Fantasy embedded in folklore, brimming with romance, heroism and magical enchantments – fairy tales have been with us since the dawn of mankind’s imagination; handed down from generation to generation – first in the oral tradition, and later, in literature. The term ‘fairy tale’ was first coined by French writer Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d’Aulnoy in reference to her own work, and has since been adopted to encompass an entire genre, in which witches, trolls, giants, elves and sprites are not only commonplace, they often drive the action.
These days, when we think of fairy tales, we usually think of either the funky mash-ups of the Shrek franchise, or the ‘classic’ Disney movies – pretty young things, perfectly rendered in animation, twirling among helpful animals while singing with the voice of an angel. Those movies are somewhat dated now, however, and Hollywood seems keen to re-adjust that picture – remaking those fairy tales without the sanitizing process previously employed, and instead embracing the darker, more disturbing elements of source material.
Tempting though it is to ccharacterize these new versions of old stories as reboots, they are actually nothing of the sort. Every new interpretation is simply the latest embellishment in the life of these tales, which have been altered, edited and expanded upon for hundreds of years. They reflect both the times in which they are being told, and the capabilities of the media used to tell them. Always evolving, these are tales of human fears and anxieties, hopes and dreams, needs and desires.
In terms of film, the latest step in this evolution is Into The Woods, due for release on December 25th, 2014. This newest chapter in the narrative of the fairy tale is based on the award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and the book by James Lapine, and blends plots from a number of different fairy tales – exploring resolutions and consequences for a range of characters. Referencing – among others – Little Red Riding Hood, Jack And The Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella, the story arc follows a baker and his wife dealing with fertility issues, a witch that has cursed them, and their dealings with fairy tale characters along the way.
Into The Woods is not alone, of course, as we also have Kenneth Branagh’s take on Cinderella to look forward to in 2015. So, as we watch the story of the fairy tale continue apace, with brand new perspectives and interpretations to explore, let’s flick through the pages of previous cinematic re-imaginings of these traditional tales and discover how they achieved the same.