It’s Thursday again and you know what that means – this week we’re being asked to list our favourite live-action fairy tale adaptations. Not such an easy feat for some of the Assholes, but we’re giving it a go! Thanks, Wanderer, for your inspired themes.
It’s probably telling that though we owned copies of Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, I was never a very Princess-oriented little girl. Even as a kid, I preferred darker stories, and so my go-to fairy tale was always and still is Labyrinth.
I’m sure you know it: it’s about a teenaged girl (Jennifer Connolly) who makes a stupid wish that actually makes her baby brother disappear. Realizing her mistake, she has to win her brother back from the Goblin King by solving his labyrinth in just 15 hours. This movie combines two things that are so awesome I might call them otherworldly, and putting them together just multiplies their effect. First, David Bowie as the Goblin King: absolute perfection. To this day you couldn’t cast it better. The hair, the pants, the eyebrows! Second, Jim Henson. He brings some fairly complex puppets into the mix, some inspired by the genius work of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. Henson surrounds Bowie with a cast of Goth Muppets that create this hyper-real fever dream. The story’s fairytale roots stoke the fires of Jim Henson’s imagination beautifully, and we’re absorbed and suspended into a world where anything can happen.
For my second pick, I’m going with Penelope. Penelope is lovely girl (Christina Ricci) from a wealthy family who was born with the face of a pig. The pig-face is the result of a curse put on her family by a witch in retaliation for their rejection of a house maid turned away when a member of the house impregnates her. Generations later, Penelope bears the brunt of her family’s indiscretion. To break the curse, Penelope must find “one of her own” to love her. Her suitors (including a roguish James McAvoy), however, may be more interested in her money than in true love. The movie gives life to the other side of the tale, a modern girl born only to be hidden away in shame, and what that has meant in terms of self-worth. I think it’s also an interesting example of how, with a little suspension of disbelief, we can invest in a fairy tale without a lot of big-budget effects and other trappings familiar to the genre. The fairy tale is made much more accessible and relatable on this plane.
I’ve been waffling over this third pick for a while. I felt like maybe I should go with a more classic adaptation, but damn it to hell, I’m going with a Cinderella story because it’s one that’s been told more than 700 times, in many different ways, all around the world. We just saw Disney’s live-action effort last night (quite good), but the one that will still stands out to me is Pretty Woman. It’s actually a pretty faithful adaptation, if a little modernized: a young woman with no family is forced into a life of hard work (prostitution, if you will). She meets a handsome prince (or millionaire businessman) and they start to fall in love, but she’s not from his world, so neither of them thinks the love with last. However, with the help of a fairy godmother (called Visa) she is magically transformed. But the prince must love her for who she really is, so she feels, and he follows, searching her out on her turf, his heart (and possibly other organs) swollen with love. And because this is a fairy tale, the ho and the ethically-questionable businessman live happily ever after. We assume.
If you joined us last Thursday, you might have noticed that I gave Luc a bit of a hard time about his lack of interest in black and white movies made after (or even before) 1970. Well, I’m hoping he loves live-action fairy tale adaptations because I can’t seem to find the same level of enthusiasm this week. It’s not that I object on principle. I don’t see any reason why stories that have so often inspired such great animated films can’t be reimagined as great live-action ones, especially with less pressure to conform their content to a G rating. Maybe because we can’t bring ourselves to set aside our cynicism for even two hours without the obviously manufactured world of animation but it’s a lot harder to believe in magic when it is Elle Fanning- not Sleeping Beauty- who can only be woken by True Love’s Kiss and almost every recent film in this sub-genre is almost embarrassing to watch. Still, after thinking about it all week, I have managed to come up with 3 worthy exceptions especially when allowing myself a little leeway with the rules.
Babe- When I say that Babe is one of my favourite films of the 90’s, I don’t mean “favourite family movies”. I don’t know if it can be called a fairy tale under the strictest definition but it seems to think of itself as one. There may not be any fairy godmothers, pixie dust, or spells, but there are singing mice, scheming cats, an unlikely hero with the most innocent of hearts, and one of the most genuinely magical experiences of its decade.
Hook- Steven Spielberg makes my list two weeks in a row. Technically more a Peter Pan sequel than a peter Pan adaptation, Spielberg’s 1991 film is one of his most underappreciated. Now a cynical corporate lawyer who hates flying, Peter Pan (Robin Williams) is all grown up and has literally forgotten about Neverland. With the help of Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts), he must learn to fly again to save his young kids who have kidnapped by Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) who is still holding a grudge. Hook makes great use of almost every one of Williams’ many talents and Hoffman is brilliantly cast and will likely put Garrett Hedlund to shame in this summer’s Pan.
Into the Woods– Some of the most memorable fairy tale characters of all time meet in the woods in last year’s extremely entertaining adaptation of the Broadway musical. The stories take on a darker tone than we might be used to but the spirit of the stories survive.