When looking at the evolution of fairy tales in film, there undeniably seems to be a return to darker stories, possibly closer to the ones written by the brothers Grimm than later versions. But are they really returning to their ‘roots’?
The Dark Teen Romance Trend
When a new trend emerges, it’s usually influenced by what came before. As I observed in an earlier post, fairy tales have always fascinated people around the globe. They are universal and timeless. But we can clearly see that over the past few years they have grown in popularity when it came to readapting them to the big screen. They picked up where the dark vampire/werewolf trend left. The latter is still more or less popular, just like action films and horror movies, but it is no longer the phenomenon it was a few years ago. With the huge success of the Twilight books, teens and young adults seemed to be drawn to this dark environment depicted in these ‘sexy’ films. Just by watching the trailers for Twilight (2008-2012) and the newer Red Riding Hood (2011), one can see the numerous similarities.
In an article about the dark fairy tale revisiting (C.Merle “Real life isn’t always pretty, so why should fairy tales be?”), it is argued that the growing popularity of young adult novels heavily influenced the turn the fairy tale trend took. There is a whole interview of the author A.G. Howard and it is very interesting to study her ideas and thoughts on the subject. She discusses the fact that fairy tales are about a journey, a coming-of-age of sorts; and that through adventures, they teach life lessons in subtle ways. Bruno Bettelheim had also discussed this (The Uses of Enchantment), arguing that the lessons taught in fairy tales were not too obvious and therefore, children were more inclined to learn from them as they could understand for themselves the consequences of not listening to them. Therefore, it would be logical for young adults to be drawn to these because in a way, they can identify themselves to the characters. She also talks about the fact it is set in the marvellous realm of fantasy: “Fairy tales take place in a far off land […] which provides the temporary escapism we all need from the very real monsters of everyday life” (A.G. Howard, 2012). Perhaps this is a good reason why these new films seem to appeal to an older audience too.
She also discusses our awareness of tragedies and violent acts occurring nowadays available for all to see on the internet. People have it on their computers, their phones; nearly everyone has the internet now, and being aware of what is happening in the world is much easier than it was before. But it also means that we are subject to more violent images and terrorism scenes: “Our generation is hyper aware of violence and tragedy due to disturbing images of terrorism, war scenes, etc… touted by the media day in and day out” (A.G. Howard, 2012). Therefore, there may be a certain maturity that we have gained throughout the years. Life is not as black and white as it is depicted in fairy stories. There is a quote in that interview which I find spot on: “real life isn’t always pretty, so why should fairy tales be?” (A.G. Howard, 2012). She also mentions the growing popularity of dystopian fictions and post apocalyptic worlds which is an interesting example of a trend that appeals to young adults.
Fairy tales have all the elements necessary to make a great story. And the new films seem to have taken these even further, adding to them, to appeal to audiences nowadays. It’s not about having a happily ever after anymore ; it’s about the adventures, the characters and their attempt at finding a solution to their problematic situations. With far off places, heroes we can identify ourselves to, loyal companions, complicated villains and a story that usually isn’t as simple as it seems (much like life is), there seems to be plenty of elements that make fairy tale films a perfect genre to suit our current needs. Let’s not forget that with the current recession, somehow, there seems to be a need for escapism much like there was when Disney first readapted Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
“Sometimes, we just want to see someone claw their way out of an even darker place than we might be in… proof that there’s hope, if not for a happily ever after, a satisfactory ever after, for us all” (A.G. Howard, 2012).
Merle. C, 2012. Demention [online]. Available at: http://dementionblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/real-life-isnt-always-pretty-so-why.html [Accessed 07 November 2014]