Are fairytale adaptations a new trend in the film and TV industry? Are they increasingly popular these days?
With the many recent releases of fairytale movies, it seems that filmmakers have taken a particular interest in the genre. However, although apparently popular, it seems that in the past, many films have already been made, taking inspiration from fairytales we all know and love.
George Melies, for example, who was one of the first to experiment with film making, adapted Cinderella for his audience, as early as 1899. Amongst his long list of works, can also be found the adaptation of Charles Perrault’s Blue Beard which he produced in 1901. It was true to the original story and did not omit the scene where Blue Beard’s eighth wife discovers the bodies of her husband’s previous seven spouses.
Since then, many filmmakers have tackled the idea of adapting a fairytale into a full length feature.
Alice in Wonderland
In 1915, director W.W Young made a fifty minutes long silent movie called Alice in Wonderland, a direct adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel. In 1933, Norman McLeod directed his version of the story, starring Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. Then came Walt Disney’s version, in 1951. The latest adaptation of the story is Tim Burton’s 2010 feature film which was based off the second book, through the looking glass. Alice in Wonderland has also inspired filmmakers to create their own version of the story setting it sometimes in a science fiction environment such as SyFy’s 2009 miniseries named Alice. The Matrix, produced in 1999, surprisingly borrows many elements from the fairytale-like story. Many of the similarities lie in the plot itself rather than the characters who have nothing in common with the ones created by Lewis Carroll. Indeed, both of the protagonists are thrown into a world they don’t know, in which they need to distinguish the reality from the dreamworld. A few direct references are also present in the movie, such as the ‘white rabbit’ whom the main character needs to follow in order to have answers. The comparison of the matrix to the rabbit hole is stated more than once in the movie’s script: “I imagine that right now, you’re feeling a bit like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole” and “I’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes”.
Little Red Riding Hood
Another classic which has been adapted to the screen in many different ways is Charles Perrault’s The Little Red Riding Hood. However most versions have kept the story sinister, a feeling already present in the original text. There is no happy ending for the young lady and her grandmother in Perrault’s story; the tale ends after the wolf’s victory. The moral of the tale is clearly stated so as to make sure the audience won’t misunderstand the point of the story. It gives a fair warning not to be deceived by appearances; that not all wolves are ‘noisy, hateful or angry’ but on the contrary, can be ‘tame, obliging and gentle’. The wolf is a metaphor for dangerous strangers who have less than honorable intentions in mind. It is interesting to point out that this particular fairytale has been adapted to screen by many different countries: a soviet film of 1977 ‘About Red Hat’, a 1984 british film ‘The Company of Wolves’, an American modern adaptation in 1996 ‘Freeway’, an Italian horror movie ‘Red Riding Hood’ made in 2003, and the latest American adaptation of the same name produced in 2011. The films usually take the symbols of the original tale such the red coat, the wolf and the encounter however the stories do not play out in the same way. ‘The Company of Wolves’ for instance is a horror fantasy film which takes place within the dreams of a young girl named Rosaleen. Her grandmother tells her disturbing tales of young ladies falling for handsome men with eyebrows which meet. Eventually this happens to Rosaleen and she finds herself torn between her desire for vengeance for the death of her grandmother and her love for the wolf. Eventually she is turned into a wolf and escapes with her beloved. In the real world, Rosaleen wakes to find her house surrounded by wolves which quickly break in through her bedroom window. Perrault’s moral is then heard leading the audience to believe that in this story, there is no happy ending. The film focuses on the loss of innocence and sexual awakening. ‘Freeway’ is a crime film borrowing heavily from the original fairytale. A young woman travels to visit her grandmother but encounters a stranger on the road whom she befriends before realising he is a serial killer. In the end the grandmother is murdered but the young woman manages to defend herself and kill the stranger. It is a much more modern retelling of the story with the wolf an actual man named Bob Wolverton, a serial killer and rapist. The latest Hollywood film is once again a twisted fantasy film, probably nearer to the original in terms of setting. Like in ‘The Company of Wolves’, the beast is depicted as a werewolf and little red riding hood eventually falls in love with her childhood friend who ends up being bitten and transformed. In the TV series Once Upon a Time, the wolf is none other than little red riding hood herself.
When talking about fairytales, it would be impossible not to mention the brothers Grimm’s Snow White. In 1937, Walt Disney produced his first full length feature animation with ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’. Adapted for children, it left out the darker parts of the story however still included the huntsman and Snow White’s escape in the terrifying woods. The adaptations are numerous; sometimes parodies and other times with more serious and twisted content. The american horror television movie ‘Snow White a Tale of Terror’ from 1997 was quite the twisted tale. With Sigourney Weaver as the demented stepmother, the story follows the fairytale closely however with several additions and changes. For instance, the main character is not referred to as Snow White, but rather Lilli Hoffman and the seven dwarves have been changed into seven rough miners. Then, these past few years have seen the return of Snow White’s popularity with two big budget films, which both came out in 2012. Although both have a very different storyline, their main character remains the princess Snow White, with an evil stepmother as the villain, and seven dwarves to help her out when she has no one else to turn to. ‘Mirror Mirror’ was a comedy fantasy film, which had all the original characters of the film, yet quite a different storyline. In this version, the king does not die but disappear suddenly after leaving for war, but is eventually reunited with Snow White at the end. The poisoned apple makes only a small appearance at the very end, and is not the main dramatic plot of the movie. While the queen still longs to be beautiful and talks to her enchanted mirror, her biggest preoccupation is her financial problems. The costumes and designs of the film are absolutely beautiful and very original, however the film itself can be quite off-putting for its differences with the original fairytale. On the other hand ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ had a more developed storyline and researched characters. The story was taken more seriously with an evil queen ready to do anything to be the fairest of them all, and like in the original, meant to eat Snow White’s heart to stay young forever. It has this dark side which makes it quite similar to Grimm’s original version but which was lost with the Disney animation. There was also a real aestheticism in the film, with beautifully designed costumes and sets, and well thought out visual effects. In the TV series Once Upon a Time, where fairy tale characters are transported into our world and do not remember their true identity, Snow White is one of the main characters. Like in the new movies, she is an independent woman who knows how to survive in the wilderness and fight. Throughout the episodes, the audience learns more about her story in the fairytale world. All the classic elements are present, making it a storyline the audience has no trouble to recognise.
Perrault’s version of Cinderella as well as the brothers Grimm’s, are well known around the world. Although both show some differences, possibly violence wise; in the first version by Charles Perrault, whereas the two step sisters are forgiven by Cinderella, they are punished and blinded in Grimm’s. As mentioned previously, Melies himself made a short film based on this story (the film can be found on youtube). In 1911, and again later in 1914, silent films were produced, both based on the classic tale. In 1950, Walt Disney released his version; Cinderella stayed one of Disney’s iconic princesses. The fairytale has been adapted many times. Another notable version is Andy Tennant’s Ever After (1998) starring Drew Barrymore as Danielle, also known as Cinderella. It is set in 17th century France and features the characters of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm as well as that of Leonardo Da Vinci. All the main elements of the story are present, yet new twists are inserted. The story is not particularly dark, making it suitable for children. There have been modernisations of the story, setting the scene in high school or at college, with teenagers as the main characters (‘A Cinderella Story’ in 2004) however, they are very different from the original mood of the fairytale and are most often made for a younger audience. A new adaptation is due to come out in theaters in 2015, starring Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother and Cate Blanchett as the step mother. Produced by Disney, the story is apparently going to be very alike that of the well known version of the tale, set in a fantasy world. Although this sort of adaptation may not be particularly original, the designs and costumes will hopefully be promising making the film visually attractive.
Beauty and the Beast
Adding to the list of famous fairytales known worldwide, is that of Beauty and the Beast which has also been of great interest to filmmakers over the years and has seen a certain revival lately. An all time classic movie is Jean Cocteau’s ‘La Belle et la Bete’ produced in 1946. It’s aestheticism and smart directing makes the movie not only entertaining but also visually interesting and pleasant to watch. Jean Cocteau’s film greatly inspired Jacques Demy when directing Donkey Skin in 1970. The film is very truthful to one of the original versions of the fairytale. It is not twisted and is suitable for younger audiences. It is recognised as a classic, and continue to inspire new generations; for example, in 2013, Ethery Pagava’s ballet Beauty and the Beast is said to be influenced by Cocteau’s interpretation of the film. Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, produced in 1991, is famous worldwide with very notable songs that can still be heard today. The film is a possibly simpler version than the original, omitting the existence of Belle’s two nasty sisters but introducing a new villain. In 2011, a modern retelling of the tale named ‘Beastly’ was shown in theaters. Although its critical reception is mixed, the movie is very different from what has been done before. The beast is nothing like its original description, lacking both the fur and fangs however, his very unsettling appearance is still enough to make the audience feel uneasy. Slightly darker than a fantasy film, the film is still believable as a fairytale, with the famous true love’s kiss which eventually breaks the curse. A French film is due in 2014, once again based on Beauty and the Beast. Guillermo Del Toro is also currently directing his version of the tale with Emma Watson as Belle. With Del Toro’s dark yet beautiful settings in his films, one can expect a visually stunning film however very few details are known. Furthermore, the characters of Belle and the Beast are the main protagonists (or antagonist in Beast’s case) of the TV show Once Upon a Time where the Beast is actually the villain Rumpelstiltskin who falls in love with Belle after abducting her. His ‘beastly’ nature disappears when in the presence of his true love Belle. The CW also released a TV show specifically called Beauty and the Beast which is set in modern day time US.
Fairytales are numerous, and the few ones mentioned above are but a glimpse of all the movies which have been made throughout the years based on these stories. Many others include The Never ending Story (1984), Willow (1988), Hook (1991), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Ella Enchanted (2004), The Brothers Grimm (2005), Penelope (2006), Enchanted (2007), Stardust (2007) and more. It is possible to see, just with these examples, that fairytales have always fascinated filmmakers all around the world and that it is not a new practice to adapt them on screen. However, there is a clear return to a more traditional fairy story in films nowadays. With the examples of the two 2012 Snow White movies both set in a fantasy world, the upcoming Cinderella and Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty) as well as Jack the Giant Slayer, Hansel and Gretel and Oz the Great and Powerful which also take the audience in new completely made up words, there is a return to fantasy films and original fairytales. Clearly, although not a new trend, it is currently popular with a wide range of audience.
And let’s not forget the long list of Disney animation films, which are, most of the time, retellings of the classic fairytales, specifically for children. All fairytales, even the most twisted and dramatic ones, can be adapted and retold for a modern audience. This is what I will talk about later, in a second case study.
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