Latest Trend – The Adult Fairy Tale Movie
Not that long ago, if you went to see a fairy tale movie, it was probably animated and for the kids. But that seems to have changed in the last decade, as movies based on the old fairy tales of our childhood come to the big screen. Not only are they not simply Disney cleaning up the old tales, they are very much movies with adult themes and more than a little on the dark side sometimes. Even the Los Angeles Times has noticed this trend, as they recently did a photo-feature on the slew of adult-oriented films mined from classic fairy tales.
But the truth is this is a trend that has been coming at us pretty strongly for some time now. You can go back to Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm in 2005 to see the beginning of this interest in old folk tales. Here we see Matt Damon and the late Heath Ledger as the two bickering con men and brothers in the title. They are adventurers who make up stories of monsters and heroes in order to cheat vulnerable villagers. But they get caught up in their own tales when local authorities threaten them with execution for their crimes unless they can release the curse placed by an ancient and deadly Queen. It is classic Gilliam aided by some wonderful acting and, of course, wonderfully inventive humor and settings.
Dark Fairy Tale Film Gains Cult Following
But it was the next fantasy/fairy tale film that has become a cult-classic. I am talking of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. The effects may seem old hat by now, but the dark tale of a young girl who stumbles into a fantasy world continues to mesmerize me years later. Set during the dark days of World War II in Spain, we meet Ophelia. Little does she know she is the reincarnation of Moanna, Princess of the Underworld. When she is led by a fairy-like creature into her father’s realm, she discovers that if she wishes to reclaim her rightful place she must prove her claim. It is a dark and deeply spiritual journey and the twin tales of Ophelia and Moanna lead us into a place of pagan beauty and fearful revelations. It is a disturbing film and one that stays with you for years to come.
A few years later saw a new interpretation of Alice in Wonderland from Tim Burton with Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter. The visual opposite in many ways from Pan’s Labyrinth, it was wild, outrageous and campy. It was just plain fun. I recall going to see this with a group of friends and just being amazed. In this telling, it has been 13 years since Alice last visited and she is not the little kid she was the last time. There is much that has changed in Wonderland since then, and we get to ride along as Alice tries to save Wonderland from a very maniacal Queen of Hearts. Helena Bonham Carter’s turn of the crazed character is over the top, as it needs to be. It is wild, fun and definitely one to watch with your best buddies.
A Pair of Beasts
And then there is Beastly. This retelling of Beauty and the Beast came out in 2011. But frankly I don’t even recall seeing the trailer. He is handsome and popular, the guy in college every girl wants to date. He is pretty up front about how people judge by the outer package. Then, of course, he gets cursed by a witch that he ridicules in public. Now he must find someone in the next year who will love him even though he is ugly. And, of course – he finds her. But for my money, Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton sewed up this old chestnut back in 2008 with their Beauty and the Beast TV show. Now there was romance, wonder and costumes galore. On top of that Perlman made you love Vincent, even with all that extra makeup to make him ugly. So, for my money you might want to compare them (there is a movie night idea!) and see who you think tells the tale the best.
Fairy Tales Grow Up
The same year that brought Beastly brought us a very adult version of Little Red Riding Hood called simply Red Riding Hood. No little girl here, our Red’s story is set in medieval Europe in the midst of a werewolf epidemic. And Red is, of course, caught in a lustful and romantic triangle between two lovers, one of whom we are sure is the werewolf. Lots of suspense, a bit of the paranormal romance here and some great acting from Gary Oldman as the man who wants to get to the bottom of it all. It has some Twilight creds with Katherine Hardwick directing and Billy Burke showing up. Beautifully shot, sensual and tasty. Just don’t expect it to be too deep and you will be fine.
You could almost say the same of last year’s yummy gift, Snow White and the Huntsman. Even with the Twilight star Kristen in the lead role, this gutsy re-telling of the old tale has some meat and real acting to it. Well, some of it does, thanks to Charlize Theron’s very evil and entertaining role as the Evil Queen. Snow is no pampered princess; rather she stages a daring break and heads for the woods when she learns her fate. It is the story of the hunter, sent by the Queen to take Snow’s heart out and bring it to her that starts the changes. He sees in Snow a change for the kingdom, a way to rescue it from the evil that the Queen has infused his land in. From here it is an adventure story in the best fantasy tradition. Not clever or particularly brilliant, but beautifully costumed, designed and shot. It is the kind of fairy tale we now expect.
This Year’s Crop of Fairy Tale Movie Fun
This year we have a pair that both look to continue the path set by Red Riding Hood. Just out this past January was Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Basically it is the familiar fairy tale pair quite a few years later. They have come to enjoy killing witches after their early success. Now they go looking for them. This time around, there is something else taking kids, and they begin to suspect it is more than just another ordinary witch. Some old fashion horror elements here, and a bit of romance here and there. It’s a steampunk version with the leads as bounty hunters and plenty of gore to go around. If you like your gore in multi-plex glory, you might want to see if it is still around. Wait for the Netflix version, is my advice. Coming up is Jack the Giant Killer.
So, this one is my final look at the retelling of old fairy tales into modern films. Jack will be out in May, so all we can go by now are the trailers. So far, I must admit my reaction is that the film looks fun. It seems that Jack meets a princess (of course) one night and this gigantic bean somehow sprouts up into the land of giants above. Of course, Jack has to go and help rescue her. But what looks fun actually is the tongue in cheek approach the whole story seems to have. I will have to wait and see if it actually delivers on its promise, but I think it may be worth a trip to the theatre. If not, my trusty Netflix will deliver it soon enough or I can always order it on Amazon.
Where Hollywood will go with this craze is anyone’s guess. Like anything, you mine it long enough and you get a few gems amongst the dross. When this started I was really looking forward to it, and the early fairy tale movie attempts were entertaining. But like the comic book films, they will need to work harder to amuse us now that the basic premise no longer thrills. Still, there may be a few good surprises coming yet from this concept. Emma Thompson in Beauty and the Beast for Del Toro and Kate Blanchett as Cinderella, not to mention Angelina Jolie as the Evil Queen from Sleeping Beauty in Maleficent are all something to look forward to and slated for 2014.