(Note – This review features minor spoilers for the forthcoming film A Monster Calls. If you have already read my review of it, or are familiar with the novel on which it was based, the information I reveal here won’t be a problem, but if you want to go in to that movie knowing little about it, then be careful)
For many people, the definition of a “Fairy Tale Film" is simple – it is an adaptation of a fairy tale for film or television. However, as much as I love fairy tales, it is a bit limiting to focus solely on adaptations of fairy tales, as these represent just one group of stories. You may have noticed that I’ve done articles describing films such as Kubo and the Two Strings or A Monster Calls as “Fairy Tale Films”, even though they’re not based on specific fairy tales. I think that if I were to solely focus on adaptations of stories collected by the likes of Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, I would run out of articles to write pretty quickly.
Therefore, this blog relies on a wider definition of “Fairy Tale Films", which also incorporates adaptations of classic children’s stories,myths and legends, and films inspired by fairy tales in various ways. In spite of this, the blog will still be called “Fairy Tale Fanboy”, as fairy tales are my primary focus. This means that any most films (or TV series) mentioned on this blog will be referred to as “Fairy Tale Films”, even if they are not based on fairy tales. The types of film which I consider to be “Fairy Tale Films” and thus suitable for inclusion on this blog, are listed below:
Films Based on Fairy Tales
(Examples: Snow White and The Seven Dwarves (1937), La Belle et La Bete (1946), Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013))
This category of "Fairy Tale Film" is very easy to talk about. Fairy tales are stories based on Folklore. They are usually set in a distant past of kings, queens and princesses, and involve fantastical or supernatural creatures and objects. Many of the same story-lines and tropes occur in different fairy tales told all over the world, demonstrating their universal appeal. Another great thing about fairy tales is the sheer range of stories they tell. They can be funny, scary, or romantic, and sometimes one story can work in many genres. Therefore, any film based on a fairy tale, whether it’s child friendly or an adults-only horror film, can be included on this blog.
However, not all fairy tales fit this definition so cleanly. Hans Christian Andersen is regarded as one of the most iconic fairy tale writers of all time, but it can be hard to say whether he can be classified as a fairy tale writer, or an author of classic children’s stories. Many of his stories (e.g The Princess and the Pea, The Wild Swans) were adapted from existing fairy tales and folk stories, but others (e.g The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Ugly Duckling) were entirely original, and not based on any known source material. In addition, Andersen’s detailed descriptions contrast sharply with the more simplistic, story-driven approach of traditional fairy tales. That said, Andersen’s short stories have become such iconic examples of the fairy tale genre that I don’t mind regarding them as fairy tales.
Films Based on Classic Literature/Children’s Stories
(Examples: The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Jungle Book (1967), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996))
To put it simply, the term “Classic Literature” refers to any work of literature written before the Twentieth Century. The term is used for some more modern works, such as the Tarzan Series (Which began in 1912), but almost all the works regarded as “Classic Literature” are in the Public Domain, which means that anyone can adapt them without needing to pay copyright fees. This ensures that the stories are still incredibly popular today, as new adaptations of them surface frequently.
As a rule of thumb, the only “Classic Literature” which will be mentioned on this blog are novels aimed primarily at children, with a strong element of fantasy. This definition covers works such as The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and The Jungle Book. Conversely, adaptations of stories aimed at adults, such as Dracula and Frankenstein, will not be mentioned. However, there have been kid-friendly adaptations of adult stories (most notably, Disney’s 1996 take on Victor Hugo’s story The Hunchback of Notre Dame), so these will be discussed alongside the numerous versions of tales such as Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland.
Films Based on Mythology
(Examples: Hercules (1997), Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), Moana (2016))
Like fairy tales, myths and legends are stories transferred from generation to generation, with many common tropes in different parts of the world. However, whilst fairy tales are mostly entertainment, myths and legends can often be very important to a culture, and fuel its belief system.
The most iconic set of myths and legends are the Greek stories about gods such as Zeus and Hera and heroes such as Perseus and Hercules. Many myths and legends are used to explain historical events (such as the War with Troy) and natural phenomena, whilst others are used to communicate the stories of heroic figures who can serve as role models. When I put films based on myths and legends together with films based on fairy tales, the intent is to show the enduring popularity of these stories. Even when removed from the culture which created them, myths and legends have been popular for thousands of years due to their fascinating stories and compelling characters.
Films Which Incorporate Fairy Tales Into Their Narrative
(Examples: Shrek (2001), Into the Woods (2014), A Monster Calls (2016))
Most "Fairy Tale Films" are based on a single fairy tale or classic story. However, there are many films, such as Shrek and Into the Woods, which tell an original story that includes characters from a number of different fairy tales. In other films, such as A Monster Calls, fairy tales are portrayed as works of fiction, but they are important stories which impact the characters and their outlook. Both kinds of movie aim to look at the genre of fairy tales as a whole, instead of adapting a single tale.
Stories which incorporate multiple fairy tales into their narrative often aim to subvert or deconstruct the fairy tale genre. For example, A Monster Calls features two scenes where the titular monster tells the protagonist two seemingly typical fairy tales, before revealing that these stories are not as conventional as they seem. When screenwriters and directors become aware of the defining features of fairy tales, such as their reliance on moral certainties, they have an opportunity to contrast these with the conventions and expectations of the real world. This leads to powerful drama, and raises a number of thought-provoking questions about the fairy tale genre.
Fairy Tales About the Creation of Art and Stories
(Examples: Hans Christian Andersen (1952), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Hugo (2011))
On paper, it seems like history and fairy tales don’t mix. Films about historical figures generally aim to be as realistic as possible, whilst fairy tales are about the fantastical and supernatural. However, many works have provided fictional stories about real historical figures. Handled effectively, this blend of fantasy and fact (“Magical Realism”) can generate increased insight into why a renowned artist, writer or filmmaker is so iconic.
The 2001 film Moulin Rouge! paid tribute to the Bohemian culture of 1890’s France, as it combined a real-life historical setting and a portrayal of the famous painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec with an anachronistic soundtrack full of modern music and a story celebrating the power of love. It aimed to honour the spirit of the Bohemian artists by reflecting their focus on passion and artistic expression, which a more grounded story would have been unable to convey. A decade later, the Oscar-nominated movie Hugo paid tribute to the iconic French filmmaker George Melies (Whose short silent versions of Cinderella and Bluebeard are the first known cinematic adaptations of fairy tales) with a fictional story about a boy who befriends Melies many years after his retirement from film-making. By featuring a child protagonist who initially knows nothing about Melies’ past, Hugo aims to capture the sense of novelty and wonder which made Melies’ movies stand out at the time, and allows them to retain their appeal today. Films like Moulin Rouge! and Hugo aim to honour the real-life artists, writers and entertainers they depict by trying to emulate the tone, spirit and appeal of their output. As a result, they often use the fantasy and fairy tale elements which featured heavily in these works, meaning that, in spite of their historical subject, they can be classified as "Fairy Tale Films".
I’m aware that my definition of what constitutes a "Fairy Tale Film" has been heavily shaped by Disney, and their dominance over the genre, but I love the diversity of the fairy tale genre, so I’m happy to use a very loose definition of it which incorporates a wide range of work. The purpose of this blog is to review, discuss and analyse stories and films based on (or inspired by) fairy tales, myths, legends, and older children’s stories, regardless whether they are old or new, well-known or obscure. Classifying all these works as “fairy tales” may seem a bit simplistic, but it allows me to look at a greater amount of stories, whilst adhering to a common fairy tale theme.