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Reading Odd Film: “Red Riding Hood”

Photo courtesy of Pexels/Turuncu Sakal

Hello, and welcome back to Reading Odd Films, where I look at odd film adaptations of books. Today we’re looking at “Red Riding Hood” (1989), an adaptation of the tale of Little Red Riding Hood,

This movie musical was directed by Adam Brooks (who went on to write and direct Definitely, Maybe) and starred Isabella Rosellini and Craig T. Nelson. “Red Riding Hood” was the last project in a series of films called Cannon Movie Tales by the straight-to-video company Cannon Films. This series of films adapted well-known fairy tales into cheap movie musicals.

This beloved stranger-danger morality tale was an odd choice for a full-length feature film because of the original tale’s brevity. The filmmakers got around this by expanding the lore of the movie and developing the character of Little Red, now called Linet. This is the most interesting aspect of the film. The movie has only a vague connection to the original tale. The fairytale is more of a template for the film.

Our heroine, Linet, is the daughter of Lady Jeanne and Lord Percival, played by Rosellini and Nelson. When Linet goes missing and is presumed dead, her father’s evil twin, Lord Godfrey, also played by Nelson, rules her land with an iron fist. Godfrey keeps trying to propose marriage to Jeanne, but she refuses. 

Linet’s parental grandmother is a healer witch who helps the town. She gives the famous red hood significance by enchanting it to protect Linet. Which becomes the reason she survives being eaten. It’s implied that Linet’s grandmother and her sons (Linet’s father and uncle) have some form of magical powers and/or dabble in magic. But this is another part of the movie’s lore that is never elaborated upon. 

The most interesting diversion from the original tale is the inclusion of “the big bad wolf” (who is never called that, but he fills the same role). In this movie, he’s a shapeshifter named Dagger who is implied to be a demon that has Lord Godfrey’s soul. The movie never uses that exact wording, but they do say that Godfrey gave up his “heart” (a.k.a. his ability to feel empathy) because he thought that his “heart” made him a weak ruler.  

This fantastically strange lore isn’t explored or elaborated on as much as it could be. But it’s still a really interesting idea. The movie seems to want to give Dagger an arc about wanting to be good, but that’s torpedoed by the end of the film. Dagger is a pathetic little guy, no one in the town respects him, he’s constantly made fun of because his “wolf” form looks more like a cute German Shepherd than a scary wolf. He has a song about how he likes being evil right after having a homo-erotic discussion with Lord Godfrey, debating whether someone can love without a “heart.” In reality, I think he just wants to be liked and to have friends. This is suggested when he’s genuinely pleasantly shocked when Linet wants to have a friendly conversation without any ulterior motives. The end of the movie where he tries to eat Linet is nothing more than character assassination. 

Linet’s father is not dead. He returns to Linet’s grandma after “the war”, and she updates him on what’s been going on since he left to fight. So he and some of the villagers make a plan to overthrow Lord Godfrey. For reasons that will not make sense, they hold off on telling Lady Jeanne and Linet until Lord Godfrey is defeated. But father and daughter are reunited when he cuts Linet out of Dagger’s stomach, essentially making him fulfill the role of the huntsman. 

Lord Godfrey is defeated when Lord Percival goes up to his castle and tells him to knock it off. Lord Godfrey walked away with his tail between his legs after Percival killed the Dagger, he lost some of his powers, but it’s just another part of the magic system that’s only implied. 

“Red Riding Hood” (1989) is a pretty charming fairy tale movie musical. Is it good on a technical level? No, but it’s really fun and has some interesting ideas, even if they were not always explored. Making Linet and “The Wolf” become acquainted before he eats her shifts the message from “stranger danger” to “don’t trust blindly”, which is more applicable to real life.

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