Friday, January 18, 2013

Dark Side of Fairy Tales

The darker, grittier Disney of my youth is what first got me interested in fairy tales. Their villains made a big impact on my little mind, and it's mainly those scarier scenes that have stuck with me even today. I love fairy tales best when they inspire my imagination and sense of adventure, the same reason I read fantasy.

The problem with many fairy tale adaptations is that they lose the folksy quality, and substitute happy endings with beautiful princesses and handsome princes for more valuable lessons where cleverness, loyalty, modesty, bravery and sacrifice are rewarded. In fact, some original tales have rather unhappy endings, but they make a clear statement about what kind of behavior is and isn't acceptable in the world, and where true happiness lies.

There have been a bunch of new film adaptations of fairy tales, some that are willing to crib notes from the darker stories or less happy endings. A perfect example of the effect when you do would be comparing the recent films MIRROR MIRROR and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. The former prefers a more light-hearted, traditional story, although with some modern updates. It's much more in the Disney camp than HUNTSMAN is. The latter tells a darker, more epic story with a lot of hard-won battles and violence. I definitely enjoyed it, but I have to admit there are some things the 1997 version SNOW WHITE: A TALE OF TERROR does better. Like casting Sigourney Weaver as the queen, for instance.

I would still love to see a feature film do the Little Red Riding Hood story right, since 2011's RED RIDING HOOD did not really pull it off. I was very impressed with what the show ONCE UPON A TIME did with this story though, I would have loved to see a full-length version of their take. Overall, ONCE has done an amazing job with breathing new life into fairy tales. They take each character's story into some dark, unexpected, heartbreaking places, yet it is not a bleak, dreary show at all. Some people still get happy-ish endings, and are rewarded for being true to themselves despite the difficulties they must face to get there. Furthermore, ONCE treats villains much differently than anyone else has, perhaps aside from WICKED author Gregory Maguire. The show fleshes out its villains, telling the story of their needs, feelings, heartache and struggle to be happy despite life's impediments. They become something more than just evil, they're human beings we can identify with. You start to understand why they chose to do what they did.

Another tale being tackled this year is that of little Hansel and Gretel. An independent version called simply HANSEL & GRETEL has already come out on DVD and Blu-Ray, while the more anticipated HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS is due out in theaters soon. The long-awaited MALEFICENT will eventually be out in summer of 2014, which looks at the tale of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the titular villain.  There's also a live action Cinderella coming from Disney, although I expect that one won't stray far from the animated version.

Still, I'm excited about all of this new fairy tale activity. I definitely wanted more after THE BROTHERS GRIMM, and boy are we getting it now. Makes you want to curl up with the Grimm originals, and thankfully there's a new collection that came out in 2012 from Philip Pullman that I can do just that with.

Mirror Mirror via Rotten Tomatoes
Snow White and the Huntsman via Rotten Tomatoes
Snow White: A Tale of Terror via Rotten Tomatoes
Red Riding Hood via Rotten Tomatoes
Once Upon A Time (streaming) via Netflix
Wicked via
Disney moves Maleficent to summer 2014 via Entertainment Weekly
The Brothers Grimm via IMDB
Hansel & Gretel review via Fangoria
Third TV Spot for Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters via
Director Mark Romanek Leaves Disney's Live Action Cinderella via Slash Film
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A new English version via Amazon

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