5 Fairy Tale Movies Worth Watching
Fairy tales are kind of a thing right now. It’s not like those tales of princesses and happily ever afters ever actually went away, but they haven’t experienced a renaissance on this level since Disney started mining them for features back in its Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs-fueled heyday. Right now we have Mirror Mirror in theaters with Snow White and the Huntsman not far behind. Hansel and Gretel will be looking a lot less youthful when they set out to hunt some witches in cinemas next year and there are dueling Sleeping Beauty projects and a Beauty and the Beast update on the horizon as well. That’s not even mentioning successful television shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm that offer viewers a weekly fairy tale fix.
Unfortunately, not all fairy tale movies are created equal. Amanda Seyfried’s Red Riding Hood was pretty to look at, but it was also so boring I gladly would have volunteered to play lunch for the big bad wolf to make the madness stop. Reviews of Mirror Mirror suggest it’s not much better. It is tempting to gobble up every adaptation Hollywood sends our way, but I have a better suggestion: while you wait for the quality stuff to appear, use the downtime to catch up with some magical movies you may have missed out on before you caught fairy tale fever.
Back in 1998, Drew Barrymore starred in a clever little Cinderella reimagining that stripped the tale of its pumpkin carriages and fairy godmothers in favor of a Renaissance-era France setting. Barrymore’s Danielle was more progressive thinker than she was damsel in distress and the story was better off for it. She still had an evil stepmother to contend with, but this Cinderella was a competent, grounded young lady with an actual personality. Not to mention a truly awesome ensemble for the ball–one that included sparkly wings made for her by Leonardo da Vinci himself. It’s okay to be jealous, I know I was.
MirrorMask isn’t based on any particular classic tale, but it happily plays with the genre’s established tropes. It has a young girl, Helena, seeking to flee her life ala Alice (although, Helena is actually seeking to escape the Wonderland of the circus for something a little less fantastical), an evil mother and even a prince of sorts who can’t seem to make his castle stay in one place.
The dreamlike atmosphere created by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean is irresistible and since the duo isn’t working from an established story, the plot is full of surprises and magical touches like flying books and drifting stone giants that the audiences hasn’t already seen a dozen times before.
Fairy tales have evolved over time; different regions have different versions of the same base story. In that way, fairy tales and folk tales have always been closely related. The Fall falls somewhere in between. It’s a story seen through the prism of a little girl’s imagination. She listens as a depressed and broken stuntman spins a tale full of bandits, heroes and Charles Darwin, visualizing the story as he speaks, and eventually even adding to the story herself.
The film was directed by Tarsem Singh, an aggressively artistic director who somehow got roped into directing the much more commercial Mirror Mirror for Disney. The Fall is the opposite of commercial, it’s full of vibrant, dizzying images that are as startling as they are beautiful. Given the story’s preoccupation with narrative evolution, it is appropriate that The Fall appears to be assembled right before our eyes. The story twists and turns, but it always comes back to the very real reality of a lonely little girl and a desperate man who wonders if she is trying to save his soul with her attempts to give their story a happy ending.
Enchanted was a big hit for Disney, but I imagine many kid-free adults may have skipped this frankly delightful movie. Amy Adams already looks like a Disney princess, so making her play one was a logical move. Her Giselle is a throwback to old school animated princesses like Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. There’s nothing ironic about her belief that there’s nothing more fulfilling than true love, a novel idea for a generation more accustomed to cynicism.
There’s singing, dancing and a happy ending…but there’s also a dragon thrown in to satisfy the modern need for every damsel to secretly be an action girl deep down. It’s the perfect movie for fairy tale fans who gobbled up one Disneyfied tale after another (which is basically all of us) when they were growing up and have been secretly longing for one more shiny, happy story about a princess finding her prince.
This list had to include at least one animated movie, that is where the genre flourishes after all, but I didn’t want to go with anything too typical, hence The Last Unicorn.
Like all good fairy tales, The Last Unicorn is actually pretty traumatizing. It’s about a unicorn, who upon learning she is the last of her kind embarks on a journey to discover what happened to the rest of her species. What happened was a big, scary mystical red bull rounded them all up and in the process gave every kid who came of age in the late eighties/early nineties reoccurring nightmares for the rest of their lives.
Don’t let that scare you off though, The Last Unicorn is actually about the transformative power of love. It just happens to be littered with red bulls, drunken skeletons and lots of traumatized unicorn moments along the way.
All right guys, those are my admittedly mostly non-traditional fairy tale movie picks. Which fairy tale movies do you think are worth watching?
Follow me on Twitter @sljbowman