The Double Feature: The Princess Bride and Stardust
It’s no secret that Hollywood has caught fairy tale fever. Snow White and the Huntsman, Jack the Giant Slayer and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters all hit theaters in the past twelve months, and there is another round of fairy tale updates on the horizon, including a live-action Cinderella from Disney. I love a good fairy tale movie, but there are only so many spins that can be put on the familiar tales of Red Riding Hood and Snow White, and I fear Hollywood has nearly exhausted them all.
Happily, not all fairy tales were recorded by the Brothers Grimm. Writers have continued to churn out tales of princesses, far off lands and seemingly impossible loves. Which brings me to our latest double feature: The Princess Bride and Stardust, both adaptations of modern fairy tales, and between the two movies nearly every fairy tale trope pops up at least once. You’ve got creepy forests, wicked witches, riddles, mistaken identities and true love’s kiss– all the ingredients for an enchanting evening of fairy tales with nary a mention Snow White or Prince Charming.
Based on the 1973 novel by William Goldman, The Princess Bride is one of the few true modern classic movies. Since it premiered in 1987, the tale of Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (Cary Elwes) has become a cult favorite thanks to its memorable lines (“as you wish”) and sharply funny plot. Like any good fairy tale, it weaves a story that can be appreciated by people of all ages, with just enough action and silliness for the under twelve crowd and enough satire and heart to woo everyone else.
The Princess Bride takes viewers from the calm farmland Buttercup calls home to the high seas where Westley becomes the latest in a long line of Dread Pirate Roberts to the dangerous Fire Swamps where the Rodents of Unusual Size run rampant. In between, we meet gentle giant Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), a swordsman on a quest to avenge his father’s death, as well as the requisite villains, Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) and Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), who is memorably foiled by his own game (“Inconceivable!”). Adding to the fairy tale effect, the entire adventure is framed as a story that a grandfather (Peter Falk) is reading to his sick grandson (Fred Savage), who often insists that his grandfather skip over the mushy parts– at least until the end, when even he wants to see Westley and Buttercup kiss.
Released in 2007, Stardust hasn’t garnered the same post-box office acclaim as The Princess Bride, but it is certainly one of the more original fairy tale films to come out in recent years. Stardust is an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 1999 novel of the same name, and it weaves the tale of Tristan (Charlie Cox) and Yvaine (Claire Danes), a boy and a star who falls to Earth after being knocked out of the sky by a carelessly tossed ruby. The unlikely duo fall in love as they journey through the land beyond The Wall that separates the magical world from the non-magical world.
Stardust is simply a fun movie. Director Matthew Vaughn, along with his co-screenwriter Jane Goldman, preserved the whimsy of Gaiman’s original work (even as they forfeited much of its darkness), and as a result the movie boasts a unicorn, a flying pirate ship complete with a memorable turn from Robert De Niro as the captain, a trio of witches who wish to eat Yvaine’s heart in order to restore their youth and an ending that involves the central lovers ascending into the sky to rule the magical kingdom. The somewhat chaotic plot would be overwhelming if it wasn’t such a pleasure to watch Danes and Cox’s verbal sparring matches. As it is, all of the magical flourishes fade into pleasant background noise as the almost literally star-crossed lovers fall for one another.
There is a reason why Hollywood keeps delving into the fairy tale well: people never truly get tired of the classics. However, revisiting the same stories time and time again isn’t nearly as entertaining as seeing how those stories have influenced another generation of writers. In The Princess Bride and Stardust, we have two stories that are quite different, but still hit all of the familiar fairy tale beats. They take us to lands full of magic and offer up love stories that possess the kind of gravitas that only fairy tale love can boast, but they feature characters that are new and twists that deviate from the standard playbook.
The couplings of Tristan and Yvaine and Buttercup and Westley are fraught with obstacles from murderous princes to the aforementioned heart-eating witches. But no matter how dire things seem, we know they’ll end up with their happily ever after, making this double feature a bit like comfort food for the hopeless romantics and fantasy fans alike. If nothing else, the duo will tide you over until the next wave of fairy tale movies hits theaters.
Are you up for a Stardust/The Princess Bride double feature? Is there a third modern fairy tale you’d add to make it a triple? Share your suggestions in the comments!
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