After 'Twilight,' a fairy-tale renaissance looks for a happy ending
Hollywood has a tendency to lock on to a trend and keep on it until it dies (or long after). So it goes these days with movies based on fairy tales and other classic children's stories. You might think that the modest box office for "Red Riding Hood" and "Beastly" last month would slow the bandwagon. But with the insane success of "Alice in Wonderland" last year casting its glow, movie studios continue to look to a Grimm future.
As we explore in a Times print article on Sunday, there are two Snow White movies, a Hansel & Gretel reimagining and a Wizard of Oz prequel all set to hit theaters in the coming 12 to 24 months. "What we have are stories that people have a general knowledge of but don't know the specifics," said veteran Hollywood producer Joe Roth, who was behind "Alice" and is making the new Oz movie, "The Great and Powerful," starring James Franco and Mila Kunis. "We believe we can retool and reboot, work out a new story while using technology to our advantage."
Some of the appeal, of course, is the built-in awareness of these properties, though cultural experts attribute the revival to more zeitgeist-y factors. Kate Bernheimer, editor of a journal called the Fairy Tale Review, says that there's an "uncanny pull that the 'ever after' holds in an age of extinction."
Not to be underestimated is the "Twilight" factor. The Kristen Stewart franchise borrowed heavily from fairy-tale lore — there's forbidden love, age-old curses and and the promise of happily ever after — and now fairy tales, fueled by the success of "Twlight," are returning the favor. In fact, one of the Snow White's, "Snow White and the Huntsman," even stars Stewart in the title female role. And "Red Riding Hood," the new spin on the big-bad-wolf tale, was directed by "Twilight" filmmaker Catherine Hardwicke.
Hollywood does hope to do more than simply offer a rehash — it's going darker with these tales than Disney cartoons ever did: "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters," starring Jeremy Renner, for instance, is an adult-themed film that doesn't shy away from violence; it's coming from the director who previously made the Nazi zombie movie "Dead Snow."
But there's a limit to what even postmodern-minded filmmakers can do. "People want to see these stories get subverted," said "Beastly" director Daniel Barnz. "But certain things still need to happen in the film. It's not like we could have allowed the beast not to be turned back into a beautiful guy at the end."
And of course a bad reinvention poses an even bigger problem. If you resurrect "Transformers" badly, all you've done is mess around with a toy most of us don't think of in cinematic terms anyway. But monkey with the "Wizard of Oz" and there are potential cultural crimes to go with the economic ones. Already, "The Great and Powerful" has caused an Internet firestorm as fans wonder why Hollywood is taking liberties with a classic.
There's undeniably a creative streak underlying all these fairy-tale movies. But Hollywood also knows it needs to be careful: Many reboots have set off on a carefree walk in the forest never to come out again.
— Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer in "Beastly." Credit: CBS Films.