The movie industry goes through trends in movies the way teenagers go through pop culture icons. Some of the more recent cycles include zombies, vampires, and superheroes. The summer of 2011 was defined by superhero movies on the big screen, while the TV screen was dominated with vampire and zombie trends. This year launches the fairy tale trend, and as proof I submit upcoming movie releases Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror Mirror, Pan, Jack the Giant Killer, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, as well popular TV shows Once Upon a Time and Grimm. Although it’s true that last year turned out its own adaptations of Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast (in a strange, uncelebrated film called Beastly), it seems that this year studio executives decided to actually and try make something good out of the classic tales (exception being Disney’s Tangled tale of Rapunzel).
Snow White and the Huntsman has some potential, despite casting Kristen Stewart in the leading role. But to be fair, no one can be blamed for being enterprising as that simple casting choice will reel in a host of Twi-hards (Twilight fans) which means more money for the studio. Not a bold choice on their part, but a shrewd one, financially speaking. Kudos to them for at least recognizing that the evil queen is supposed to be beautiful, calling into question whose idea it was to cast has-been Julia Roberts in the role in Mirror Mirror. As for Hansel, Gretel, and Jack, it is hard to say at this point if these vindictive retellings/continuations will be worth their salt when the tickets hit the booths. The same can be said of the modernized Pan, which is if nothing else, ambitious. Modernizing a tale about ageless youth, piracy, and fantasy presents obvious problems, not the least of which is what message is being portrayed by reimagining the pirates into policemen. And I’m curious how the studio will deal with the Indians. Probably by making them a band of ethnically diverse people of the city who are mistreated by the local law enforcement. For the sake of optimism, I’m going to assume that “flying” in this modernized version is not a drug reference.
Clearly there are plenty of fairy tales that Hollywood has already tapped for inspiration, but I have a proposal of my own to toss into this trend. First of all, let go of Snow White as two movies in one year based off the same over-told tale is quite enough to be getting on with. Folk tales such as the legend of William Tell could make for an exceedingly interesting plot with some embellishments. In this case I’m envisioning a climactic scene featuring William bruised, bleeding, and shaking with exhaustion after a narrow escape from his part in the assassination of the tyrant. He returns to his home to find his village under threat, and he is now forced to shoot the apple off his hostage son’s head when he can barely stand, let alone hold a bow. Feel the tension!
Cinderella is generally considered to be a happy fairy tale and not particularly dark, but it certainly could be without too much effort. Let’s say that the man Cinderella calls father was a trusted ally of a would-be king whose evil relative usurps the thrown. Cinderella is the daughter of the rightful king, who of course dies early on. Later, her “father” marries a noblewoman who becomes privy to this game for the crown and kills her “father”, hiding the evidence that Cinderella is the rightful heir to the throne, and cooking up a master plan to either use the unknowing Cinderella as a pawn, or raise one of her own daughters to be an imposter. Is there any doubt that Cate Blanchett could accomplish all this with delicious coldness? Forget the shoe, a noble family committed to restoring the true heir to the throne wants to find out who dropped this ring that identifies the owner as the heir. All the while the current king is on his own quest to find the girl and either force a marriage that would legitimize his family’s claim to the throne, or more likely, kill her. Or both! Call me cliché, but I say this could be a fantastic intrigue that has all the elements of a great period piece: mystery, scandal, romance, and plenty of opportunities for swordplay.
With movie executivess going back to folk tales and fairy tales for inspiration, the new trend has potential to turn out some great results, but only if handled with respect. Sometime next year an adaptation of Arabian Nights will hit the silver screen, but judging by the casting choices so far, don’t expect Gladiator - expect Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Hopefully the current heightened interest in fairy tales will yield at least a few acceptable results and creative twists, to balance out the inevitable hack-jobs of the classic stories. But at the risk of sounding insufferably superior, I think they should listen to me.