Fairy tale films not so successful

Once upon a time, a pretty girl got lost in a scary forest only to be rescued by … a beast? A hunter? A bunch of little men?

Any of those will work for the multitude of fairy tale films from our childhood. We have all been inundated by these narratives, which often involve a damsel in distress, a handsome prince and talking animals or kitchenware. We know these stories like the backs of our hands, and now they’ve begun to resurface.

In the last month, we’ve seen Beastly, the high school version of Beauty and the Beast and Red Riding Hood, the dark Twilight-esque take on the classic tale. Countless more fairy tale films will be released in the next year and a half, with adaptations of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and more in the works.

So what’s motivating this onslaught of classic stories? Like all things in Hollywood, money is a big part of it. This year’s cinematic offerings are dominated by sequels, reboots and remakes, and to some extent, fairy tales provide the same kind of financial guarantee.

People go to movie theaters to see familiar stories and beloved characters, as well as to discover what new twists have been added.

On the more artistic side of things, fairy tales provide timeless, beloved narratives that are so simple and archetypal that they can be easily adapted for different settings and cultures.

As long as filmmakers don’t stray too far from the original tale, there is a guarantee people will be able to relate. After all, that is why these stories have stayed with us for hundreds of years.

But the disappointment from Beastly and Red Riding Hood could be bad news for the studios hoping to cash in on these age-old stories.

Beastly, released at the beginning of the month, featured a host of attractive young stars and was little more than a story of high school revenge and puppy love.

The negative reviews complained it didn’t live up to its source material or the classic 1991 Disney animated version. Not even Neil Patrick Harris, who played the ‘Beast’s’ blind tutor, could rival Lumiere and Cogsworth in our hearts.

Red opened the following week. Directed by Twilight helmer Catherine Hardwicke, the gothic fairy tale was expected to benefit from the franchise’s teen and tween devotees.

With the regular wolf exchanged for a werewolf, the film almost entirely abandons the original story in favor of gruesome deaths and multiple love triangles.

Red was panned for everything from terrible acting to an incoherent narrative.

Both movies came in third at the box office on their opening weekend to disappointing grosses. These two failed attempts at adapting classic fairy tales for an older audience set a low bar for the plethora of adaptations in development and discourage audiences from investing in fairy tale films produced down the road.

That still hasn’t stopped the studios from starting production on even more adaptations.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, and Jack the Giant Killer, an adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk, will both drastically depart from their childish source material, though Hansel and Gretel is pretty gruesome in its own right, in favor of very grown-up violence. The tales, it seems, will serve as more of an excuse for action.

But Snow White seems to be the most popular fairy tale, with three Snow White films set for release next year. A more comedic adaptation stars Julia Roberts as a likable wicked queen. The next, titled Snow White and the Huntsman, features Twilight’s Kristen Stewart as the fairest of them all and Charlize Theron as the villainous second fairest.

With the ever-brooding Stewart, this version looks darker and closer to the original tale.

The last entry in the Snow White race comes from Disney, whose live-action update will be set in 19th century China and feature seven kung fu warriors.

As timeless as the story is, it’s doubtful the box office can support three separate iterations within a year of one another. Whichever one can strike the balance between originality and archetypal, familiarity will win out — or maybe it will just be the one released first.

Even if we get three forgettable films, along with multiple versions of other similar fairy tales, Snow White along with Little Red Riding Hood, Jack, and all the rest will be remembered.


Cara Dickason is a senior majoring in English and cinema-critical studies.  Her column, “Cine File,” runs Tuesdays.

2 replies
  1. Julie Ann Brown
    Julie Ann Brown says:

    Great article, Daily Trojan! Your talent resonates with the reader of today as it did when I was an undergrad at S.C.!
    Anyway, as a tenured marketing professor, mother of two girls, fairy tale writer (not my day job) I can tell you that a good story (not the same old tale) like the Princess Bride, Star Wars, Stardust will when on film will touch the viewer and transform them not just during the film itself, but long after the theater has gone black. People remember a good tale and a good fairy tale that is unique will transcend time and even what were at a time predictable short-term profits…Just imagine the revenue stream for the Brothers Grimm and good old Hans Christian Anderson…if they had found the Holy Grail of immortality…cha-ching, cha-ching!

  2. Ivan Stoikov - Allan Bard
    Ivan Stoikov - Allan Bard says:

    Good article! Yet, being an author who writes for kids too, I guess every author/screen-writer should strive to create new creatures, the classical, öld like vampires, elves, dwarfs, wizards with sharp hats, fairies, etc. are too ordinary already? That’s what I try in some of my books (Tale Of The Rock Pieces, The Opposite Of Magic, Kids’Funny Business, etc – weightless korks, glowing, living balls, Brown faces, fiery men, one-eyeds, night fruit, rock pieces, fish-keepers, etc…), I guess I’m right? Unusual, new characters and creatures mean new, more interesting plots, many intriguing adventures and an end that no one could predict?

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