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Das singende, klingende Bäumchen (The Singing, Ringing Tree)

1957, color, 74 min. Children's
Dir.: Francesco Stefani
Script: Anne Geelhaar
Camera: Karl Plintzner, Walter Rosskopf
Music: Heinz-Friedel Heddenhausen
Christel Bodenstein (Princess); Charles Hans Vogt (King); Eckart Dux (Prince/Bear); Richard Krüger (Dwarf); Dorothea Thiesing (Nurse); Freddy Barten (Minister)
Based on a fragment by the Brothers Grimm
VHS-PAL, no subtitles

VHS-NTSC, English subtitles:
DVD, German or dubbed in English, French and Spanish:


Once upon a time, there was a beautiful and arrogant princess, who had rejected all her suitors.  When the film opens, a prince asks for her hand in marriage, and she spurns his gallantry.  She says she will only accept him if he brings her the Singing, Ringing Tree.  Determined to win the Princess's love, the Prince finds the Singing, Ringing Tree in the possession of a dwarf, who parts with the tree on one condition:  if the Princess does not love the Prince by sunset, he must return to the dwarf's realm.  The Prince is so confident that he adds to his penalty:  not only will he return, but he will also turn into a bear.  Alas, the Princess rejects him and the Prince turns into a bear, taking the tree back with him.

The Princess sends her father to retrieve the Singing, Ringing Tree for her, and the King finds it with the bear.  The bear give it to him, as long as the King will give him the first thing he meets when he returns to the castle.  Unfortunately the Princess meets him at the door, and the King decides, rather than sacrifice his daughter, he will have the bear killed.  The bear lives, finds the Princess, and carries her off to his home. 

Now the second part of the story begins.  The dwarf decides to cast a spell on the Princess, so that her appearance will reflect her inner ugliness.  She will become beautiful again only as she redeems herself with good deeds, and does so under the gentle guidance of the kind bear.  Only then does the Princess realize how much she loves the bear, and, with the help of her new animal friends, is able to save him. 

This DEFA film is loosely based on Grimms' "The Singing, Springing Lark," but differs from it greatly, incorporating the themes of transformation and beauty.  Rather than start with a beautiful Princess, who is also a good person, DEFA plays with this relationship between interior and exterior, making the beauty inwardly ugly and the beast the kinder person.  The final transformations of the Prince and Princess (once they are both kind, they both become beautiful) indicate a much closer connection between outward appearance and inner qualities, and DEFA, as a result, was greatly criticized for potentially confusing the child audience. 

Indeed, among the first of the DEFA feature film fairy tales, Das singende, klingende Bäumchen is much less didactic than the later films, such as Schneewittchen (1961), and the Socialist agenda is much more latent than in, say, Das Zaubermännchen (1960).  Partially as a result of the criticism received for this film, DEFA decided to make subsequent fairy tales more pointed in their lessons. 

Also available for purchase:  The Singing, Ringing Tree teaching guide!

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