former baseball player Alex Rodriguez, with whom she was briefly engaged.

In April 2021, Lopez and Affleck confirmed they were back together after the singer broke up with Alex Rodríguez, and Affleck ended his relationship with actress Ana de Armas. A year later, the two were engaged and just a month later they were married in Las Vegas. Another month after that, they held a three-day wedding with friends and family.

Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck on their wedding day, in September 2022.
Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck on their wedding day, in September 2022.OnTheJLo

Last Friday, Lopez announced she will be releasing a new album, This is Me… Now, on the 20th anniversary of her 2002 record This is Me… Then. The focus of the new album is love, she said. “We captured me at this moment in time when I was reunited with the love of my life and we decided we were going to be together forever. The whole message of the album then is this love exists. This is a real love,” she said. “If you have, like me at times, lost hope, almost given up, don’t. Because true love does exist and some things do last forever and that’s real.”

“I want to put that message out into the world and that does take a lot of vulnerability,” she continued. “But I couldn’t stop myself and some parts of it scare me. And I think parts of it scare Ben too. He’s like, ‘Oh, do you really want to say all this stuff?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know how else to do it, baby.’”

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Unko Museum: Tokyo opens first poop museum to explore a taboo topic among Japanese youth | Culture




Among the many synonyms for excrement that exist in the Japanese language, the founders of the Tokyo Unko Museum chose the most candid one, unko, to name an irreverent space designed for female Instagram users. “My goal was for poop to stop being a taboo subject for young girls,” explains its creator, Masaru Kobayashi.

With Japanese influencers in mind, Kobayashi filled the museum’s rooms with toilets and poop-shaped pieces in shades of turquoise, fuchsia and lemon yellow. The colors follow the palette of the Japanese kawaii aesthetic, which combines the cutesy and the grotesque. Kobayashi explains that, far from being a cultural fad, kawaii is a natural extension of traditional Japanese culture. “At the pinnacle of world-famous kawaii culture is poop, a fragile material that disappears down the drain shortly after being brought into this world,” reads a sign at the museum entrance.

To revive the scatological enthusiasm of childhood, visitors are welcomed into a room equipped with nine colorful toilets, whose arrangement evokes the communal toilets of ancient Rome. A museum guide invites them to sit down, clench their fists and, after counting one-two-three, imagine that they are releasing a symbolic dump. When they get up, they find in their respective receptacles pieces of plastic poop, which resemble the poop emoji in striking pastel colors.

There are neon signs with the word poop written in 16 languages. A tearoom serves huge cakes topped with golden feces. Another room features colorful droppings that move when stroked like furry animals. Video games include flying poops. On small toilet-shaped blackboards hung on the wall, visitors are invited to make their own poop drawings.

Although there is a Japanese term for museum, Kobayashi chose the English “museum” to describe a thematic venue whose sole function is to create entertaining environments. Instagram is full of photographs of absurd and witty scenes from the exhibits: couples play-acting, sitting on separate toilets, young parents with blue poop on their heads, or the typical tourist photo featuring a huge illuminated poop. Kobayashi confesses that at first he feared that the unusual concept would be rejected. He felt better when older people started to visit, many of whom saw a generational change in the fact that young girls were openly talking about poop.

In the past three years, Kobayashi has created six such museums across Japan. He has received invitations to open another in Singapore and is in talks with several Asian countries where the subject of human poop lacks the taboo it has historically had in the West.

Classics authors in Japanese literature, such as Natsume Soseki, coined memorable phrases about poop’s “physiological pleasures,” and Junichiro Tanizaki devoted a long passage from his well-known essay Praise of the Shadow to the traditional toilet set in the middle of a garden, which is where “poets of all times have found abundant material for their haikus.”

Many Japanese children learn to write the complicated characters of their language with a series of popular books called Poop Exercises, which contain more than 3,000 humorous phrases related to the subject. For 17 years, Toto, which manufactures high-tech toilets, has held a poetry contest inspired by the subject in the senryu style, which consiss of a short humorous poem and is a relative of the haiku.

For Kobayashi, the evolution of the museum’s audience is apparent in their gradual migration from Instagram to TikTok. His intention, he says, is to continue creating playful spaces that provide moments of relaxation to contrast with typically Japanese solemnity. His next project is a railway museum where, unlike the rigorous Japanese rail schedules, no trains arrive on time.

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The medieval monks who forged a nobleman’s will to appropriate a valuable church | Culture




The monks of the San Pedro de Cardeña monastery, in Spain’s Burgos province, had long had their eye on the Santa María de Cuevas de Provanco church in Segovia. But the substantial inheritance that the Count of Castile, Asur Fernández, and his wife Guntroda, bequeathed them made no mention of this Romanesque church surrounded by beautiful vineyards.

Such was the ambition of the monastery to own the church that two hundred years after the death of the Count, they forged the parchment on which his will was written. Their only mistake was an omission to remove all the copies of the authentic will. Now, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the University of Burgos have been able to demonstrate that the fraudulent document, considered until now to be the oldest of those kept in the Historical Nobility Archive in Toledo, is in fact a forgery from the 12th century, and not from the year 943, as it claims.

The document faked by the monks – officially known as OSUNA, CP.37, D.9 – is a parchment on which round Visigothic script records a donation from the Count of Castile to the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña. Until now, the document was thought to be somewhat unique as hardly any original documents from the 10th century survive in Castilian Spanish. However, research has shown that it was actually drawn up two centuries later.

The research, to be made public shortly in the Medieval Studies Annual Report, has revealed which procedures were employed to doctor the will, as well as the motives that led the monks to do so. The forgers based their work on an authentic document stipulating a donation from the Count, inserting elements that were not in the original, in order to use it as evidence in potential lawsuits, two of which were subsequently filed and won by the monks.

Drawing by Zix of the looting of El Cid’s tomb in San Pedro de Cardeña.
Drawing by Zix of the looting of El Cid’s tomb in San Pedro de Cardeña.

The analysis of the document, carried out by Sonia Serna from the University of Burgos, has exposed anomalies both in its preparation and its writing. Serna explains that the scribe was accustomed to working with the 12th century Carolinian script, and made an effort to imitate the round Visigothic script typical of 10th century Castile. But anachronistic features crept into his work, such as the use of the Carolinian system of abbreviations and the adoption of anomalous solutions to abbreviate some words, elements that would not have existed in the 10th century. All the same, the forgery proved effective enough to win two court cases.

The forged document included a clause that ceded the church to the Burgos monastery

The original document used by the monk as a model for his forgery was lost. However, a copy survived in the collection of charters, known as Becerro Gótico de Cardeña and kept in the Zabálburu Library in Madrid. By comparing both texts, Julio Escalona from the CSIC History Institute verified that the monk copied the wording and appearance of the authentic will, but inserted a clause assigning the church of Santa María de Cuevas de Provanco to the monastery of San Pedro.

In 1175, the church of Santa María de las Cuevas was the subject of litigation between the monastery of San Pedro and the councils of Peñafiel and Castrillo de Duero. The Burgos monastery finally won by presenting the false parchment document and getting two monks to testify its authenticity. According to the experts, that document was the will filed in the Toledo archive, whose anomalous paleographic features are consistent with an elaboration in the second half of the 12th century, taking the original as a model.

“Its value does not lie in the anecdotal fact of its being or not being the oldest document in the archive [as was believed until now], but in showing how technical skills and moral and religious authority combined in this case to build a credible truth, capable of triumphing in a judicial scenario,” states the CSIC and University of Burgos study. “Ultimately, it reminds us that to fully understand any historical period, it is essential to understand how each period rewrites and manipulates its past.”

The monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña, where the forgery was made, was completely plundered by the Napoleonic troops during the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1808. The monks fled in terror and had to abandon all the treasures they had been guarding for centuries. One of the desecrated tombs was that of El Cid – or Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, with Napoleon’s soldiers selling off his weapons and remains throughout Europe. They even made engravings reflecting the plundering of the tomb of the legendary warrior. Today, a plaque states that although the remains of the Castilian hero are no longer here, his horse is buried in the monastery’s garden, though this may be no more than a myth.

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