Funnily enough, I was actually driving my 2-year-old daughter to school this morning when I heard this little factoid hit the morning radio. Apparently a survey of over 2,000 parents in Britain concluded that a fairly large majority of today's parents are staying away from the classic fairytales because they're too dark, scary and include plot elements they're not comfortable sharing with their little ones.
As the radio announcer began reading off the top ten fairytales that are no longer being read to kids for various reasons by their parents, I noticed two things: 1) I read all of these fairytales when I was a kid, and turned out just fine (I think), and 2) Most of these were either just turned into movies, or are about to be turned into movies. Check out the list of 10 below -- plus the corresponding movies (which I added) -- to see what I mean, courtesy of the Telegraph:
Note: Since this is a recent study, we're not including older adaptations of these fairytales, only the latest and upcoming incarnations.
1. Hansel and Gretel - Details two kids abandoned in the forest and likely to scare young children -- Movie: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, due January 10, 2013.
2. Jack and the Beanstalk - Deemed too 'unrealistic'. -- Movie: Jack the Giant Killer, due March 22, 2013
3. Gingerbread Man - Would be uncomfortable explaining gingerbread man gets eaten by a fox
4. Little Red Riding Hood - Deemed unsuitable by parents who have to explain a young girl's grandmother has been eaten by a wolf. -- Movie: Red Riding Hood (2011)
5. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves - the term dwarves was found to be inappropriate - Movie: Snow White and the Huntsman (due June 1, 2012), and Mirror Mirror (due March 30, 2012).
6. Cinderella - Story about a young girl doing all the housework was outdated. Movie: Various, latest is A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song (2011).
7.Rapunzel - Parents were worried about the focus on a young girl being kidnapped. -- Movie: Tangled (2011)
8.Rumplestiltskin - Wouldn't be happy reading about executions and kidnapping
9.Goldilocks and the Three Bears - Sends the wrong messages about stealing
10.Queen Bee - Inappropriate as the story has a character called Simpleton ENDS
So what does it all mean, aside from the fact that Hollywood is loving the stuff parents are hating on? Well considering most of these fairytale adaptations are going for a darker, grittier approach, it means Hollywood sees potential profit in the exact same things that are turning parents away. And that's fine -- who doesn't want to watch an ass-kicking, R-rated version of Hansel and Gretel? -- but at the end of the day, will these darker, grittier approaches just alienate certain audiences, resulting in unsuccessful movies?
There's a larger discussion here that pertains to the right and wrong way to adapt a classic fairytale, and Hollywood will learn a lot more about that by the time the year is out. If we look at the facts already available to us, we see that the darker, grittier Red Riding Hood opened with $14 million, whereas the lighter, family-friendly Tangled opened with $48 million. Both Jack the Giant Killer and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters have already been pushed back, paving the way for the two Snow White movies to go head-to-head later this year, with one being more family-friendly (Mirror Mirror) and the other darker and for an older crowd (Snow White and the Huntsman).
Personally, I think Hollywood is going to learn a lesson this year and next. I don't think any of these upcoming films are going to do well, and I think it's because they're not targeting the right audience with the right material. Snow White and the Huntsman has the best shot because of its well-known cast and enticing trailers, but even that film is fighting an uphill battle. After 2013, look for Hollywood to hop off this bandwagon and return to making fairytale movies for the people who will actually go see them: kids.
In the meantime, though, it's sad that parents are shunning these classic fairytales in literary form because they deem the content too racy. After all, it's these fairytales that help shape kids; that teach them the right and wrong way to do things, or that not everything in the world is perfect and delightful. That you do need to watch your back; that you do need to keep an eye out for those who do bad things. That sometimes there won't always be someone there to save you -- that you might just have to save yourself.
These are great lessons, and they shouldn't be ignored at face value, which seems to be what's happening in the UK. Parents instead are turning to books like The Gruffalo, which is fun, sure, but all that book does is teach kids to be deceitful and lie in order to get out of tricky situations. The reason why Disney was so successful adapting these darker fairytales early on was because they found a way to lighten them up and make them even more accessible to kids. They were creative, and it was that inventiveness that helped shape a media empire. Instead of just avoiding any and all potentially tricky conversations with their children, perhaps parents should just take a page out of Disney's book and focus more on why these tales are so appealing to children, instead of why they're not.
And then Hollywood should do the same.