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Der Froschkönig (The Frog Prince)

1988, East Germany, 67 minutes, color
Director: Walter Beck
Screenplay: Walter Beck
Director of Photography: Wolfgang Braumann
Music: Günther Fischer
Actors:  Jana Mattukat (Henriette), Jens-Uwe Bogadtke (Frog Prince), Peter Sodann (King); Franziska Glöss-Ebermann (Florentine), Susanne Lüning (Geraldine), Thomas Wolff (Askold), Pedro Hebenstreit (Barnabas), Dieter Wien (Carbinian), Günter Schubert (Dagobert), 4 Riders: Gunter Friedrich, Karl Sturm, Gunnar Helm, Jürgen Hölzel
Based on the tale by the Brothers Grimm
VHS-PAL, no subtitles
- renting information


The DEFA version of this tale begins like the familiar version by the Brothers Grimm.  The Princess, Henriette, loses her golden ball in a well, and the frog retrieves it for her.  In exchange, he asks to be her companion:  to drink from her cup, to eat from her plate, and to sleep in her bed.  At dinner Henriette consents unwillingly, under pressure from her father, but loses patience when it is time for bed.  When he frog requests that Henriette place him next to her, she picks him up and throws him against the wall.  Then the surprise-- the frog turns into a prince!

But DEFA denies the princess her happy ending;  as she has broken her promise to the frog, she must first prove her loyalty before marrying the prince.  Henriette swears to find him, behind the end of the world.  In the course of her journey, she faces numerous obstacles and learns to only make promises she can keep.  When she finds the prince in the "Citadel of Despair," she dresses herself as the true servant Heinrich (from the original fairy tale), so that she may fulfill her promise;   she and the prince must drink from the same cup, eat from the same plate, and sleep in the same bed.  The very end of the film is a slightly altered version of the original (and less-known) Grimms' ending:  as the prince and his true servant Heinrich ride home, the three gold bands around Heinrich's heart break, and the spell is also broken.

TThis charming retelling of the fairy tale explores the previously avoided conflicting messages of the original.  Henriette's self-absorbtion and unwillingness to keep her promises go rewarded in the Grimms' version with her prince and happy ending.  True to the Socialist ethic of the former East, she must work and prove herself before she is able to receive her reward.  Interesting also is the role reversal between the prince and the princess.  Rather than fight for the princess, the prince must be fought for.  As some critics pointed out, the character of the Frog Prince, who is bewitched so that he can neither love nor feel emotion, is not appealing enough to inspire desire in and of himself.  On the other hand, this gives even greater strength to the character of Henriette;  it is her stubbornness and determination that get her through all her trials. 

Praised for the creative retelling of the tale, as well as the interesting and surprising set-design, this film was well-received by critics.  Jana Mattukat was praised for her spunky and complex portrayal of the true servant Heinrich, more so than for her portrayal of the spoiled and self-involved Henriette.  And Jens-Uwe Bogadtke, who was praised for his acting in the 1986 film Der Bärenhäuter (also directed by Walter Beck), returned to more positive reviews as the Frog Prince.

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