Fairy Tales in Film

I’m starting to look around movie news and trailers and I noticed something. With the re-imaginings of the Snow White films, I keep getting news for next year about plans to make ANOTHER Snow White film and a Sleeping Beauty film. With the popularity of Once Upon a Time, the re-imaginings of Beauty and the Beast are being planned as TV series. Also in production is another Disney re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, bringing Disney back to its fairy tale roots, especially after the return of the new fairy tale films The Princess and the Frog and Tangled. ALSO in pre-production is a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman (a silly idea, in my opinion). Let’s not forget Hansel and Gretel being turned into witch hunters. So as you can tell, there are a lot of fairy tale projects on the way. So is the fairy tale sub-genre slowly growing its popularity? Are fairy tales going to reach the same peak as superhero films are this year (like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises), or at least close enough? If so, then why?

When I mean fairy tale, I mean something on the range of The Little Mermaid or Little Red Riding Hood, although “fairy tale” is a very broad term. Let’s try to understand something first: What is it about fairy tales? Everyone’s heard of at least one fairy tale as a child. I believe fairy tales to be simple stories that live in their own world (they’re not too detailed or too realistic), so it’s easy for children to invest themselves in a wondrous place, and it might be easier to imagine themselves in a more magical world with talking animals or something similar. Also, how many times have you heard “Once upon a time“? Well, what time period exactly? “In a far away kingdom.” Where’s the kingdom? WHAT’S the kingdom? “And they lived happily ever after!” What did they do afterwards? As kids, they have to have simple ideas to absorb information. If something like politics or economics were the main themes, it’d be nearly impossible for the kid to get anything. I’m not implying that fairy tales are dumbed down stories or that they’re illogical. And it’s not like kids can’t understand difficult or complex ideas. In general, it’s all about the small and simplest of elements, like fairies and magical worlds, becoming something larger in people’s minds. One of the great things about stories is that they stimulate our imagination, which is important at a young age. Children start out by the simplest and most imaginative of all stories: fairy tales.

I don’t know whether fairy tale films will be as popular as superhero films are today, but I do believe its popularity is growing. I guess since Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland, audiences would want to see different ways these stories can be told (especially as an action film), and some like to see fairy tales in the perspective of an adult. Although not everyone enjoys the traditional fairy tale with unicorns and all that rainbow stuff. In their perspective it’d probably be much cooler to see them as an action film or in a much darker tone.

Right now the popular trend is to make the fairy tales “darker and grimmer” OR make them action-based. Basically something like what Snow White and the Huntsman did with the original story. Are they saying fairy tales are too light-hearted? Come on! Some of the original fairy tales can be really dark! Haven’t you read The Red Shoes? GEESH! Anyway, they probably believe that this approach might attract more guys to the film, or make the film more adults by making them “complex”. Well, not exactly. I do know men who enjoy fairy tales just as they are. Fairy tales are for everyone. And fairy tales, despite their storytelling simplicity, can be very complex and deep in their themes. However, it really isn’t a bad idea to make this sort of take. Again, not everyone will love fairy tales and might enjoy it more as an action film than anything. That’s entirely fine. It’s also kinda cool to see a traditional fairy tale with action scenes once in a while. But that doesn’t mean that it’ll be the ONLY way to make a good fairy tale film.

For once I’d love to see a traditional fairy tale (other than Disney of course) that has a simple story, or at least makes itself aware that it’s a fairy tale and uses that to its own advantage. Maybe something with a light tone, but that depends on the type of story you’re telling. A fairy tale film should respect and honour what it is: its simplicity, its own living world, its wonder, its magic, etc. A film can play with the traditional aspects of its own genre, but it has to remember what genre it’s doing. It shouldn’t be a generic film, but it shouldn’t make a fool out of itself either or even forget what it is. You either play with the formula of the genre (not forced obviously) or you add something new and interesting to the genre. Pan’s Labyrinth is a great example of all this, tributing the value and beauty of fairy tales by having a fairy tale story being contrasted with a story set in post-Civil War Spain. I also would like to have a film with a look like Mirror, Mirror or Tangled.

And I don’t want fairy tale parodies and spoofs anymore. There’s no problem with people making fun of the genre, but since there are people who don’t like fairy tales they have given out a cynical attitude towards the sub-genre. It’s as if they’re saying, “Fairy tales are stupid, so we’re making a film that questions and makes fun of their logic! Let’s rip them apart!” I understand when they question some of the logic and messages that fairy tales carry, like the idea that “ugliness is associated with evil and beauty is associated with goodness,” although some of the things they criticise… let’s just say I didn’t see that. One of the common things that people bring up a lot is “the princess who just sits and waits for her prince to come.” I don’t believe that’s really the case, and I think that’s a very common misconception. Take Cinderella, for example. I don’t think Cinderella was really waiting for a prince to come. She was waiting for something good to happen in her life, and she believed that if she were virtuous enough, worked hard and didn’t let her misfortune get the better out of her, she’d be rewarded in life. Kinda like karma. Her fairy godmother comes by and gives her a chance to get to the ball and have the night of her life. She just so happened to meet the Prince that night. The other misconception is the idea that people fall in love immediately without getting to know each other. They were only attracted to each other and that’s it. Well, the Prince and Cinderella met each other and I guess had SOME time to know each other before the clock stroked twelve, don’t you think? And because Cinderella was looking for some form of happiness in her life, discovering her love for the Prince might just have been the happiness she was looking for.

Either way, they have parodied these aspects over and over again like in Enchanted and Shrek. These films parody but still respect fairy tales to a good extent, although they really show how much some people REALLY hate the idea of princesses being very passive and the whole “falling in love immediately” thing. It always annoys me that they make it so FORCED. It’s like the movies are shouting: “LOOK! Giselle’s waiting for the Prince! It’s a foolish thing! OH LOOK! Princess Fiona knows karate! No princess ever does that!” I mean GEESH! This is just ridiculous!!! If you want to read about writing women in a bit more detail, ready my “Writing Strong Women in Film” article and see what I have to say about the Disney Princesses. And even though I liked Mirror, Mirror, the “fairy tale twist” was really forced into the story and was distracting, especially in the second and third act. For example, with the whole apple thing: “Look! She didn’t eat the apple! She’s smart unlike the original Snow White who was foolish!” I know it’s a different take from the original Snow White and you can make changes to the original source material, but when the film’s very aware that it’s an adaptation and something like THAT is forced onto the screen, then it’s WAY too much for me. Oh, and how about what Snow says: “I got so many stories where the Prince saves the Princess in the end. I think it’s time we changed that ending.” WE GET IT! IT’S A TWIST! OOOOOH!!!

But wouldn’t the same thing be said for The Princess Bride? Nope, because it’s not a parody of fairy tales. I’ll tell you why. If you remove all the humour from the story, you have the exact same story. The story is a traditional fairy tale with the typical characters you’d encounter in any fairy tale. It’s been told over and over again and they added nothing new. The difference is the way the story’s told. Maybe the story would have been taken more seriously if told by a nameless narrator or a mother told it to her young daughter, but in this film it’s a grandfather telling the story to his grandson. Both are aware of the fairy tale formula, and the grandfather probably doesn’t take fairytales too seriously, so he adds a bit of a satirical edge to the whole story. This is what makes the film work as a comedy and it’s actually very clever. It makes more fun of the perception of fairy tales, not the fairy tale itself. By the end, as we the audience come to like the story and characters, so does the grandfather and the grandson. It’s all about who tells the story and how involved the reader’s in the action.

Overall, I think people would like watching fairy tale films that have a dark edge to it and tons of action scenes (Lord of the Rings-style fantasy in a way), but I just hope that they make some proper fairy tales once in a while and that people can appreciate these kinds of stories just as much as they did as a kid. I hope people remember the respect that fairy tales deserve.

I’m all about writing my personal thoughts on film through discussing film topics or recent news and writing reviews on recent or old/classic films. These are my thoughts on film as a film student and a film lover, as well as some other random topics. I am also passionate about singing and writing!