Epic Tales’s Hansel & Gretel (2012) revisits the well-known fairy tale with tongue firmly in cheek. An affable bookseller/storyteller named Silvertongue narrates the story of an impoverished woodcutter, his shrewish wife, and their two children. The plot contains several differences from more traditional versions of the story:
- Tiny, bad-tempered gnomes are ubiquitous in the illustrations and animations, but never mentioned in the text until they eat Hansel’s breadcrumb trail.
- After the children’s wicked stepmother takes them deep into the forest, she gets lost there herself and is never seen again — although her complaining can still be heard.
- Hansel shoots the witch with his slingshot, pitching her forward into her own cauldron, which propels her up the chimney and out of the house.
- A garden full of modern-day sweets (e.g., fizzy lemonade, gummies, and cotton candy) surrounds the witch’s house. The enchanted gummy animals are returned to their true forms after the witch’s defeat. A formerly-gummy swan offers to fly the children home.
- Hansel, much heavier after his ordeal, is magically restored to his previous skinny state.
The richly colored illustrations are pleasantly reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons and well suited to the story’s light tone. An impressive amount of animation is seamlessly integrated into the illustrations, humorously extending the story.
The main menu offers three options for experiencing the app. “Read to me” mode plays the narration without displaying the text. Interactivities on each screen are disabled while the narration plays; tapping a “sparkle” icon in the upper right-hand corner interrupts the narrator and skips straight to allowing users to access the interactive elements. In “read by myself” mode, the narration is off, and the text displays on a scrolling pane across the bottom of the screen. “Play around” mode forgoes the story entirely so that users may explore Hansel and Gretel’s world.
The navigation is well-designed and simple, with self-explanatory icons and a thumbnail chapter that’s accessible from any screen. The cheerful music and sound effects have separate on/off controls. English and Dutch language options are provided.
A caveat: as the Kirkus review points out, the characters of Gretel and the children’s father are “largely relegate[d]…to passive roles.” In the father’s case this passivity minimizes his complicity in the wicked stepmother’s machinations, rendering him innocent. In Gretel’s case, however, it makes her a mere tag-along to the story’s star, “clever” Hansel. (And another thing — we’re repeatedly told Hansel is clever, but his behavior isn’t consistent with this characterization.) Most of the app’s changes to the plot are innocuous, if unnecessary, but one change I find troubling is the revised denouement. Instead of Gretel saving the day by pushing the witch into her own oven, here Hansel defeats the witch alone. This version is more Hansel’s story than that of Hansel and Gretel.
More Epic Tales fairy tales narrated by Silvertongue are on the way.
Available for iPad and iPhone (requires iOS 5.1 or later); $3.99. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.