x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

With gutsy heroines and dark tone, Hollywood modernises fairy tales

Last year's gothic remake of Little Red Riding Hood and the success of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland spur a production flurry of updated children's classics.

A poster promoting the film Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart and hitting cinemas this year. Courtesy Universal Studios
A poster promoting the film Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart and hitting cinemas this year. Courtesy Universal Studios

If last year’s gothed-up reinvention of Little Red Riding Hood didn’t provide enough evidence that Hollywood has a renewed appetite for fairy tales, then two trailers released last month surely will. Both blockbusters-to-be are revisionist takes on the Brothers Grimm classic Snow White, set to reach screens this year – and they couldn’t look more different.

Just as the Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke attempted to update Red Riding Hood with a gutsy teenage protagonist (Amanda Seyfried), golden age horror-inspired monsters and a mystery-filled plot, Snow White and the Huntsman aims to present a vision of its source material that seems closer to The Lord of the Rings than the classic Disney animation.

The enthusiastically received promo shows Bella Swan herself (Kristen Stewart) as the heroine, riding a horse while dressed in a suit of armour as epic battles rage in a world of almost Bergmanesque gloom. Also starring Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen and Thor’s Chris Hemsworth as the titular Huntsman, it seems highly unlikely that anyone in this deadly serious production will be breaking into a chorus of Whistle While You Work.

Not so with the other Snow White film, Mirror, Mirror, however. The trailer was cast before the critical eyes of the internet just a few days after Huntsman arrived. The story appears to centre around Julia Roberts’s Evil Queen – a kind of wisecracking pantomime villainess – rather than Snow White herself. With a far more ornate and traditional fairy-tale aesthetic than its rival, the movie seems to be pitched at more of a family audience, but with the promo failing to do any more than add a layer of comedy to the story, it was snarkily dubbed “the other Snow White movie, in so many ways”, by entertainment website The A.V. Club.

As well as another muted Snow White adaptation, Disney’s live-action film The Order of the Seven, Hollywood studios have begun mining several other fairy tales and fantasy classics for blockbuster inspiration. These include reworkings of Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, The Wizard of Oz and Jack the Giant Killer.

But why now? The answer, as always with Hollywood, is to do with money. In 2010, Tim Burton’s revisionist take on the childrens classic Alice in Wonderland (yes, with a gutsy teenage protagonist and goth aesthetic) unexpectedly became the fifth highest grossing movie. Although it has already slipped to ninth, and its spectacular box-office takings were due in part to the 3D film’s inflated ticket price – rival studios wasted no time trying to conjure up their own fantasy tales. The fact that most of these stories are now so old that they are no longer protected by copyright also hasn’t hurt.

Here is a guide to some of the revamped fairy tales set to leap from the dusty page on to the silver screen in the coming years.

 

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Once upon a time ... Picking up the story 15 years after the characters were lured to the gingerbread house by a wicked witch, we find the siblings (played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) have survived their encounter and are now fearless bounty hunters.

Happily ever after? Filmed in 3D, the movie has been described as an “action horror comedy” – a tough mix to get right. Its director (Norway’s Tommy Wirkola) did make the hilariously bloody Nazi zombie film Dead Snow, but with Hansel and Gretel’s release scheduled for the cinema graveyard month of March, it’s worth asking whether studio bosses have already given up on the picture.

 

Jack the Giant Killer

Once upon a time ... Not to be confused with the similar but separate fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, this Cornish legend sees a young farmhand (Nicholas Hoult) reignite an ancient war after unwittingly opening a gateway between his world and the giants’ realm. Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane and Bill Nighy will all appear in the mediaeval adventure.

Happily ever after? With one of Hollywood’s most-respected directors at the helm, Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects), this mega-budget production is expected to be one of next summer’s biggest draws. It also looks set to be the most traditional forthcoming fairy tale, with no 3D gimmickry or attempts to update the story dramatically.

 

Oz: The Great and Powerful

Once upon a time ... Not a fairy tale, but a fantasy classic nonetheless, The Wizard of Oz has enchanted audiences for decades. An attempt to explain how Oz came to be the ruler of the land that bares his name, the film was originally set to star Robert Downey Jr as the enigmatic character, before James Franco took over the role. Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis will play the three witches.

Happily ever after? Its director, Sam Raimi (Spider-Man 3), is known for giving blockbusters the same oddball flair and unhinged energy as his early horror films, so Oz: The Great and Powerful is likely to be a particularly unique affair when it finally arrives in 2013. But will Franco be able to pull off the pivotal role?

 

Maleficent

Once upon a time ... Telling classic stories from the villain’s perspective has become one of the tropes of revisionist fairy tales – and that’s the approach filmmakers are aiming to take with Maleficent. The sorceress who is capable of morphing into a giant dragon, from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, is expected to be played by Angelina Jolie and the film is likely to present a more sympathetic vision of the character.

Happily ever after? Goth-blockbuster supremo Tim Burton was initially tipped to direct Maleficent, but since leaving the project, Harry Potter filmmaker David Yates’s involvement has been suggested. Now in development for several years, it may be some time before the right suitor arrives to bring this story to life.

 

Pinocchio

Once upon a time ... Disney’s 1940 animation remains the most iconic depiction of the Italian fairy tale about a wooden puppet who dreams of being a boy. But in 2002, the US artist Gris Grimly gave Carlo Collodi’s story a dark and grotesque aesthetic in a new illustrated edition.

Happily ever after? It’s this version that Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro and The Muppets puppeteers The Jim Henson Company plan to bring to the screen in the coming years. Although the story is expected to remain faithful to Collodi’s writing, the film is expected to look more like A Nightmare Before Christmas than the Disney classic.

artslife@thenational.ae