– A bit behind the curve, The Guardian warns: “Prepare for a fairytale invasion.” The trend will “really get into top gear with the debut in the U.S. of [Catherine Hardwicke’s] Little Red Riding Hood.” While we’ve been tracking the abundance of fairy tales — from the high-profile The Brothers Grimm: Snow White starring Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen to Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters to Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (we’ve compiled details on all the fairy tales in the works and a quiz, below) — The Guardian is honing in on themes of sexual awakening and the supernatural — the popular variation of which was kicked off by the Twilight series and has been picked up for Red Riding Hood (clearly aiming for the same teen demo).
Pop culture prof. Jonathan Gray (U. Wisconsin-Madison) tells The Guardian: “This Little Red Riding Hood looks completely made for the Twilight generation. It looks like it is teenage angst and very pale people.” Gray points out that fairytales are often very dark (Disney would have us think otherwise), with princesses locked alone in towers, eating poisoned apples and sleeping for 100 years until a kiss from the right man. Our own best example: The Little Mermaid sacrifices her voice out of desire and desperation for an eternal soul, even though her new feet feel the pain of knives every time she takes a step, while dancing to please her prince, who breaks her heart, and whom she must stab to death in order to salvage her life as a mermaid, though she sacrifices herself instead. Hans Christian Anderson’s story does not end happily-ever-after.
Female sexual power and desire — and the fear of it — is at the forefront of many fairy tales. “There is often a theme about the threat of female sexuality. They can be about imposing rules and limiting sexual power within acceptable boundaries,” says Gray. Twilight is proof that these themes work, plus: “The entertainment industry’s appetite is voracious for content, plots and ideas and these fairytales work. They’ve been around for ever,” Communications professor Barry Brummett (University of Texas, Austin) tells the Guardian.
French director Catherine Breillat is more overt in her exploration of the theses. Check out Caryn James’ ode to Breillat’s made-for-TV The Sleeping Beauty (pictured above), which she calls a visually stunning “thinking woman’s fairy tale” which “explores the sexual awakening of girls, and the meaning of class and gender, revising the familiar stories while keeping their enrapturing charm.” It’s probably foolish to hope that the film industry’s current obsession with fairy tales (which is about easy-sell branded titles) will allow filmmakers to explore darker (potentially R-rated) themes (as did del Toro in Pan’s Labyrinth).
FAIRY TALE ADAPTATIONS IN THE WORKS
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
Paramount & Gary Sanchez Productions: Pre-production (March 2, 2012) | Live action, based on an original story inspired by the 1812 Brothers Grimm fairy tale.
DIRECTOR: Tommy Wirkola, SCRIPT: Tommy Wirkola & D. W. Harper, CASTING: Jeremy Renner (Hansel), Gemma Arterton (Gretel), Famke Jansson (Witch) | Famke Janssen co-stars as the leader of a band of witches who almost killed the siblings fifteen years ago when they escaped their candy house. Since then Hansel and Gretel have grown into vengeful bounty hunters. Talk about adding steroids to a children’s fairy tale.
The Brothers Grimm: Snow White
Relativity: Pre-production (March 16, 2012) | Live action, based on an Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s story, translated into English in 1857.
DIRECTOR: Tarsem Singh, SCRIPT: Melissa Wallack & Jason Keller, PRODUCER: Ryan Kavanaugh, CASTING: Julia Roberts (Evil Queen), Lily Collins, Armie Hammer | States Kavanaugh: “Julia was our first and only choice to play the Queen. She is an icon, and we know that she will make this role her own in a way that no one else could.”
Snow White and the Huntsman
Universal: Pre-production (July 1, 2012) | Live action, inspired by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s story, translated into English in 1857.
(UPDATED) DIRECTOR: Rupert Sanders, SCRIPT: Evan Daugherty, CASTING: Kristen Stewart (Snow White), Charlize Theron (Evil Queen), Chris Hemsworth (Huntsman), Sam Claflin (Prince) | ThePlaylist says: “Written by Evan Daugherty, the script was high up on the 2010 Black List pages, and this new spin on the popular fairy tale sees the titular huntsman (Viggo Mortensen) being hired by the evil queen (Charlize Theron, no word yet if she’s locked in considering she’s also shooting “Prometheus”) to track down her runaway stepdaughter, the fairest in all the land. When he realizes that the queen intends to kill Snow White, he helps her escape, and the pair go on the run. Apparently, the huntsman and Snow White will be chained together for a good portion of the film, and there is still a handsome prince who will win the fair lady’s heart.”
The Little Mermaid
Working Title (UK): In Development (2012) | Live action, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1836 short story.
DIRECTOR: Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Hanna), SCRIPT: Abi Morgan (Brick Lane, The Iron Lady, Shame), CASTING: None to date | Here’s welcome news you’ve all been waiting for: a live action adaptation of the Little Mermaid is in the works. The script is by Abi Morgan (Brick Lane) and director Joe Wright is partnered with Working Title. It will be based on the original Hans Christian Anderson Little Mermaid – which is more darkly beautiful adult horror story than children’s sing-a-long (a stage play adaptation at Little Angel Theatre Company, founded by Wright’s father, was part of the inspiration). Wright may prove the right man to channel the spirit of Anderson’s Little Mermaid without the happily-ever-after Disney ending that skews the story’s legacy.
Jack and the Giant Killer
Warner Bros. & Legendary Pictures: Pre-production (2012) | 3-D Live action, based on an adaptation by Mark Bomback and Darren Lemke of Jack and the Beanstalk, first published in 1807 by Benjamin Tabart.
DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects), SCRIPT: Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), CASTING: Nicholas Hoult (Jack), Ewas McGregor, Bill Nighy, Stanley Tucci, Eleanor Tomlinson | Singer plans to shoot the film in the dark, using the EPIC Red camera: “I’m very much looking forward to using the EPIC Red for my next movie Jack the Giant Killer which will be shot in, what else, 3D. The camera’s incredibly compact size and extraordinary resolution are ideal for the 3D format…But more importantly Jack the Giant Killer is my first movie set in a time before electricity. The EPIC’s extraordinary exposure latitude will allow me to more effectively explore the use of natural light.”
Peter Pan Begins
Roth Films: In Development (2013) | Live action, an original script inspired the character Peter Pan, which first appeared n J.M. Barrie’s 1902 novel The Little White Bird.
DIRECTOR: N/A, SCRIPT: Billy Ray, PRODUCER: Joe Roth (Alice in Wonderland, Oz, the Great and Powerful, Snow White and the Huntsman), CASTING: Channing Tatum.
Oz, The Great and Powerful
Roth Films & Disney: Pre-production (2012) | Live action, based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, told from the Wizard’s point of view.
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi, SCRIPT: Mitchell Kapner & David Lindsay-Abaire, PRODUCER: Joe Roth, CASTING: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Warner Bros. & Tim Burton Productions: In Development (2013) | Live action, adapted from Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel.
DIRECTOR: TBC, SCRIPT: Michele Mulroney (the upcoming Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) & Kieran Mulroney, PRODUCERS: Tim Burton & Josh Brolin
CASTING: Josh Brolin (TBC) | The classic love story between Quasimodo and Esmeralda has shined on the silver screen before: Esmeralda in 1905, and both Disney’s animation and the Salma Hayek/Mandy Patinkin TV movie The Hunchback in 1997. Brolin is the driving force behind the project, acting as producer and star. Only if he approves the script will Burton—who is busy prepping for Dark Shadows—jump on board. No word on who would play Esmeralda.
Jim Henson Company & Pathe (2014) | 3-D stop-motion animation, based on Gris Grimley’s 2002 adaptation of Pinocchio, a character who first appeared in Italian Carlo Collodi’s 1883 story.
DIRECTOR: Gris Grimley and Mark Gustafson (Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s animation director), SCRIPT/STORY: Guillermo Del Toro, Matthew Robbins & Grimley, MUSIC: Nick Cave, CASTING: None to date | Del Toro says “There has to be darkness in any fairy tale or children’s narrative work, something the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and Walt Disney understood…We tend to call something Disney-fied, but a lot of people forget how powerfully disturbing the best animated Disney movies are, including those kids being turned into donkeys in Pinocchio. What we’re trying to do is present a Pinocchio that is more faithful to the take that Collodi wrote. That is more surreal and slightly darker than what we’ve seen before,…[for example] the Blue Fairy is really a dead girl’s spirit. Pinocchio has strange moments of lucid dreaming bordering on hallucinations, with black rabbits. The sperm whale that swallows Pinocchio was actually a giant dogfish, which allows for more classical scale and design. The many mishaps Pinocchio goes through include several near-death close calls, a lot more harrowing moments. The key with this is not making any of it feel gratuitous, because the story is integrated with moments of comedy and beauty. He’s one of the great characters, whose purity and innocence allows him to survive in this bleak landscape of robbers and thugs, emerging from the darkness with his soul intact.” Here’s more.
[Illustration credits: Hansel & Gretel – Arthur Rackham, 1909, Pinocchio – Enrico Mazzanti, Hunchback – 1831 illustration from the first edition of Hunchback, Peter Pan – F. D. Bedford from Peter and Wendy, 1911, Snow White – Theodor Hosemann, 1852, Jack and the Beanstalk – George Cruikshank, Little Mermaid – Edmund Dulac.]