Watch Animations of Oscar Wilde’s Children’s Stories “The Happy Prince” and “The Selfish Giant”

Long before Oscar Wilde became a lit­er­ary celebri­ty for his most famous work—The Pic­ture of Dori­an Gray and plays like Salome and The Impor­tance of Being Earnest—he was a bit of a real­i­ty star. Wilde trav­eled the UK and the Unit­ed States (as por­trayed by Stephen Fry here) as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pop­u­lar phi­los­o­phy of “aes­theti­cism,” an urbane nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry move­ment against Vic­to­ri­an prud­ery and the dry moral cal­cu­lus of util­i­tar­i­an­ism and its asso­ci­a­tions with indus­tri­al cul­ture. Aes­thetes such as Wilde sought to ele­vate good taste and the pur­suit of beau­ty alone as a guid­ing prin­ci­ple of art and life. Wilde expressed the ideas in sev­er­al well-known epi­grams, such as the wry­ly redun­dant, “In all unim­por­tant mat­ters, style, not sin­cer­i­ty, is the essen­tial. In all impor­tant mat­ters, style, not sin­cer­i­ty, is the essen­tial.”

Wilde was ridiculed for the many of the same rea­sons he was feted—his flam­boy­ant pub­lic per­sona and devo­tion to aes­theti­cism, which satirists car­i­ca­tured as a kind of deca­dent navel-gaz­ing. But care­ful read­ers of Wilde’s diverse canon of poet­ry, prose, and dra­ma will know of his crit­i­cal looks at solip­sism and super­fi­cial­i­ty. Some of his best works as a moral­ist are his children’s sto­ries, such as the 1888 book of fairy sto­ries The Hap­py Prince and Oth­er Tales. In the title sto­ry, a prince is trans­formed into a glit­ter­ing stat­ue on a pedestal high above a city, where res­i­dents look up to him as an exam­ple of human per­fec­tion. But the prince, we learn, spends his time weep­ing in com­pas­sion for the pover­ty and suf­fer­ing he sees below him. Made in 1974 by Cana­di­an com­pa­ny Pot­ter­ton Pro­duc­tions, and fea­tur­ing the voic­es of Christo­pher Plum­mer and Gly­nis Johns, the ani­mat­ed short film above is a faith­ful ren­der­ing of Wilde’s sto­ry. You can find it added to our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online, under Ani­ma­tion.

In 1971, Pot­ter­ton pro­duced an ear­li­er ani­mat­ed short film based on anoth­er sto­ry from the Hap­py Prince col­lec­tion. A Chris­t­ian alle­go­ry, The Self­ish Giant (above) tells the tale of a cranky giant who walls off his gar­den to keep chil­dren out. The plight of one lit­tle boy changes the giant’s dis­po­si­tion. The film was nom­i­nat­ed for an Oscar for best ani­mat­ed short in 1972. Pot­ter­ton also pro­duced a short film of Hans Chris­t­ian Andersen’s “The Lit­tle Mer­maid,” and stu­dio head Ger­ald Pot­ter­ton would go on in 1981 to direct the cult ston­er film Heavy Met­al. An inter­est­ing irony of the Wilde ani­ma­tions above: both films, and a third called The Remark­able Rock­et, were co-pro­duced with Reader’s Digest, the mag­a­zine that rep­re­sents the hard-head­ed prac­ti­cal­i­ty and sen­ti­men­tal, sex­u­al­ly repres­sive Vic­to­ri­an val­ues (in Amer­i­can dress) that Wilde dis­dained.

If you can’t get enough of Wilde’s mov­ing fairy tales, you won’t want to miss Stephen Fry read­ing “The Hap­py Prince” below.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Oscar Wilde Offers Prac­ti­cal Advice on the Writ­ing Life in a New­ly-Dis­cov­ered Let­ter from 1890

Hear Oscar Wilde Recite a Sec­tion of The Bal­lad of Read­ing Gaol (1897)

“Jer­sey Shore” in the Style of Oscar Wilde

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Samreen M says:

    Yes, we all remem­ber the sto­ry of Hap­py Prince and The Self­ish Giant which we read at a time when we didn’t even know much about the great writer Oscar Wilde. “The Impor­tance of Being Earnest” which is clas­si­cal, triv­ial com­e­dy based on aes­theti­cism was pub­lished far lat­er. Wilde was a mile­stone of aes­theti­cism yet his work is not exempt­ed from moral­i­ty.

    Sam­reen M

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