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Theatre / The Blue Bird

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Mytyl: Why do they have to have war? What makes war, anyway?
Daddy Tyl: The same things that make trouble everywhere. Greed. Selfishness. Those who aren't content with what they have.
Mytyl: But you're not like that, Daddy. Why should you have to go?
Daddy Tyl: That's what's wrong about it, Mytyl. You can't be unhappy inside yourself without making others unhappy, too.

A play written in 1908 by Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck. It has been adapted into five films and an anime series, with the best-known version being the 1940 film starring Shirley Temple, which provides the above dialogue.

The original play tells the tale of Mytyl and Tyltyl, two poor children. One night an old crone (who resembles their neighbor Berylune) arrives at their cottage and tells the children they must seek the Bluebird of Happiness for her sickly daughter. She gives the boy a cap with a magic diamond that reveals the true spirits (anthropomorphic personifications) of all things — including their cat Tylette and their dog Tylo, and those of Sugar, Bread, Milk, Water, Fire, and Light. This band serves as their companions as they venture through many lands and encounter everyone from the spirits of their grandparents to the decadent Luxuries to the simpler but more enduring Happinesses to Father Time himself. The Blue Bird proves elusive at every turn, but upon arriving home it turns out to be their own pet bird, which they give to Berylune's daughter. It flies away, and Tyltyl asks the audience to help them find it again...

In the 1940 film, Mytyl (Shirley Temple) is a selfish bratty girl who always complains about not having everything the wealthy children have. One day she catches a bird in the royal forest and keeps it for herself rather than giving it to her bedridden sickly friend. Later, after she complains to her parents about how poor they are, her father gets a message telling him he must go to war. That night, she's visited by the fairy Berylune (Jessie Ralph) who tells her and her brother Tytyl (Johnny Russell) that they can be happy if they find the Blue Bird of Happiness. The fairy transforms their dog Tylo and their cat Tylette into humans (Eddie Collins, Gale Sondergaard) to help them and calls the Anthropomorphic Personification of Light (Helen Ericson) to guide them. Together they visit the past, the land of luxury, the forest, and even the future, searching for the Blue Bird. Along the way, they learn some important lessons happiness and return empty-handed. Only to find that the bird Mytyl caught at the beginning was blue all along. She gives it to her friend and it flies away, but she says it's all right, because we all know where to find it again.

The second most famous adaptation, and the last film version, was directed by George Cukor in 1976 and was the first-ever cinematic collaboration between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., featuring Elizabeth Taylor (Mother, Berylune, Light, and Maternal Love), Jane Fonda (Night), Cicely Tyson (Tylette), Ava Gardner, and Russian performers in most of the minor roles. Due in part to the severe culture clash between the Americans and Russians, the shoot was difficult and the expensive result (while quite faithful to the play) was widely derided. It bombed at the box office, and has never had a legit video release in the U.S.

The 1918 film version, starring Tula Belle as Mytyl and Robin Macdougall as Tyltyl, is less well remembered today, but was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2002.

The anime series, produced by Office Academy, lasted 26 episodes on Fuji Television from January to July 1980 and was directed by Hiroshi Sasagawa (Speed Racer) and developed by a team of Space Battleship Yamato veterans, notably Yoshinobu Nishizaki and Leiji Matsumoto. It moved the setting to the then-modern world of the late 1970s and introduced a number of fantastical elements not present in other versions. This version was conceived as a musical with a number of Insert Songs, and was notable at the time for being one of the first anime to be broadcast in stereo. The series was broadcast in several European countries and even in Canada (in French), but no English version exists.

A second anime (an hour-long OVA) was made in 1989 by Sanrio, featuring their popular characters Kiki and Lala (aka the Little Twin Stars) as Tyltyl and Mytyl. This adaptation was part of Sanrio World Masterpiece Theater/Sanrio World of Animation which were screened at three theaters in Japan during the summers of 1989-1991.

Maeterlinck also wrote a much lesser-known sequel to the play, The Betrothal, about Tyltyl, now sixteen years old, looking for his true love.

This play contains examples of:

  • And You Were There: The same actress plays both the children's mother and the Spirit of Maternal Love. The 1976 version expands on this by having her actress also play Berylune (referred to in the credits as "The Witch") and Light.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Most of the characters are these, representing concepts, objects, or animals.
  • Babies Ever After: The sequel reveals Tyltyl will have six children and twenty-four grandchildren.
  • Bluebird of Happiness: The kids are looking for it.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: At the end, Tyltyl does this to ask audience members to — if any of them should find it — return the Blue Bird to him and the sick girl.
  • Cats Are Mean: Tylette. She does not like being in thrall to mankind, and tries to encourage her cohorts to keep the children from fulfilling their quest to find the secret of happiness because that would only put animals, etc. further under Man's control. When that fails, she collaborates with Night and later the tree spirits to stop the children.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The big one turns out to be the children's pet bird, which is revealed in the end to be the Blue Bird.. Less importantly, the children's father is a woodcutter, and the tree spirits of the forest — already bitter with mankind's dominance over them — are not happy to meet them as a result.
  • Dark Is Evil: Night is the keeper of the world's secrets (both good and evil), and does not want Man to know the secret of happiness. With this in mind, she tries to scare the children and their companions away with some of the nastier things she keeps under lock and key, including ghosts, wars, and diseases. And Death can be seen sleeping at her feet.
  • Death of a Child: When Mytyl and Tyltyl meet the spirits of their grandparents, they also meet the spirits of their half-dozen dead siblings, all of whom died very young.
  • Everything Talks: Once their spirits are revealed, anyway. Animals, trees, food, you name it!
  • Fairy Tale: A theater example, and an original story to boot.
  • Female Feline, Male Mutt: Tylette and Tylo, respectively.
  • Idle Rich: All the Luxuries do is enjoy parties and feasts in their palace.
  • It Was with You All Along: Justified: Their pet bird was black before the children set off, but after they're "en-Lightened" to what's truly important in life (as critic John Simon put it), they return to find it's turned blue.
  • Light Is Good: And she is the leader of the sidekicks.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: The final scene reveals that the children's year-long quest for the Blue Bird is a dream that unfolds over one night, but not only is their neighbor Berylune's daughter actually ill, their pet bird is now blue...
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The poor kids finally get the Blue Bird only for it to fly away almost as soon as they give it to the sick girl!
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Two children-to-be have fallen in love in the Kingdom of the Future, but one isn't due to be born yet and has to watch as their sweetheart heads down to Earth without them. (They hope to find each other someday.)
  • Theme Naming: With one exception, the names of every character contain the syllable "Tyl" at least once.
  • True Beauty Is on the Inside: One of the big Aesops. The diamond's ability to reveal the true nature of things allows Tyltyl and Mytyl to see just how beautiful things they take for granted or fear actually are, starting with the old crone being revealed as a beautiful fairy. Maternal Love resembles what their mother would look like if she weren't weighed down with the day-to-day responsibilities of running a household and raising kids, and The Land of the Dead initially looks like a graveyard but turns out to be a beautiful garden of peaceful departed souls. The children, once they return home, take this lesson to heart and can see the beauty of their surroundings and family without the diamond.

The 1918 version includes examples of:

  • Spared by the Adaptation: In a sense. Tyltyl and Mytyl's unborn baby brother makes no mention of his early death.
  • Young Future Famous People: In this one it's Thomas Edison, who has already come up with the idea of the light bulb as he waits to be born.

The 1940 version includes examples of:

  • An Aesop:
    • "We'll find it again because now, we know where to look for it, don't we?"
    • In the sequence with the grandparents, we're reminded that no one ever really dies — but they mostly sleep, waking only when we remember them.
  • Artistic License – History: The film is set during The Napoleonic Wars, and the Tyrolean rebel Andreas Hofer is mentioned as rallying the people against Napoleon. However, Hofer was executed by Napoleon in 1810, while American surgeon and pharmacist Crawford Long, who is shown as being fated to be born on the same day as this story happens, was actually born on 1 November 1815, over four months after the Battle of Waterloo ended the Napoleonic Wars.
  • Big Fancy House: The Luxurys' mansion.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Mytyl/Shirley looks straight in the camera when saying "don't we?" at the very end of the movie (see An Aesop above). A slightly different version of Breaking The Fourth Wall than in the play.
  • Cats Have Nine Lives: Mytyl uses this to explain why Tylette is waiting back at the house after being burned to death in the forest.
  • Creepy Crows: A squawking crow lends atmosphere when the kids go into the graveyard to look for the Blue Bird.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Until the children's dream begins. The rest of the film is in color, even when they return to the real world.
  • Disney Death: Tylette, who still has eight lives left.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Tyltyl and Mytyl's family live in a village in a place clearly based on the Tyrol during the Napoleonic Wars, with Tyrolean rebel Andreas Hofer being referenced. However, the film opens with a sign posted by the royal forest in which Tyltyl and Mytyl go to catch the bird, reading: "No Trespassing by order Rudolph IV". There was a Rudolph IV who was Duke of Austria and also Count of Tyrol, but he died in 1365. This would seem to imply that the country is a fictional kingdom inspired by the Imperial Austrian crownland of the Tyrol.
  • Young Future Famous People: When they go to the land of tomorrow, they meet the unborn versions of several famous people, including Thomas Edison; Abraham Lincoln; Queen Victoria ("I'm going to be born to a throne!"); and Crawford Long, one of the inventors of anesthesia. (Time calls out "Crawford!" when it's his turn to go, so we know it's him.)

The 1976 version contains examples of:

  • Canon Foreigner: Luxury, Ava Gardner's character. Like the play's Luxuries she embodies a particular indulgence, but unlike them which one it is isn't revealed. (See Femme Fatale below for more on this issue.)
  • Color-Coded Elements: Reflected in several characters' costumes.
    • Light: White
    • Night (dark): Black
    • Fire: Red
    • Water: Blue
  • Composite Character: Here, the old crone Berylune (called "The Witch" in the credits) is revealed to be Light herself, rather than a fairy.
  • Costume Porn: Elizabeth Taylor (as Light), Jane Fonda, and Ava Gardner all get glamorous costumes.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: Light's gown, tiara, and wand, as well as Night's elaborate hat.
  • Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry: Luxury.
  • Femme Fatale: Luxury is this to Tyltyl — she ends up diverting the whole party from their quest when she convinces him to come with her to the Palace of Luxury and enjoy the fun and food there. It's clear he finds her attractive, and when he asks her which specific luxury she happens to be (after she introduces him to ones like The Luxury of Eating When You Are Not Hungry and The Luxury of Knowing Nothing), she tells him that he'll find out when he's older. She even dresses in red; while her gowns are not typical of the Lady in Red trope, the symbolic function of the color is clear.
  • Gem-Encrusted: Luxury and her cohorts' costumes.
  • Grief Song: "Wings in the Sky" for Light when the children realize, to their sorrow, that the (fake) bluebirds they caught in Night's castle have all died.
  • Let's Mock the Monsters: Mytyl and Tyltyl are initially afraid of the ghosts in Night's castle, who resemble decaying Elizabethan actors and moan their way through Shakespeare. But when Tylo barks and paws at them to defend his masters, the children realize the ghosts are capable of being scared too. They find this funny and from there easily drive them back behind their door.
  • The Musical: There are both songs and dance interludes, the latter showing off some of Russia's top ballet dancers of the period.
  • No Song for the Wicked: None of the villainous characters get to sing or dance.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: One that has the Blue Bird in flight.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Light.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Most of Fire's dialogue. Light, Water, and Bread each have rhyming speeches when they are first revealed, but Fire speaks almost exclusively this way.
  • "Setting Off" Song: "Blue Halloo", a song about finding and sharing happiness, though it's placed after the kids have made their first stop in the Land of Memory.

The 1980 anime version contains examples of:

  • Pink Girl, Blue Boy: Tyltyl wears a blue jacket over a white shirt, and Mytyl wears a pink dress over a white shirt.

Tropes specific to the sequel, The Betrothal:

  • Call-Back: When the Light takes Tyltyl to see his unborn children, he immediately recalls the Kingdom of the Future from The Blue Bird.
  • Chick Magnet: There are seven girls in love with Tyltyl.
  • Demoted to Extra: Mytyl is only mentioned, since her time to choose her true love hasn't come yet.
  • Dirty Old Man: The Drunkard and the Murderer try to hit on girls who are in love with their distant descendant.
  • First Girl After All: The first girl of the seven to appear onstage wins. It's Joy, who has already been featured in the previous play.
  • Friendly Rivalry: The girls vying for Tyltyl's attention are generally friendly with each other, realizing the situation they're caught up in isn't anyone's fault.
  • Graceful Loser: The six girls who aren't chosen keep their calm and part with Tyltyl affectionately.
  • Kissing Cousins: Two of Tyltyl's crushes, Aimette and Belline, are his cousins.
  • Odd Name Out: Tyltyl's crushes have names that end in either -ette, -ine, or -elle, and then there's Joy, who turns out to be his true love.
  • Romantic Runner-Up: Six of them, but the one who has the strongest connection to Tyltyl is Jalline, so much that the Light thinks she will be the one chosen. Among the girls, she is the most reluctant to leave in the end.
  • Uptown Girl: One of Tyltyl's crushes is the mayor's daughter Rosarelle.
  • Vicarious Gold Digger: When the Rich Man, one of Tyltyl's distant ancestors, learns that the mayor's daughter Rosarelle is wealthy, he immediately tries to convince Tyltyl to marry her.