The fairy tale adaptation has always been established as a source of inspiration for the filmmaker. Popularised by Walt Disney and his animated interpretations, whether aware of the original source or not, we are all familiar with the cheery, frolicking and song-filled fuelled pictures generally claimed to be a part of our childhood.
The truth of the fairy tale is, of course, decidedly darker than the utopian delights Walt Disney reworked for our enjoyment. Over the past few years filmmakers have sought to depict this grizzlier version of events and yet have never accomplished the grim horrors prolific writers such as the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen created.
There have been interpretations of the old classics made anew in plenty. 2011’s ‘Red Riding Hood’ sought to fit itself into this genre of dark fantasy, only to fall victim to its own big bad wolf- the critics. 2013’s ‘Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters’ tried and failed to breathe new life into a familiar story that relied too heavily on action and not heavily enough on horror. 2012’s ‘Snow White and the Huntsman‘ fared better, although once again failed to capture the true sense of menace the fairy tale deserves. It seems that filmmakers have never quite fully committed to the atrocities of the fairy tale, and there is the missed opportunity. Chilling, unsettling and often disturbing- the classic fairy tale has all the features to promise a genuinely frightening spectacle- if only it were given the right chance.
2014 and beyond could however well mark the beginning of those chances.
This year sees the release of ‘Maleficent’, a Walt Disney picture that whilst not drawing from the original tale nonetheless draws from Disney’s adaptation of ‘Sleeping Beauty‘. Who could forget the booming voice of the chilling Maleficent in the 1959 classic, cursing the infant Princess Aurora all seemingly for the fact she was not invited to the child’s ceremony? Maleficent was never wicked; she was the mistress of evil itself, and with the Angelina Jolie driven movie promising an exploration into the background of this haunting villain, ‘Maleficent‘ could prove to a be the movie that truly brings a touch of darkness the fairy tale adaptation has been searching for.
However with a synopsis that highlights Maleficent’s untold story as one of revenge turning a pure heart to stone (a shame, considering what made Maleficent so horrifying was her terrifying overreaction), the film potentially may edge close into becoming a redeeming feature. Disney’s greatest villain, the ‘mistress of all evil’ may yet trade in her signature black for a calming white in ‘Maleficent‘ and take off her horns to make room for a sparkling tiara. It could all prove to be a great disappointment to anyone who looked forward to the mistress of evil being, well, evil.
But whilst ‘Maleficent’ potentially threatens the emergence of the truly darker fairy tale adaptation, desired wickedness may be found in French picture ‘La belle et le Bete’, an adaption of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Driven by leads Vincent Cassel and ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour‘s Lea Seydoux, the films trailers thrives on grand, darkly lit scenery and elaborate designs that appears to find the perfect balance between enchanting and imposingly Gothic. Taking its direction from Christophe Gans, who directed 2006’s chilling ‘Silent Hill’, with his experience in the horror genre the film shows great promise in successfully achieving the frightening aspects and tone of the fairy tale that English speaking cinema has yet to accomplish.
All is not lost for English speaking cinema however, although patience may be required. Director Sofia Coppola has recently been attached to a new telling of ‘The Little Mermaid’, with scriptwriter Abi Morgan commenting that the intention is to keep the original ending. Of course for those familiar with Andersen’s Little Mermaid, she loses far more than her voice. The Little Mermaid, rejected by the Prince she loves, is given the chance to kill him and to bathe her feet in his blood with restore her tail. Unable to kill the Prince she succumbs to a dire fate, dying and becoming sea foam. It’s a far cry from Disney’s famous redhead and with any luck will spark a trend in staying faithful to the fantastically morbid original endings of the fairy tale.
Recent adaptations of these tale have appeared reluctant to truly draw on the perils of the original source. Perhaps with the fairy tale commonly imagined to be a realm for children, filmmakers have consciously made the decision to make their ‘gritty’ interpretations light enough to draw in the younger audience. It isn’t strange to imagine that there is no mature audience for a telling of the fairy tale. However with the original sources overflowing with tales of wicked queens forced to dance to death in scalding hot iron shoes, an evil ogress looking to devour her once sleeping daughter-in-law and grandchildren and a mermaid urged to fatally wound a Prince, thematically the fairy tale is a genre that can and should be taking a turn for the worst- in the best way possible.
The film industry needs to stop wishing for a Prince to come and put away their thoughts on true loves kiss. Instead they need to start wishing for the fairy tale to be told as it should be- all blood, guts, gore and murder. Casting aside the romanticised vision made popular by Walt, filmmakers need to tell the stories that very well could keep you up at night.