The classic fairytales we all know by heart have suddenly become Hollywood’s hottest properties. Due in part to last year’s smash hit adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (not technically a “fairytale,” but close enough in Hollywood terms), a slew of big-budget, edgy reimaginings of fairytale staples are getting the big-screen treatment within the next few years.
A quick rundown: Three versions of Snow White are in the works, including one directed by Tarsem Singh (The Fall), with Julia Roberts attached to play legendary baddie the Evil Queen; Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, in which the grown-up siblings (played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) from the classic story are revealed to be bounty hunters who hunt witches; and Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Killer (based on “Jack and the Beanstalk”) in which the young farmer of the title (A Single Man‘s Nicholas Hoult) is forced to do battle against the kingdom of the giants (ruled by a villainous Bill Nighy).
And that’s not it—a Twilight-style teen romance version of “Beauty and the Beast,” Beastly (starring Alex Pettyfer and Vanessa Hudgens), was just released. This weekend, another dark take on a classic fairytale hits theaters—Red Riding Hood, directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight), in which a young woman (Amanda Seyfried) falls in love with a lonely woodcutter (Shiloh Fernandez) in a medieval village haunted by a werewolf. While the general plot doesn’t seem to offer many surprises, with its impressive cast (which also includes Gary Oldman and Julie Christie) and spooky, atmospheric sets (Hardwicke herself was a former production designer), this stylized adaptation is worth a look.
To celebrate Hollywood’s fairytale craze, join MM as we take a look back at five of the most original, unconventional fairytale reimaginings in recent memory (including two prior versions of “Little Red Riding Hood”).
The Company of Wolves (1984)
directed by Neil Jordan
This stylish nightmare from eclectic writer-director Jordan (The Crying Game, The Brave One) takes place within the dreams of a young girl, Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson), who imagines herself living in a fairytale forest. The film features a kind of dream logic, interweaving a number of symbolic folk tales involving werewolves, one of which is a grisly take on “Little Red Riding Hood.” In this story, Rosaleen is on her way to her grandmother’s cottage when she encounters a handsome hunter, who claims he can find his way to her grandmother’s house faster than she can. When Rosaleen arrives, she discovers that the hunter is actually a werewolf and has eaten the poor old woman. She shoots the hunter for revenge, only to discover that she has turned into a werewolf herself. With its gruesome make-up effects, thought-provoking symbolism and lush, fantastical sets (the movie was shot at England’s famous Shepperton Studios), The Company of Wolves remains a wholly original, unusual delight.
directed by Matthew Bright
This modern day take on “Little Red Riding Hood” features a far different tone than The Company of Wolves. Instead of being dreamy and ethereal, Freeway is an audacious, raunchy, darkly funny riff on the classic tale. Perhaps the best way to envision it is to imagine “Little Red Riding Hood” as if it was written by Quentin Tarantino. Reese Witherspoon (in a star-making performance) is a blunt, brash teen girl with a dysfunctional home life, who, in an attempt to hitchhike her way to her grandmother’s house, is picked up by infamous serial killer Bob Wolverton (hint, hint). What happens from there is best if left a surprise, but let’s just say things don’t turn out so swell for Mr. Wolverton. After watching this audacious film, it’s hard to think of sweet Little Red in the same way again.
Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997)
directed by Michael Cohn
As its title suggests, this macabre tale (which aired on television in the U.S.) brings the dark impulses inherent in the classic story to the surface. Set against the backdrop of the Crusades, the film follows a young girl (Monica Keena) and her relationship with her cold-hearted stepmother (a deliciously evil Sigourney Weaver, in an Emmy-nominated performance). The film keeps many of the familiar tropes from the story, but with a more sinister bent (here, the seven dwarves are far less cuddly characters), ensuring a delightfully terrifying experience for both horror and fairytale fans alike.
Ever After (1998)
directed by Andy Tennant
“Cinderella” is given the historical fiction treatment with this twist on the ancient myth, in which the heroine, here named Danielle (and played by Drew Barrymore), proves to be a brave, headstrong protagonist with a mind of her own; rather than the traditionally passive female archetype. The Brothers Grimm, in fact, appear as characters in the framing story, in which an elderly woman tells them the “Cinderella”-style story. With its mix of romance, drama and comedy, Ever After proved a successful merger of old-fashioned adventure and modern, post-feminist ideals.
The Brothers Grimm (2005)
directed by Terry Gilliam
Though not based on a specific fairytale, this quirky fantasy from oddball auteur Gilliam places the classic fairytale writers in the forefront in a fictionalized story in which the Grimm brothers (Matt Damon and Heath Ledger) are traveling con artists who must summon the courage to do battle against a real fairytale curse. Despite being a flawed, uneven film (with a notoriously troubled production history), The Brothers Grimm still boasts enough intriguing original effects and offbeat humor to warrant a look for any fantasy fan.
And what say you? Do you have a favorite fairytale reimagining not included on the list? Let us know in the comments below!