thu 19/09/2019

DVD: Tales From Europe | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Tales From Europe

DVD: Tales From Europe

So peculiar they're beyond parody - two fairy tales for the young at heart

Eckart Dux and Christel Bodenstein fail to hit it off at the start of 'The Singing Ringing Tree'

Nightmarish images abound. There’s a giant plastic fish. There are several scary beards and the world’s most unconvincing bear costume. Often cited as one of the most unsettling of children’s entertainments, The Singing Ringing Tree is reissued by Network DVD along with The Tinderbox. Both were made in East Germany in 1957 and 1959 and became known when shown in serial form on BBC television in the 1960s.

A naïve prince has to win the hand of a spoilt princess by obtaining said tree; into the mix come a malicious dwarf and a variety of helpful animals. There’s a lot of transformation going on. The Prince becomes a bear, and the Princess loses her looks, acquiring green hair and a pointed nose. We watch the two characters evolve. She regains her beauty with every good deed she performs, saving a unicorn from a snowdrift and using her posh frock to carry boulders. The dwarf is defeated by the Princess, and the Prince can finally shed his ursine form.

You’ll jump when the witch suddenly turns into a snake, only to be decapitated by the poor soldier

Magical art direction and ingenious special effects make Francesco Stefani's film stand up surprisingly well – sets are painted in beautiful primary colours and there’s some lovely model work. The incidental music is gorgeous. Eckart Dux is a grave, wise presence when disguised as a bear, and Christel Bodenstein makes a lovely female lead. You can watch the film with subtitles, or in a narrated version with the German dialogue abruptly faded. 

The Tinderbox is a little more mainstream, based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. But there’s still enough weirdness to satisfy. You’ll jump when the witch suddenly turns into a snake, only to be decapitated by the poor soldier. Best of all are the three enormous dogs which can be summoned to aid the hero when the tinderbox is struck. Unlike the earlier film, this can be watched in a decent English dubbed version. Extras include stills galleries for both films, and there’s a recent interview with Bodenstein to accompany The Singing Ringing Tree. Perfect for thinking children and nostalgic adults.

Watch an excerpt from The Singing Ringing Tree

There are several scary beards and the world’s most unconvincing bear costume


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article


Yep i remeber this from the early seventies - along with Golden Hair and that freaky version of Beauty and the beast - but the original is in Czech right?

These two films are both in German. I can recall lots of strange Czech animation on BBC childrens' tv in the 70s - wasn't there one about a mole?

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature


A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway


Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.



This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman


Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.


Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.