2012: The Year of Fairy Tale Reimaginings

If extra-terrestrial encounters were all the rage this year at cinemas, then 2012 is shaping up as the Year of the Fairy Tale at the box office. Currently, there are close on 10 movies coming out next year based on fairy tales, fables and folk stories. Some adaptations are more straightforward while others go the “dark, gritty reimagining” route. Blah blah blah, I’m sure you know the drill by now when it comes to the Hollywood hive mind.

Anyway, all things fairy or fairy tale have been steadily creeping back into pop culture – no doubt to snare the attention of audiences increasingly sick of vampires, werewolves and zombies. Fairy tales seem like the natural successor to these monster stories as fantasy entertainment for the masses. After all, the centuries’ old tales blend the dark, dangerous and supernatural with romance – a recipe that has carried the likes of Twilight to massive success. And let’s not forget that fairy and folk stories will be naturally appealing to studio executives, given that they’re (typically) public domain properties that require no rights to be paid.

Anyway, 2012’s fairy tale craze will build on from the release this year of the critically mauled Red Riding Hood (from the director of Twilight 1 incidentally), contemporary Beauty and the Beast adaptation Beastly, and CGI-animated Puss in Boots (read this blog's Trailer Tuesday profile here), which opens on 28 October in the States.

It’s also worth noting that fairy tale-themed movies have received a decent amount of screen time in recent years, with the following live-action films all releasing: Ever After, Ella Enchanted, The Brothers Grimm, Peter Pan and Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Animation-wise there’s been Disney’s return to classic fairy tales with Tangled and The Princess and the Frog, while the Shrek series and Hoodwinked have of course provided a more light-hearted, spoofy look at this traditional form of fantasy.

Of the 2012 fairy tale movies, the following are the most high profile. There are likely to be those that have slipped my notice however, so please comment below if I’ve forgotten something you know of...

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
First out of the starting gates of the Great Fairy Tale Deluge of 2012 is this gothic supernatural adventure, releasing on 2 March. The film focuses on those same sweet little German kiddies whose unexpected cunning and resourcefulness saved them from a cannibal witch in the woods. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is set 15 years after the Gingerbread House incident, during which time the siblings (played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as adults) have become ruthless bounty hunters, specialising in witches as their quarry. Hansel and Gretel’s skills are put to the test though when a town hires them to stop a powerful sorceress (Famke Janssen) intent on sacrificing the region’s children during the next Blood Moon ritual – an event that is like catnip for witches.

Releasing in 3D, and promising assorted steampunk gadgetry, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters sounds like it will fit comfortably alongside other horror-infused action-adventures like The Brothers Grimm and Van Helsing... minus the latter’s cheese, hopefully.

The Brothers Grimm: Snow White (tentative title)
Also opening in March 2012 – on the 16th – The Brothers Grimm: Snow White is a new take on the beloved fairy tale, from visuals-driven director Tarsem (The Cell) Singh, who prior to this project helmed Greek mythology tale, Immortals (Trailer Tuesday profile here). Lily Collins plays the title character here, while The Social Network’s Armie Hammer is her dashing Prince Charming. More importantly Julia Roberts is the wicked queen with her own jealous designs on the prince, and Sean Bean plays Snow White’s adoring father.

The Brothers Grimm: Snow White is being touted as a colourful and whimsical take on the fairy tale, playing up the comedy as Snow White joins forces with the quarrelsome Seven Dwarves to defeat the queen, take back her rightful kingdom, and get the guy. Expect lots and lots of dazzling costume changes, apparently.

Read more about the film here and here.

Snow White and the Huntsman
I’m taking bets now that this 1 June release (official site here) is the less quirky of next year’s Snow Whites, seeing as it’s being positioned as a gritty fantasy epic in the vein of The Lord of the Rings. Donning armour like last year’s Alice in Wonderland, and taking up combat training with the Huntsman (Chris "Thor" Hemsworth) sent to kill her, this Snow White – played by Kristen Stewart – isn’t a dozy damsel in distress. Stewart’s Snow White is proactive, preparing to overthrow the cruel queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) with an all-star squad of dwarves, sporting the names of Roman emperors, and played/voiced by the likes of Ian McShane, Eddie Izzard, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost.

The first official images from Snow White and the Huntsman were unveiled at this year’s Comic-Con. The film certainly looks stylish enough – it’s directed by “visualist” and TV commercial maker Rupert Sanders in his feature film debut. However, pretty pictures alone don’t really cut it as gratifying movie entertainment, and it remains to be seen if Snow White and the Huntsman delivers the goods without feeling like its straining in its mimicry of other dark fantasy films. Also, one can’t help but feel that the filmmakers should have picked an actress a bit older and more faded for the Queen. I mean, why on Earth would radiant (36 year old) Theron be jealous of Stewart?

Jack the Giant Killer
Shot specifically in 3D, and releasing on 15 June 2012 is this loose adaptation of the British fairy tale (which admittedly I didn't know). The film also marks the first return to directing for X-Men and The Usual SuspectsBryan Singer since 2008’s Valkyrie.

In Jack the Giant Killer, X-Men's new Beast Nicholas Hoult plays a young farmer who becomes embroiled in fresh conflict between humanity and the kingdom of giants. Jack in fact even has to lead an expedition into the giants’ land to rescue Eleanor Tomlinson’s princess. Fortunately he has elite soldier Ewan McGregor to back him up, while Ian McShane ’s king and Stanley Tucci’s corrupt advisor remain back at the palace. Out of interest, the giants will be depicted using CGI-motion capture, and their 2-headed leader is played by Bill Nighy and John Kassir.

With monstrous creatures, an ensemble cast and young love at stake, Jack the Giant Killer could be a lot of fun as a family fantasy adventure – potentially even another Princess Bride if the film demonstrates both heart and humour, and isn't too dour-faced.

Brave (official site here) is animation studio Disney-Pixar’s big release for 2012. Opening on 22 June in 2D and 3D, Brave is notable for being Pixar’s first attempt at telling a story in the traditional fairy tale style. It’s also the first Pixar movie to centre on a female character... and a ginger at that!

Set in the Scottish Highlands, and heavily infused with Celtic imagery and mythology, Brave centres on willful princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) whose defiance of her people’s traditions triggers a terrible transformative curse. It falls to Merida, with only her horse and her bow, to break the magic spell before it becomes permanent. Julie Walters, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd and Robbie Coltrane are some of the big British names voicing Brave’s colourful (some quite literally) supporting cast.

I’ve already profiled Brave as a Trailer Tuesday entry, but I’ll reiterate that the film looks stunning. It’s a bit of a pity though that Pixar and Brave’s initial director Brenda Chapman (the first woman to helms a Pixar film incidentally) parted ways over creative differences. I wonder if that will noticeably impact on the tone and plot of the finished product?

Dorothy of Oz
Granted this CGI-animated sequel (official site here) doesn’t come from any of the big studios, and granted the Wizard of Oz is more fairy tale-esque than an actual centuries’ old, hand-me-down story – but this family adventure is worth noting all the same. Especially since it’s based on one of the most beloved literary and cinematic fantasy properties of the 20th Century. Dorothy of Oz is currently set for release in August 2012 in North America, after which it will expand to other international territories (if it doesn’t go straight to DVD).

Dorothy of Oz features the voices of Lea Michele , Martin Short, Dan Aykroyd, Kelsey Grammer, Oliver Platt and Patrick Stewart , and is based on the book by L Frank Baum’s great-grandson, Roger Stanton Baum . In the film, Kansas farm girl Dorothy returns to Oz after her famous first adventure, and, with the aid of friends old and new, must overthrow an evil jester who has found the Wicked Witch of the West's wand, and is terrorising the inhabitants of Oz with its dark magic.

Sleeping Beauty
Right, in all honesty this sexually charged drama isn’t based on the Perrault fairy tale, but it does borrow heavily from the themes of its namesake.

In Sleeping Beauty, Emily (Sucker Punch) Browning plays a disinterested, disconnected and passive university student who stumbles into the world of prostitution. Our heroine finds her calling almost immediately. She provides a niche service to clientele – she routinely drugs herself and, once unconscious, men can do whatever they want to her... with the exception of penetrative sex.

I don’t think it’s a push to say that Sleeping Beauty could be the next Black Swan, in that it takes audiences to some very dark, uncomfortable places regarding the sexuality and psychology of emotionally damaged young women.

"Mentored" by Jane (The Piano) Campion, Sleeping Beauty is an Australian production that debuted with a bang at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film will release this year on 14 October in the UK, but it’s likely that American and South African audiences will have to wait until 2012 sometime for the film to reach our art cinema circuits.

You can read a review of Sleeping Beauty here.

Rise of the Guardians
Nope, this isn’t another Ga’Hoole movie with a cast of armoured owls. However, Rise of the Guardians is still a CGI-animated family movie, set for release on 21 November 2012.

Based on the new children’s book series, The Guardians of Childhood, Rise of the Guardians sees Santa Claus (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), Jack Frost (Chris Pine) and the Man on the Moon band together to stop Jude Law’s Boogeyman, who is plotting to plunge the world into darkness – and destroy the hopes and dreams of the world's children.

So far there’s been very little unveiled character art and teaser footage for Rise of the Guardians. As a result the movie’s tone has yet to be clarified. The film could be a largely serious action-adventure, or, more likely, seeing as this one comes from DreamWorks Animation, it could be a goofy, fairy tale spin on mismatched squad-on-a-mission movies like The Dirty Dozen and The Expendables – except with the heroes wielding unique magical abilities instead of conventional weaponry.

It’ll be interesting to see the route this film takes.

Of all the fairy tale movies opening in 2012, Pan is, by far, the greatest, darkest departure from its source material... and potentially the most intriguing! Although its release date is currently unknown, the film is expected to open sometime next year.

Pan is helmed by Ben Hibbon, who was responsible for the impressive Tale of the Three Brothers animated sequence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1. Pan is far removed from JM Barrie’s fantasy tales, where rapscallion, forever young Peter Pan routinely brought other children to the magical island of Neverland, and waged an endless war with pirate captain Hook and his men. This new film apparently features a modern setting, and has haunted former police detective Hook (Aaron “Two-Face” Eckhart) hunting a childlike serial kidnapper and killer, who favours children as his prey. Anna Sophia Robb is Wendy, a deeply traumatised young woman, and sole surviving Pan victim, who ventures from an insane asylum to assist Hook. Sean Bean rounds out the cast as Smee, Hook’s lone ally on the police force.

At this stage Pan sounds like Kiss the Girls with a fairy tale twist. How this one will weave gritty (potentially sordid) crime mystery and fantasy elements, I don’t know, but it has definite potential. It is set to begin filming in Europe this month.


Out of interest, the following fairy tale films are also in development, for release in 2013 and beyond – if they ever actually reach the production stage:

Malificent – There’s been no real word in this Sleeping Beauty project since May, when Tim Burton backed out of it, but the plan is for Angelina Jolie to play one of Disney’ most iconic villains – the twisted dark fairy/sorceress with a fondness for dragon transformations.

Peter Pan Begins – Because Peter Pan really needs an origin tale, Channing Tatum wants to bring you the story of how the boy who never grew up ended up at odds with Captain Hook. Apparently it has something to do with the 2 actually being brothers. Seriously....

Mermaid – Based on the book Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale by Carolyn Turgeon, this film retains the trauma and tragedy of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale but refashions it as a war between mermaid Lenia and princess Margrethe for the affections of Prince Christopher.

The Little MermaidHanna and Atonement director Joe Wright also wants to make a Little Mermaid film – a faithful live-action adaptation – but has since announced he will shelve his plans until the end of “this weird fucking onslaught of fairy tale adaptations.” A script already exists however, and was inspired by The Little Angel Theatre Company’s puppet production of the story.

The Order of the Seven – Previously known as Snow and the Seven, this movie is Disney’s attempt to also get in on the live-action Snow White action. In this drastic reworking, the dwarves are front and centre plot-wise... except now they’re a disparate band of globe-trotting, not so vertically-challenged warriors wandering around 19th Century China. Snow White, meanwhile, is an Englishwoman pursued by an ancient evil that the men agree to dispatch.

Beauty and the BeastHermione herselfEmma Watson – is set to star in this live-action adaptation of the French fairy tale. Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy’s Guillermo del Toro is lined up to direct, and apparently has plans to heavily overhaul the titular Beast. However, given how the always over-committed del Toro bounces between projects these days, Beauty and the Beast could easily not happen.

Oz: The Great and Powerful – There are at least 5 other Oz movies in development but this is definitely among the most prominent, and most likely to film. Set for release in March 2013, this Disney prequel examines the arrival of small-time magician, and kinda conman, Oscar Diggs (James Franco) in Oz, before he establishes himself as the all-powerful Wizard. The film focuses especially on Diggs’s entanglement with Oz’s 3 powerful witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams). Spider-Man and The Evil Dead’s Sam Raimi is the man issuing orders from behind the camera.

Wicked – The other big Oz movie project – and the one stuck perpetually in Development Hell – is an adaptation of the multi-award winning musical, itself based on the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. With a narrative that accommodates the events of The Wizard of Oz, Wicked explores the evolution of the headstrong and misunderstood Wicked Witch of the West, and the popular, pretty Good Witch of the North, who have a far more complicated history than most would suspect. The aim is to have the big budget movie musical in cinemas by 2014.

The BFG – It’s already been given an animated treatment in the 1980s but now DreamWorks wants to adapt Roald Dahl’s popular children’s novel (full title: The Big Friendly Giant) into a live-action family fantasy. ET’s Melissa Mathison is working on the script. For the record, plans were also once afoot for Guillermo del Toro to reattempt an adaptation of Dahl’s The Witchesthis time in stop-motion animation – but apparently there have been no new developments on that front for a couple of years now.

Pinocchio – Guillermo del Toro pops up yet again, here acting as story advisor and executive producer for a 3D stop-motion version of Carlo Collodi's classic tale of a puppet boy. del Toro's "dark, twisted" take on Pinocchio sees the filmmaker team up with the Jim Henson Company. Children’s book illustrator Gris Grimley, whose previous Pinocchio illustrations have guided the new film's look, co-directs. Expect this one to give Coraline a run for its money in the unforgettably-beautiful-but-creepy stakes when it releases, probably in 2013.


A Gamer's Wife said…
Holy cow! I love fairy tail re-imaginings but this is ridiculous! You know which 2011 fairy-tale-esque movie I really enjoyed? Hanna! Can't wait for it to come out on disc to see if the second viewing is just as enjoyable.

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