The Pied Piper in Popular Culture

A Project Fairytale Post:

The Pied Piper isn’t one of the more popular fairy tale characters around.  Unlike Snow White, Cinderella, Little Rats musicalRed Riding Hood, or Rumpelstiltskin, he’s seriously underrepresented in movies and TV shows. Maybe it’s because he’s not a good guy (he’s actually pretty creepy, considering that he lures all those kids away) but he’s not a full-on villain either. Compared to baddies like Maleficent and the evil Queen in Snow White, he’s kind of a lightweight. Even so, he’s famous enough to appear in various songs, musicals, movies, and TV shows.

Given that the Pied Piper is a musician, there are a few songs about him. The most well-known of them is a 1960s pop tune by Crispian St. Peters. The Piper is also featured in songs by Jethro Tull, Abba, and Donovan (who actually played the Pied Piper in the 1972 movie). There are three musicals about the fairy tale, including Rats! which is performed in Hamelin on a daily basis in the summer months, as part of their Pied Piper festivities. I seriously need to visit Hamelin now!

Movies & TV
The Pied Piper has never been lucky enough to star in his own Disney animated movie, but he was featured in a 1933 animated short, as part of the Disney Fables series. He’s also been the donovan pied pipersubject of a few movies, including the 1957 made-for-TV musical called The Pied Piper of Hamelin and the 1972 film, The Pied Piper, starring the folk singer Donovan. Although I couldn’t find this movie on DVD, from the reviews I read, it sounds like a darkly realistic version of the story, set in medieval Germany during the time of the Black Plague.

When I researched other Piper-themed movies, I was surprised to see The Sweet Hereafter listed. It’s a 1997 Canadian film about a horrific school bus accident that kills many of the town’s children. The one girl who survives is left paralyzed; she represents the lame child left behind by the Pied Piper in the fairy tale. In the movie, she’s also shown reading the Robert Browning poem out loud to two of the children.

On a lighter note, I found a direct-to-video Peanuts cartoon called, “It’s the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown.” I’m a big fan of the Peanuts Christmas and Easter specials, but this is a weak retelling of the story with sub-par animation. In this version of the fairy tale (which Charlie Brown reads to his sister, Sally), the rats become cute mice (‘sports mice and dancing mice’), and the Piper (Snoopy) punishes the mayor and council for reneging on their contract by making them follow him out of town, where they burst into spontaneous barbershop quartet-style melodies!

The classic live-action series, Faerie Tale Theatre also produced a Pied Piper episode in 1985. It’s basically a recitation of the Robert Browning poem, with Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame!) starring as both the narrator and the Piper.

In the Fractured Fairy Tale version (which was shown on the old Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons from the 1960s), the Pied Piper takes the story quite literally, because the piper uses his pipe (a smoking pipe, not a musical one) to create pies! When he makes tobacco leaf pies, everyone who eats them disappears!

Shrek Pied_Piper

The Pied Piper also makes an appearance in the fourth Shrek movie, Shrek Forever After. Rumpelstiltskin (who is the main baddie in this movie) hires the Piper to get the Ogre rebellion under control with his music. When the Ogres hear his flute, they’re start dancing wildly to “Shake Your Groove Thing.”

The Piper has yet to show up on my favorite fairytale-inspired TV show, Once Upon a Time, but I’m hoping he’ll be added to the large cast of characters at some point. However, the first season of Grimm (a police procedural show with fairy tale elements), had a great Piper-themed episode, called “Danse Macabre.” The story featured a musical prodigy—the son of an exterminator—who could charm rats with his violin.

I’m sure there are more examples out there, but this is what I could find. Let me know if you’ve seen any other Pied Piper movies/TV shows!



3 thoughts on “The Pied Piper in Popular Culture

  1. Yeah, the Shrek movies did a good job with his character. Plus, his flute had all these cool settings – not just the one for Ogres, but one for unicorns, too!

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