Best Live-Action Fairy Tale Adaptations

TMPIt’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.

 

Jay

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 labyrinth-2_1389186934things 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 penelopemember 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-pretty-woman-GCaction 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.

Matt

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 babe-james-cromwellfamily 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 Hook-1forgotten 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 WoodsSome of the most memorable fairy tale characters of all time meet in the intothewoodswoods 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.

 

 

Sean:

The Princess Bride: the best of the best. This is a fairy tale that a teenage boy could not only princess_brideenjoy and relate to, but could talk about with other teenage boys. The Princess Bride is endlessly quotable, sincere but not serious, and effortlessly original while remaining true to the essence of a fairy tale. I still love this movie and I expect it will be one that continues to be discovered and enjoyed for as long as we watch movies.
wizard-of-oz-original1The Wizard of Oz – this is a timeless movie that still holds up. Even the changing technical limits of the day add something to the movie, being in black and white initially, with colour then appearing once Dorothy gets to Oz. It’s so well done, the songs are catchy, the characters are memorable, and the big reveal at the end is one of the best twists ever. One of my favourite parts about the movie is that even after the curtain is pulled back, everyone still gets to live happily ever after, the very definition of a fairy tale.
Cinderella (2015) – we just saw this last night and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. rs_1024x759-141119042502-1024_Cinderella-JR-111914No surprises, no changes, no updates to the classic Disney tale, and that’s probably for the best. It was the definition of a fairy tale made into a live action movie, line for line, shot for shot, and mouse/horse for mouse/horse. At our screening, all the little (and some not-so-little) girls in their princess costumes clearly loved this movie and I could see exactly why they did. I would have said Cinderella is this year’s Frozen except that this year’s Frozen is going to be Frozen Fever, the short accompanying Cinderella, which made a little girl in the theatre gleefully exclaim, “Look at those dresses!”
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24 thoughts on “Best Live-Action Fairy Tale Adaptations

  1. mattasshole

    Great picks, Jay. I’d been thinking of this all week and completely forget about all three of those. You know, and I’m getting ready to duck as I’m saying this, I’ve never seen Labyrinth. This area really is a blind spot for me.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes you should! As Sean said, it’s probably not as dazzling or interesting to adults, but there’s a kid in all of us, and even more importantly, there’s a Bowie fan.

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  2. Brittani

    Nice picks! Pretty Women is a surprising one. I never thought of that as a fairy tale. Labyrinth is a good choice, though it’s hard for me to get past Bowie’s massive bulge in that movie.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Oh, I’m all about the bulge! 😉
      And I admit Pretty Woman’s maybe not the most obvious but the story line is pretty classic cinderella…although I think anytime a ho marries the rich guy, there’s some fairy tale element going on!

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  3. joelnox

    Labyrinth is a great catch, it’s been years since I’ve watched it but it definitely has its charms. Penelope is another interesting choice, I didn’t love it but it was nice to see Christina Ricci get a decent role for a change and Pretty Woman is a creative take on Cinderella, Roberts & Gere connect in that great movie star way that really makes the film stand out.

    I never thought of Babe, I forgot it was based on a book, but it is such a sweet film. I’m not crazy for Hook, I enjoyed the performances, aside from Julia Roberts, more than anything else. I missed Into the Woods in the theatre, I loved the stage show and delayed going to see the film because I was wary of how they might have changed it but I’ll catch it when the DVD comes out.

    The Princess Bride is endlessly enjoyable, and yes so quotable! Haven’t quite decided about seeing the new Cinderella in the theatre though you’re recommendation is encouraging and I do love Cate Blanchett and the Downton Abbey girls so perhaps I’ll break down and take my niece. Thanks.

    I went with one straightforward adaptation and two that played with their source material this week.

    Freeway (1996)-Undeniably unique adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood. Reese Witherspoon plays Red, here reimagined as a pea brained, white trash southern teen named Vanessa whose mother is a meth head hooker and her stepfather a leering junkie. When they are arrested Reese handcuffs her truant officer to the bed and hits the road in an old junker to Grandmother’s house. When the car breaks down she crosses paths with the Big Bad Wolf here in the form of a sleazy Keifer Sutherland. Strange, dark and deranged but definitely different.

    The Glass Slipper (1955)-High gloss MGM semi musical adaptation of Cinderella with Leslie Caron perfectly cast in the lead. Takes a few liberties but stays pretty close to the story. Michael Wilding is an awfully mature prince but aside from him the supporting cast is full of colorful characters and the film is a visual treat.

    Ball of Fire (1941)-In this spin on Snow White and the Seven Drawfs Barbara Stanwyck plays nightclub singer Sugarpuss O’Shea who while dodging a subpoena to testify against her mobster boyfriend hides out with seven professors who are complying an encyclopedia of slang of which she is a master. Stanwyck and Gary Cooper are charming together and the professors standing in for the dwarves are a collection of some of the most distinctive character actors working at the time. If you are only familiar with Barbara Stanwyck from Double Indemnity or perhaps The Big Valley TV series she’s a comic revelation in this.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Thanks for stopping by again!
      We actually watched Freeway in honour of this week’s theme – and tweeted about it @assholemovies , if you’re intersted in our semi-cohesive thoughts. “Undeniably unique” is one way to put it! It was pretty crazy! Like, really crazy! And pretty dirty. And foul-mouthed! I’d never even heard of it before. I have to say, it’s not making the list of my favourite movies any time soon, but we had an absolute ball watching it together and cracking each other up.

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      1. mattasshole

        I hadn’t even heard of Freeway until Saturday and am actually surprised that we weren’t the only three people to know about it. I didn’t know about Ball of Fire either until you mentioned it but it sounds like something I need to check out.

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      2. joelnox

        Oh good Lord I would NEVER say that Freeway was a favorite! But it is such a crazy, fever dream take on the source material I had to include it for its audacity and the go for broke gameness of the cast. Quality cinema however it is most definitely not.

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  4. Myerla

    I’m going to be a massive arsehole and say I don’t like the Princess Bride, I find it annoying (the “inconceivable!” guy was the main culprit) and just as I might I could not get into it.

    I did like the Wizard of Oz. That was perfect. I love the first step into the world technicolor – a scene that was well homaged in the Wizard of Oz film starring James Franco.

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    1. Jay Post author

      You can not like it all you want!
      I do like it though, very much. Every time I watch it I feel like I discover something new.

      I love the Wizard of Oz, along with everyone in their right minds. The James Franco one not so much. I do believe we saw it at the drive in and found it to be quite forgettable, which is probably why I don’t remember the scene you reference!

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  5. Jay Post author

    Our list makes it pretty clear that fairy tales usually have a few things in common with each other. There’s a lot of dead\absentee parents, wealth\poverty dichotomies, lots of sumptuous dresses, and even a couple of pigs!

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