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Weekend Roundtable: Best & Worst Fairy Tale Movies

Hollywood seems to love mining old fairy tales for movie scripts. This week’s theatrical release of ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’ (adapted from ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’) is just the latest example. In today’s Roundtable, we take a look at some of the best and worst examples of this trend.

Shannon Nutt

Best: It’s a story of “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love and miracles…” Is there any doubt that ‘The Princess Bride‘ is the best fairy tale movie ever made? Inconceivable!

Worst: As for the worst, I’ve never actually sat down and watched titles like ‘Mirror Mirror’ or ‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters’, so while it’s possible one of those might be the worst-ever, it wouldn’t be fair of me to judge. However, I have to say that the worst fairy tale film I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching was the recent Tim Burton take on ‘Alice in Wonderland‘. A great looking movie? No doubt. A coherent story? Nowhere to be found.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Best:Ella Enchanted‘ is an infectiously cute, clever, post-modern spin on the traditional fairy tale. Sure, sure, there’s the usual stuff too: oodles of magic and your obligatory storybook romance. Part of what sets ‘Ella Enchanted’ apart is a really terrific turn by Anne Hathaway, whose title character is much too strong, intelligent and confident to be mistaken for a damsel in distress. As with ‘Get Over It!’, Tommy O’Haver infuses ‘Ella Enchanted’ with his undying love for ’70s AM radio and a delirious level of fun. Oh, plus there’s a wire-fu martial arts battle, something lesser fairy tale movies keep forgetting about.

Aaron Peck

Best: I have to say ‘Hanna‘ here. Joe Wright’s beautifully dark fairy tale/espionage thriller is one of the most inventive mixing of genres I’ve seen in a long time. The entire movie evokes the whimsical nature of a traditional fairy tale, but in a very dark sense. The Brothers Grimm would be proud of Wright’s morbid mixture of thrilling fantasy and, at times, gruesome horror.

M. Enois Duarte

Best: Since it’s the most recent movie I’ve watched, I’m picking ‘Snow White and the Huntsman‘ as a fairy tale adaptation I really enjoyed. I was really surprised by how well the movie turned out. Sometimes I wonder if it was a conscious choice to give Kristen Stewart very few speaking lines, and the whole love angle of the plot is simply ridiculous. Nonetheless, I was entertained by the overall story with a good performance from Chris Hemsworth. Of course, Charlize Theron is the film’s real highlight.

Luke Hickman

Best: As much as I’d like to list ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, I’m sticking to the Disney definition of “fairy tale” that specifically means a story made for children. I adore everything about ‘Tangled‘. The music resembles that of Disney during its high point in the ’90s. The characters – both human and animal – are fresh, modern, likeable and highly entertaining. The vocal performances by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi are fantastic. The movie has a great amount of laughs and huge heart. Prior to ‘Tangled’, I didn’t care at all for the Rapunzel story, but now I love it.

Worst: Holy hell, what a horrid and awful movie ‘Mirror Mirror‘ is! It’s the worst form of family entertainment. Sure, it may be filled with perfectly fairy tale-esque CG visuals, but that’s the only merit that the movie has going for it. Had it been animated, it would be the random knock-off version that you find in a cardboard case for just a buck at the Walmart checkout stands. But because the studio somehow landed allegedly true-life witch Julia Roberts to play the evil queen, the film was forced into wide release. Armie Hammer has been good in one movie (‘The Social Network’), but only because he was under the direction of a wonderful director. Tarsem Singh may make beautiful-looking movies, but he can’t direct to save his life. I almost laughed when I saw that ‘Mirror Mirror’ was nominated for the Best Makeup Academy Award. I knew that it wouldn’t win because of the caterpillar-of-a-unibrow that Lily Collins sports. A kids’ movie gone bad can make 90 minutes feel like an eternity. Such is the case with ‘Mirror Mirror’.

Tom Landy

Worst: There aren’t many movies that I find so repulsive that I actually turn them off, but one that has made this very short list of mine is Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Brothers Grimm‘. I don’t know what it was exactly – the overacting, the unfunny slapstick humor, the jarring tonal shifts, or perhaps all the above – but I really hated this movie with a passion. So much so, that I still don’t know how it ends and frankly, don’t give much of a crap anyway. That’s too bad, because I found the concept itself to be pretty intriguing. But after half an hour or so, I just couldn’t take anymore. It’s definitely one of the black marks on the fairy tale genre.

Bryan Kluger

Best:Pan’s Labyrinth‘ is probably my favorite fairy tale movie. Guillermo Del Toro did an impeccable job telling this magical yet scary and violent story. It has everything that a fairy tale should have, including monsters, bad guys, fairies, larger-than-life animals, kings, queens and a princess. Everything from the score to the acting is perfect.

Worst: ‘Mirror, Mirror’ is one of my least favorite fairy tale movies. Now, I’m a fan of Tarsem Singh, but he used flashy objects and style over any sort of story, plot or character development. The only thing I actually liked about the film was Julia Roberts, and I don’t even like her. This is a poor perversion of a story that has been cherished for many, many decades. What Tarsem turned out is a tasteless and loud adaptation for kids with severe A.D.D.

Brian Hoss

Best: With ‘Spirited Away‘, Hayao Miyazaki managed a feat full of contradictions. The movie tells a tale that’s both modern and classic. It’s both intensely cultural and worldly accessible. Miyazaki broke the mold for a fairy tale and even outdid his many other great works. ‘Spirited Away’ strides a line that makes it wondrous to viewers of all ages, but also very dark. Chihiro’s struggles through her adventure pull at the viewer’s heart strings, but the film manages not to feel overly sentimental or manipulative. In fact, each theme is so deftly handled and so subtlety conveyed that it would be hard to describe any one aspect as preachy or overbearing, a common pitfall for fairy tales, fables and most modern animated children’s stories. Now if we can just get that on Blu-ray…

Josh Zyber

Aside from Luke’s pick of ‘Tangled’, I’m surprised that none of our contributors chose to name any Disney animated films, not even the classics like ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ or ‘Pinocchio’. Perhaps everyone assumed that the studio already owned this category. I know that I did, which I why I also went another direction.

Best: Neil Jordan’s second feature film, ‘The Company of Wolves‘, reworks ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ as a feminist metaphor for a young girl’s burgeoning sexuality. It’s a fascinating amalgamation of children’s fairy tale and adult werewolf story that transforms the original cautionary moral of the fable (that little girls should always do what they’re told) into an empowering allegory for the blossoming of womanhood and the importance of finding one’s own way in life. The lushly visual film presents a mix of fantasy, dreams and nightmares, littered with overt metaphors. As the matronly Granny, Angela Lansbury channels a bizarre cross between the dotty witch of ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ and the subversively evil matriarch of ‘The Manchurian Candidate’. (“The worst kind of wolves are hairy on the inside,” she warns.) While director Jordan wouldn’t achieve breakout mainstream success until his 1992 hit ‘The Crying Game’, the 1984 ‘Company of Wolves’ was already a minor masterpiece that showed him as a major filmmaking talent just waiting to be recognized. The movie is available on Blu-ray in the UK.

Those are some of our favorite, and a few of our least favorite, movies based on fairy tales. Tell us yours in the Comments.

29 comments

  1. Ryan

    Best Family Friendly Fairy Tale:
    Tangled. LOVE this movie.

    Best Adult Fairy Tale:
    Pan’s Labrynth

    Runners Up:
    Stardust
    Princess Bride

    Worst:
    Honestly, I’m not really sure…but someone did mention Burton’s Alice In Wonderland…and I agree, it was horrible. But is it really a fairytale?

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      I think Alice in Wonderland is close enough to a fairy tale to qualify.

      If I’d thought of it, I would have named Stardust as my Worst pick. Hated that movie. Hated it.

      • Ryan

        I can almost understand not enjoying the movie….but HATING it!? REALLY!? I read your review, and I don’t see anything there that says “hate”. Even the 2 stars would seem to be a bit better than “hate” wouldn’t it?

        Anyway, I thought the movie was really sweet the first time. I admit, the music did put me off a first (the one song is a blatant rip off of LOTR’s Shire song)…but I’ve actually grown to love it. And the second (and third, and fourth, etc) time, I’ve grown to love the movie more and more. For me, Stardust is infinitely re-watchable.

        • I’m with you on that, it definitely has a charm that just keeps entertaining, I especially love the end to that movie too, to me its probably the best modern day take on a movie like Princess Bride

      • Josh, I’m with you on this one. I thought that Stardust was an awful attempt at a great movie. Truthfully, there’s a lot of potential in the source material, but the screenplay was a clustercuss – which I blame due to the screenwriter having too much love for the source material. It tried cramming in way too much, as if to say, “I can’t cut this out, so let’s just trim it down.”

    • William Henley

      I am just one of those people who Burton could throw just about anything at me, and I would love it. I actually really liked his take on Alice in Wonderland. It reminded me of the video game American McGee’s Alice.

      However, I understand people’s annoyances with Burton’s Alice, and so I won’t try to defend it. Just like I understand people’s dislike with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Dark Shadows. I LOVE Charlie, and really enjoyed Dark Shadows, but people are going to like what they like.

      • Again, I’m right there with you, Alice I honestly hated the first time I saw it, but I always give movies a second chance because I was expecting something else entirely, once I watched it again, I love it now.

        Charlie IMO is better than the original, I love the world Burton created there and feel its much better than Willy Wonka, I’m not going to argue with anyone because when I say its better than the original, people flip out, but thats the way I feel and I’ll watch Charlie any day over Willy Wonka (not that I hate the original in any way mind you)

        • William Henley

          I agree 100%. Most people who I know who dislike Charlie is because they are comparing it to Willie Wonka (which is understandable). I did two things with them – 1) I looked at each movie by itself, and 2) I compared both with the book.

          Granted, both movies strayed pretty far from the book, but I felt that Charlie kept to the theme of the book better. In fact, if you watch the documentary, I think the author’s daughter consulted on the movie.

          But I understand 100% why people would prefer the original – it is the original movie, and had a following for about 30 years before Burton’s version came out. Willie was a light-hearted musical fantasy, Burton’s was, well, a Burton movie.

          I know I am not alone with this – I have had a few friends that I have forced to rewatch the Burton version with after they had seen it only once and hated, and after rewatching, they actually now prefer the Burton version as well.

          I think expectation of a movie probably makes up the majority of whether people will like it or not. If you go into a movie expecting one thing, and the movie does not meet your expectations, it doesn’t really matter if the movie is good or not, you are disappointed.

          I am afraid the same is going to be true with Oz this weekend. I think I have unrealistic expectations for this movie, and will have to watch it a second or third time.

          Hmmm, maybe I should give Skyfall a second chance, now that I know what to expect.

  2. I came very close to picking TANGLED myself. I remember catching it on cable and wondering HOW it did not get nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar. It’s one of Disney’s best animated movies.

  3. JM

    Best: ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ by Kim Ji-woon, inspired by the Korean folktale “Janghwa Hongryeon jeon.”

    Worst: ‘The Uninvited,’ the Hollywood remake.

    • Ryan

      how, in any way shape of form is The Uninvited considered a fairytale? oh, that’s right…it’s not.

      However, I am now interested in watching the original (which i did not know existed) since I actually thought the remake was quite good as it was!

  4. EvilResident

    I’ve always had an unusual love for Snow White: a Tale of Terror. Sigourney Weaver is fantastic in it. Can I say Shelly Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre? That show was my childhood.

    The worst, IMO, is probably Ever After or Mirror Mirror.

    • ‘Snow White’ with Sigourney Weaver was actually the first choice I considered for the best. But decided on something more recent.

      Still, I also love that version of the tale.

    • Ryan

      I would have to agree with Enchanted. I really do love that movie.
      As for Legend and Never-ending…I did love them as a child…but it’s been years, and I do not know if they hold up.

  5. Yeah Legend and The Neverending Story are fantastic in every way, those are classics I watch often :)

    As for the Brothers Grimm, that was studio involvement, that movie was NOT a gilliam movie and it showed in many aspects, hence why he never went back to working with a major studio again, that was a huge debacle and one of the best examples of a studio not letting a director do his job

  6. William Henley

    Neverending Story I never cared for. I think I was too young first time I saw it, and my parents and friends watched it over and over again. It scared me to death, and had nightmares for years over it. So I don’t like it, but I certainly can see, as an adult, why so many people do. Amazing fantasy world it sets, fantastic visuals, sound effects, acting and directing, puppetwork. I am sure if I was older when I first saw it, I would have loved it as well.

    My favorite unmentioned fairy tale (er fantasy) story is Willow. The movie is incredible! Granted, some of the visual effects haven’t aged well, but the movie is incredible, and a great story. Looking so forward to the Blu-Ray release of it!

    Least favorites (and I know that I may get some backlash over them) is: Labarynth, Dark Crystal, and Red Riding Hood.

    • Labyrinth is one of my all time favorite childhood movies, Dark Crystal was okay but not one I watch a lot, Labyrinth I’ve seen probably 100 times over the years, that and I’m a big fan of David Bowie, so that helps :)

      • I love Labyrinth too … and ‘Where Are We Now?’ is an excellent new Bowie song. Looking forward to ‘The Next Day’!

        • Barsoom Bob

          According to Rolling Stone the whole album is available for streaming now at iTunes in advance of it release later in the month. There is a also a second video out now, “the stars are out tonight” which features Tilda Swinton and David as a normal couple and two other actors as a young Bowie doppelganger and his girl friend. Quite good and amusing.

      • William Henley

        One of the things I realize with a lot of the 80s movies is that most I like are more from a feeling of nostalgia than anything else. Labarynth, Dark Crystal, and Princess Bride I did not see until about 5 years ago. Princess Bride was a “meh” for me, wasn’t impressed, but I didn’t hate it, it was just okay. Labarynth and Dark Crystal I didn’t care for at all. I bet if I had of grown up on them, though, I would like them much better. Shoot, I have no kids, but I got quite a few kids movies on DVD and Blu-Ray – mainly for the nostalgia reason. Yes, I will still pop in Care Bears Movie 2 from time to time, and I was watching reruns on Hulu the other day of Garfield and Friends.

        I do like David Bowie though.

  7. EM

    Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is one of the all-time best. The gorgeous visuals are reason enough to see it. The characters are given rounded personalities (in particular, the princess is not the nonentity of legend); and the story’s tone varies nicely, offering something for everybody (humor! romance! horror! adventure!), without falling prey to unevenness.

    • William Henley

      I am right there with you on this – it is a gorgeous movie! And Aurora (spelling?) has got to be my favorite Disney princess, with Phillip my favorite Disney prince. The parents were really well written as well. Absolutely incredible movie – in fact, I will go as far as to say it is Disney’s best animated movie with Beauty and the Beast being a CLOSE second.

  8. EvilResident

    Ooh I’m so happy to hear I’m not the only one who loved Snow White: ToT. I rented it once on a whim from a gas station, expecting something terrible. I think it was the title.

    I completely forgot about Enchanted. I loved that.

    I finally thought of two definitive worsts: Pinnochio (Roberto Benigni) or BEASTLY

    • I always thought I was one of the few people who’d seen and really enjoyed Snow White: A Tale of Terror! Glad to see there’s a few here. :-D
      One of Weaver’s best performances, I reckon. Sam Neil is excellent as well.

      Personal faves: (We are talking fairy tale and excluding just fantasy)
      Snow White: ATOT
      Labyrinth
      Dark Crystal
      Princess Bride
      Stardust (Sorry Josh! And it’s better than the book!)

      There’s quite a few I enjoyed, but not enough to say that they’d be in my collection, such as Snow White and the Huntsman, Enchanted, and such. And please don’t hate me… I kinda enjoyed Mirror Mirror as much as Snow White ATH (Both flawed but fun in different ways). If they’d swapped Lilly Collins for Kristen Stewart, Snow White ATH could’ve been REALLY good. ;-)