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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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…
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.