The Singing Ringing Tree

1957 | East Germany

Children's film made in 1957 by East German studio DEFA (the original title is Das singende, klingende Baumchen). 

To win the love of a beautiful but conceited princess, the prince sets out to search for the Singing Ringing Tree which she deeply craves. He finds it in an enchanted garden which is ruled by an evil dwarf. The dwarf gives him the tree, subject to one condition - the prince must win the princess' love before nightfall. If he should fail, he will be transformed into a bear... and this comes to pass. 

By a ruse, the bear carries off the unfeeling princess to the enchanted garden where, stripped of her beauty and power, she slowly learns compassion. She wins the affection of the animals, falls in love with the bear and, at last, her beauty is restored. The dwarf sees his plans thwarted and entices the princess out of the magic kingdom. But she has seen through his evil game. Not flinching from hardship and danger, she returns to the enchanted garden and frees her prince. 

The film was broadcast in the UK in 1964 and cut into three parts to create a mini-series, as part of a series titled Tales from Europe. An English-language voice-over track was used rather than a dubbed one. The cast included Christel Bodenstein as the Princess, Eckart Dux who played the Prince/bear, Charles Hans Vogt as the King and Richard Kruger as the dwarf. Released as a special-edition DVD in the UK in December 2011 by Network featuring the original German version with English subtitles together with the English narrated version and prepared using remastered transfers. The release also includes The Tinderbox, based on a fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen. 

The BBC, reviewing the series some years later before reshowing it for the umpteenth time, noted: "For those who know this film, the programme will bring back the thrill of life behind the sofa, when characters talking in strange languages burrowed into the memory. For those who don't know the film, the programme provides an essential guide to a phenomenon that is liable to intrude suddenly into the minds and behaviour of thousands of those you may think you know well..." A Radio Times readers' poll in 2004 voted this programme the 20th spookiest TV show ever.

Published on January 29th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.