Lydia Jenkin: Going further with fairy tales

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Kristen Stewart as Snow White in Snow White and The Huntsman. Photo / Supplied
Kristen Stewart as Snow White in Snow White and The Huntsman. Photo / Supplied

Hollywood has always been interested in fairy tales as source material, but lately it seems to have become something of an obsession, and not just for Disney, but for wide-ranging directors making everything from action films to TV dramas. In the last couple of years we've had more teen-oriented versions, with Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror Mirror, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, not to mention series like Grimm, Once Upon A Time, and Beauty and the Beast all going for modern twists and adaptations aimed squarely at adult viewers.

And now we're in for another wave, with Oz The Great and Powerful starting soon and an adventurous-looking Jack the Giant Slayer not far behind, plus Disney have nearly finished filming on Maleficent - starring Angelina Jolie as the wicked witch from Sleeping Beauty, and focusing on her backstory.

Meanwhile, Guillermo del Toro is working on a more macabre stop-motion version of Pinocchio and is rumoured to be looking at a new take on Beauty and the Beast, and Atonement director Joe Wright has expressed interest in re-doing The Little Mermaid.

It's quite an avalanche. Sure, some of the films are still aimed at a family audience, but most of them are delving into the darker side of fairy tales regardless of their target market - looking at the less heroic, more troubled, more peculiar characters (like Oz, and Maleficent, and the giants from the tale of Jack), delving into details and backstories which haven't been presented before.

How did Oz end up in the Emerald City? What made Maleficent want to curse Aurora? And what was the giants' side of the story?

It's great to see film-makers getting adventurous and trying new angles with the well-loved tales. But my question is, could they go further?

Fairy tales were never traditionally children's stories, and in their original forms were far more dark and gory than anything we'd expect Disney to put out. Tales of virtue, tenacity, and honesty are great for the whole family, but there was no room to delve into the more multi-faceted character angles, or details like the fact that Ariel (from The Little Mermaid) would have her tongue removed in order to gain legs, or that it felt like she was walking about on swords, or that in the end she must choose between a painful death, or slaying the prince in order to return to the sea.

But it seems that there's an increasing fascination with the more adult themes found in these stories, and with the technology to combine real actors and live action, with the fantastical worlds that people like Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm dreamed up hundreds of years ago, these characters can become ever more relatable and real.

Del Toro paved the way somewhat with his wonderfully original, but quite deeply frightening Pan's Labyrinth in 2006, and director Tim Burton has always had a knack for more twisted fantasy stories, but wouldn't it be wonderful to see a grown-up film version of a story like The Little Mermaid or The Tinderbox, or one of the many traditional folk tales out there?

If it has to be a fairy tale movie, then combining the escapist fantasy notions we already know with the richer, more human, and sometimes more difficult or horrifying aspects of these original tales can make for a far more engrossing film. Here's hoping that's what Joe Wright is thinking.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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