The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm is a 1962 American film directed by Henry Levin and George Pal. The latter was the producer and also in charge of the stop motion animation. The film was one of the highest grossing films of 1962. It won one Oscar and was nominated for three additional Academy Awards. Several famous actors — including Laurence Harvey, Jim Backus, Barbara Eden, and Buddy Hackett — are in the film.
It was filmed in the groundbreaking Cinerama format, which was photographed in an arc with three lenses, on a camera that produced three strips of film. Three projectors, in the back and sides of the theatre, produced a panoramic image on a screen that curved 146 degrees around the front of the audience.
The story focuses on the Grimm brothers, Wilhelm (Laurence Harvey) and Jacob (Karlheinz Böhm), and is biographical and fantastical at the same time. Both are working to finish a history for a local Duke (Oscar Homolka), though Wilhelm is more interested in collecting fairy tales and often spends their money to hear them from locals. Tales such as “The Dancing Princess” and “The Cobbler and the Elves” are integrated into the main plot. One of the tales is told as an experiment to three children in a book store to see if publishing a collection of fairytales has any merit. Another tale, “The Singing Bone”, is told by an old woman (Martita Hunt) in the forest who tells stories to children, while the uninvited Wilhelm secretly listens through an open window. The culmination of this tale involves a jeweled dragon and features the most involved usage of the film’s special effects.
Eventually, Wilhelm loses the manuscript of the Duke’s family history while writing down this third story – he is actually supposed to be collecting additional information for the family history – and the brothers cannot meet their deadline. So they are required to pay their rent, which was withheld while they worked. Meanwhile, because he was wading through a stream in an effort to retrieve the manuscript (which fell into the water after his briefcase broke open), Wilhelm becomes critically ill with pneumonia and lies at death’s door. He dreams that at night various fairytale characters come to him, begging him to name them before he dies. The experience causes the fever to break and Wilhelm recovers completely, continuing his work as his brother publishes regular books such as a history of German grammar and a book on law. However, Jacob, shaken by his brother’s experience, now begins to collaborate on the fairy tales with Wilhelm.
The two are ultimately invited to receive honorary membership at the Berlin Royal Academy, which makes no mention of the tales in their invitation. But as the train pulls into the station and Jacob prepares to make a speech deliberately insulting the Academy for snubbing Wilhelm, hordes of children arrive, chanting, “We want a story!” Wilhelm begins: “Once upon a time, there were two brothers”. The children raise their voices in a loud cheer, and the film ends.