Why Fairy Tale Movies Will Never Die
They have been recorded for centuries. For years it was Disney’s main source of inspiration. Today, fairy tales are everywhere. But fairy tales are really nothing new. Like sequels and remakes, fairy tales remain a staple in Hollywood and on television. Some may be left to question why. Is it the eternal idea of fairy tale endings? Is it that fairy tales reflect the human condition? Since I’m about as philosophical as a magic eight ball, my analysis of fairy tale success only comes down to one thing: ease.
Whether it be the story of a beautiful woman falling in love with the beast, or a poor girl getting a chance at love from a fairy godmother, or animals managing to outsmart each other, most of us have had our fair share of fairy tales. So when a fairy tale adaptation comes along, like the new Jack/Beanstalk film (Jack the Giant Killer), we don’t have to worry about getting lost. In some ways we may be able to joy the film even more. We’ve got a pretty good idea of which direction the film is going to go, and can focus on enjoying the story as it’s presented. On top of everything else, to adapt a fairytale means that most of the hard work is already done for you. Most writers say that the hardest thing to figure out is the plot. With a fairytale, you’ve already got it, which leads me into my second point.
For writers, fairy tales are a great starting point to a story. As mentioned before, the stories are familiar but you can change them however you want to suit whatever audience you want. You are also free to take and leave whatever parts of the story you want. Take Walt Disney’s adaptation of The Little Mermaid for example. Those who know the original Hans Christian Anderson story know that the beloved “little mermaid” of the original fairy tale dies at the end of the story. For those who are Disney fans, this is the equivalent of Ursula winning. Not wanting to scar generations worth of children, Disney made the smart move and changed parts of the story to suit their own needs. The adaptability of fairy tales doesn’t just stop there. The fairytale format itself can be used in a variety of ways. Filmmakers are free to either reinvent the story (Ever After) or use a similar format to come up with their own (The Fall).
If you think that fairy tales are just for kids, think again. Unlike the infamous rabbit cereal, fairy tales do have an adult audience. And why not? After all, we were all kids once. We still have those moments of wondering what is hiding under the bed or in our closets. Directors like Tim Burton and Guillermo Del Toro definitely don’t forget those feelings. Films like Edward Scissorhands and Pan’s Labyrinth take the idea of the fairytale to a whole new level, and that level definitely recommends adult accompaniment. Not having to worry about satisfying the kids opens up a lot of ideas that the fairy tale genre and its directors can experiment with. If you’re ever looking for some dark, scary reading, go back to the original fairy tales. You may be surprised to find what fairy tales parents felt comfortable telling their kids back in the day.
If there’s one thing that Shrek has taught us, it’s that all of the characters from all the fairy tales live in the same world. Accepting an idea like that opens an unlimited number of doors in Hollywood, especially when it comes to looking for ideas for a script. The famous Shrek series has only scratched the surface of the possibilities available. Right now, television studios are taking better advantage of this idea than Hollywood is. Having access to all of the fairy tales at the same time provides unlimited story lines and combinations of characters that can go on for seasons. Still, imagine the possibilities in Hollywood. We could probably start with a good old-fashioned political docudrama about the rights of animals in fairy tale story (and for any screenwriters out there who want to take that idea, just remember to credit me).
Despite all the glamour and schmaltz and predictability that fairy tales often bring us, sometimes we just need one of those days when everything works out the way it is supposed to. Sure, some of us would like to pretend that we’re not looking for Prince Charming. Others may deny the fact that they’ve imagined themselves living in a gigantic castle. Still others may be ashamed to admit that they often wish their mirror could act as a portal to another world. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Let’s face it: if we didn’t have those connections to fairy tales, Disney would not be where it is. The animation is good, and the effects are great, but it’s really the connection to the fairy tales that we crave sometimes in our every day, sometimes dramatic lives. Seeing someone under the thumb of their wicked stepmother can make us grateful for our own lives. Seeing the little moments of magic can make us wish for our own.
And so, for every person who rolls their eyes and groans at the trailer at the next fairytale adaptation that comes along, there is someone rubbing a lamp and hoping that maybe, this time, a genie may pop out.
Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me.