Fairytales reimagined – the good, the bad and Sleeping Beauty

With Hollywood’s latest roll of the ideas dice dictating a few years of fairytale movies (or, rather, rehashes of old Disney classics), it should come as no surprise that we are now on our second Snow White reimagining of the year – our third if you include direct-to-DVD slasher knock-off Snow White: A Deadly Summer.

But with both Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman committing similar mistakes and labouring over-impressive visuals at the expense of character and plot, neither really qualify as a good example of the recent trend done right. It seems that the process is harder than you might suspect. So what films should Tarsem Singh and Rupert Sanders have been trying to emulate? We present the good, the bad and the ugly duckling of the live action fairytale remake.

The Good

Hook (1990)
Less a live action re-write and more an unofficial sequel to the original story, Steven Spielberg’s Hook saw mild-mannered corporate lawyer PETER PANning (Robin Williams) forced to return to Neverland in order to rescue his two children from the clutches of old nemesis Captain Hook. With Dustin Hoffman as the titular one-handed pirate, Bob Hoskins as Smee and Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell, it was an all star cast in the best sense of the word, packed to the crow’s nest with acting royalty as opposed to the latest in teen idols. Even overcoming lacklustre initial reviews, the film now holds a 6.3/10 rating on IMDb and a place in the hearts of many a babyboomer.

Peter Pan (2003)
Don’t worry, this isn’t a list comprised solely of Peter Pan films (I’ll spare you Finding Neverland), it just so happens that J. M. Barrie’s story of perpetual youth has had an unusually good time at the cinema. Better even than Hook, P. J. Hogan’s Peter Pan revisits the original narrative with a reverence and attention to detail that brings the characters and setting to life. Touching, beautifully observed and unashamedly fantastical, the film’s trust in its child actors pays off as both Jeremy Sumpter and Rachel Hurd-Wood deliver stand-out performances as Peter and Wendy. Released within a week of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (well done, Universal), this film isn’t nearly as well known and celebrated as it should be.

Avatar (2009)
Much has been made of Avatar‘s inherent similarities to the story of Pocahontas, with both stories focusing on the relationship between a native woman and a male outsider. Unfortunately, the comparisons aren’t generally positive. Taken as a reimagining of the Disney (and historical) classic, however, the film is undoubtedly one of the most successful of its kind, not only updating the story for modern audiences with intact thematics but also casting the story as a big budget science fiction extravaganza. In 3D. And why not? After all, pretty much every romantic comedy ever made is basically Romeo and Juliet with jokes on. The rest are just Hercules in spandex. By Hollywood’s standards Avatar is still one of the most original movies of the last 10 years.

The Bad

Alice in Wonderland (2010)
While – as in Hook – Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland attempts to continue the story set out by Lewis Carroll by returning Alice to a not-quite-as-she-remembers Underland, Burton’s film ultimately has more in common with the Snow Whites of 2012. With Johnny Depp overstepping his supporting status as the Mad Hatter, Mia Wasikowska stubbornly insisting that she is in fact just dreaming and far, far too much discussion of the ridiculously named Frabjous Day, the film proceeds to drag out its novel premise until it starts to chafe horribly. Why must everything these days end in a giant Tolkein-esque battle? The characters should have been playing with semantics, not slaying the Jabberwocky.

Red Riding Hood (2011)
When fairytales aren’t trying to lord over the rings in pursuit of a male audience, they are usually pandering towards the Twilight crowd instead. I’m not certain how much of Little Red Riding Hood you might remember, but I’m pretty sure you won’t recall Red’s love affair with a werewolf. That’s probably because there wasn’t one, of course; not that that has stopped Catherine Hardwicke from awkwardly shoehorning one in regardless. Throw in poor old Amanda Seyfried, Max Irons and an almost definitely blackmailed Gary Oldman and you have a film that is about as faithful to the original as Twilight was to its own horror roots. What a big imagination you have! All the better to misremember you with.

Beastly (2011)
If you thought Red Riding Hood was bad, I recommend that you give Beastly a pretty wide berth. Heck, I’d kiss goodbye to rows A through C of your local HMV (and the bargain bin, while you’re at it). Starring none other than Venessa Hudgens, Alex Pettyfer and one of the Olsens that’s not Elizabeth, Beastly took Beauty and the Beast and drew lines on its face in the name of modernity. There’s apparently an alternative ending in which Pettyfer (the beast character) is brought back to life by an enchanted teddy bear, presumably because the magic rose element was just too far fetched for discerning tweens. As the womanising candle once cried at the angry mob, “Sacre bleu!”

The Ugly Duckling

Sleeping Beauty (2011)
If I was to give aspiring fairytale reimaginers advice, then, it would probably be to make a Peter Pan movie; or, failing that, to at the very least avoid ending their film in a big battle solely in the name of demographics. There is another option, however, as pursued by Julia Leigh for her 2011 once upon a nipple slip Sleeping Beauty. While Avatar was still basically comprised of animated characters living happily ever after, Sleeping Beauty takes a children’s classic and roofies it all the way from Disneyland to the Cannes Film Festival. Recasting Princess Aurora as Lucy, a young university student who dallies in ‘freelance eroticism’, the film is about as far removed from the original story as it is possible to get.

Which fairytale adaptation is your bête noire? Let us know below!

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