There's just no pleasing ungrateful audiences like us anymore. Hollywood gives us so many chances to be happy and we just reject them all. First, we complain when our fairy tale movies are too tame or pathetic, like Mirror Mirror. So Hollywood makes a hard left and gives us fairy tales with a distinctive edge, such as Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and then we complain that they're too scary or too weird! Just like that tiny jerk Goldilocks, we're finicky and put off by every different porridge they try to cram down our throats.
What's a poor studio to do?!
Though you could argue that almost every movie finds a basis in one kind of myth, fable or fairy tale, long gone are the softer days of The Little Mermaid and Ever After. But how did we get from the gentle magic of "bibbidi-bobbidi-boo" to the harsh reality of R-rated action films masquerading as fairy tales?
During these uncertain financial times, as box office numbers continue to decline and people are getting choosier about where they spend their entertainment dollars, Hollywood is terrified of taking chances on expensive original programming and has returned to what it knows best: adaptations and remakes of proven moneymakers. But, it's not as simple as slapping a new coat of paint on Sleeping Beauty and sending her out into the world to rake in the millions. Over the past 10 years, it's gotten harder and harder to sell the very stuff that used to be huge winners. However, if there's anything that seems to still get people's attention, it's a bizarre new take on a familiar idea.
The problem is, as audiences we've been fed a steady diet of amazing movies with mind-blowing special effects and outrageous stories for years. With the cost of movies rising, it's all the more important to be sure we're going to like something before we get into the theater. Thus, trailers give away the goods from the get-go and marketing bombards us, begging us to go see the latest and greatest. We are not easily amused, and we are even less easily impressed. In order for a movie to even make a dent in our popcorn and Icee-addled brains, we need to be shown something we've never seen before.
Movies aren't the spectacle they once were. Snow White was a huge deal when it came out in 1937, winning an Oscar (with seven adorable little statuettes!) and amassing millions of dollars and carving a place into the cultural consciousness. That movie took years to make, and held a special place in the world because of the unique subject matter and format, and it showed people something they'd never seen before. With a solid 100 years of moviemaking behind us, with 10 movies slamming in and out of movie theaters every weekend, there's no way in hell a movie like Snow White could ever even make a splash now. It's too sweet, too innocent and entirely too simple. It's impossible to imagine anyone singing "Someday My Prince Will Come" without choking with derision and sarcastic laughter. For better or for worse, we're far too jaded now.
The fairy tale adaptations of the past few years have been gritty, hardened affairs, churned out a fast pace and meant to shock the modern mind, jolting us into adoration. Movies like Snow White and the Huntsman and Jack the Giant Slayer try to reimagine the fairy tales of our youth in a cooler, sleeker and much more action-oriented package. The new Oz: The Great and Powerful plays around in the very familiar world of The Wizard of Oz, but is decidedly scarier and strives to appeal to a mixed audience, whereas the first film appealed to all parties effortlessly. A movie like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters takes a weird stab at being fairy tale related, even though the film could have tanked all on its own without the fairy tale affiliation.
Though we may huff and puff, grumbling endlessly about the sheer number of fairy tale adaptations, there seems to be no signs of stopping them. They are fairly disposable films with unmemorable story lines, packed to the gills with CGI and violence, and we see them all with incredibly low expectations. So many bad fairy tale movies have left a bad taste in our mouths, that we've forgotten the true power of fairy tales, confusing them with dumb, frivolous childhood nonsense.
The thing is, we're obsessed over all of the fairy tale trappings for a reason. Heroes, quests, the struggle between good and evil, impossible high-stakes decisions and the possibility of real, lasting love are the most basic building blocks of the human experience and the powerful stories that we learn from a very early age. We're screaming out for something better, something that unpacks the hope and power of these incredibly basic stories and gives them the grandeur and impact they deserve. It's time we had films that live up to the promise of what a fairy tale can be.
Twisted fairy tales are here to stay, with the upcoming Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie, a dark take on the villain of Sleeping Beauty. Another real-life adaptation in the works is Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, sure to have a harder edge than the Disney version that came before it. Let's hope these films are not too hard and ridiculous or too soft and simple, but get the balance between the two juuuuust right.