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Thursday, 3 January 2019

2019 Fairy Tales - A Preview

As 2019 starts, it is time to look forward to the events and stories which will define the coming year. Fairytale fans will have a lot of interesting things to look forward to across 2019, and this article will highlight 20 of these. The list includes books, films, TV series, video games and even streaming services. Some of the things listed here are big Disney blockbusters, whilst others are smaller, more unusual projects. However, all of these have the potential to inspire and entertain an incredibly large audience over the next 52 weeks and beyond...

(Note: In order to simplify things, this article focuses primarily on British and American releases. Despite this, there will be numerous great fairytale projects created and released all over the world this year. I look forward to discussing them in future articles.)

2019 Fairy Tales - A Preview

Kingdom Hearts III (Released Jan 25th)

Although Kingdom Hearts III is one of the first major videogame releases of 2019, it is almost certainly one of the most significant of the year. First started in 2002, the Kingdom Hearts series is an unusual collaboration between Disney and the Japanese video game icons Square Enix (best known for creating the Final Fantasy games). Unsurprisingly, it has become one of the biggest videogame franchises in the world. The story of Kingdom Hearts concerns a hero called Sora, who teams up with Donald Duck and Goofy on an epic quest which takes them into the worlds of numerous classic Disney films. Although this is listed as the second direct sequel in the Kingdom Hearts canon, it is actually the twelfth game in the series, due to the numerous spin offs, midquels and prequels which have been released over the years. Although the mythology has become incredibly convoluted, the core premise remains as appealing as ever - we have all wanted to visit the worlds of various Disney films and interact with our favourite characters. As the first direct sequel since 2006, Kingdom Hearts III is taking advantage of the developments which have occurred at Disney Animation over the last twelve years. The merger between Disney and Pixar has allowed characters from Toy Story and Monsters Inc to join the Kingdom Hearts universe, and the success of Tangled and Frozen means that our protagonists will get to visit Arrendelle and Corona and interact with the likes of Rapunzel and Queen Elsa. The graphics are more sophisticated, and there are more special powers to keep us at our controllers, but the appeal of Kingdom Hearts will always lie in the epic and unlimited adventures it offers for Disney fans. 

The Kid Who Would be King (Released Jan 25th in USA, February 15th in the UK)

Eight years after his well-received directorial debut Attack the Block (which introduced audiences to Jon Boyega and Jodie Whittaker) comedy screenwriter Joe Cornish will provide another story about youths in a dull London suburb getting caught up in an incredible fantasy adventure. Whilst Attack the Block was about an alien invasion, The Kid Who Would Be King applies Cornish's formula to Arthurian legend. Andy Serkis's son Louis Ashbourne Serkis plays a kid who discovers King Arthur's sword in a building site and becomes leader of the fight against the dark wizard Morgana. Cinematic takes on King Arthur have rarely been critical or commercial hits, but The Kid Who Would Be King seems like an entertaining update of the classic English hero. The familiar elements of King Arthur's story are present, but there are plenty of modern day touches (For instance, Merlin disguises himself as a gangly teenager) and a lot of humour based on the idea of ordinary schoolchildren following in the footsteps of classic fantasy heroes. Originally intended to be released last summer, The Kid Who Would be King has been moved to the end of January (rarely a good sign) but hopefully it will be worth the wait. 

Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Released March 5th)

Of all the YA books released in 2018, none reflected the zeitgeist of the year as well as Tomi Adeyemi's debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone, which combined African folklore, classic YA tropes, and a strong message about fighting racism. Set in the fictitious African kingdom of Oshira, it told the story of the story of a girl called Zelie who has to team up with princess Amari to fight a tyrannical King and restore the magical powers which were stolen from her tribe. The hype surrounding the novel was immense (rights for a movie adaptation were brought before it was even published) but it resoundingly lived up to expectations, receiving widespread critical acclaim and consistently appearing on the New York Times Bestsellers list throughout 2018 . In the light of this success, it is no surprise to learn that a sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, is being released in March. Picking up where the first story left off, it sees Zelie and Amari trying to avert a civil war when their enemies take advantage of the magic restored to Oshira. Children of Virtue and Vengeance is going to be the second in a trilogy, and it looks like it will provide further for development for Zelie, Amari and their world whilst laying the groundwork for an epic finale. 

American Gods - Season 2 (Starts March 10th)

It is a great time to be a Neil Gaiman fan, with radio adaptations of his work becoming a Christmas staple in the UK, and a TV adaptation of his fantasy epic Good Omens arriving in 2019. However, fans of mythology will be most interested in the second season of American Gods, the cult favourite cable series based on Gaiman's 2001 novel of the same name. The first season aired on the cable channel Starz in 2017,  fascinating critics and audiences with its depiction of the battle between classic mythological gods and the "New Gods" who embody the key aspects of modern technology and media. The two year wait for a second season has not been an easy one. Show runners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green were controversially fired after the first season ended, and their replacement Jesse Alexander had his powers taken away, leaving the series without a proper show runner. Throughout this chaos, there were numerous rewrites and reshoots, and stars Gillian Anderson and Krstin Chentworth both dropped out. However, the second season is ready to air, promising to retain the psychedelic tone of the first season whilst moving closer to Gaiman's source material. Epic TV shows such as this are often plagued by "second season syndrome", as the struggle to follow up an impressive first season leads to an inferior second one. Hopefully, American Gods will avoid this and cement its reputation as one of the most interesting and unique American series of recent years. 

Sherwood (Released March 19th)

Like King Arthur, Robin Hood is another iconic English hero who has lost credibility due to numerous mediocre-to-bad adaptations of his story, including the critically panned Robin Hood, which was one of the biggest flops of 2018. For her new novel Sherwood, Meagan Spooner aims to freshen things up by shifting the focus to Robin's love interest Maid Marian. When Robin Hood dies whilst fighting in the Holy Land, Maid Marian is left alone and desperate in a miserable and impoverished Nottingham. With Robin's enemies, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne, being as wicked as ever, Marian takes matters into her own hands. She finds her husband's cloak and weapons, and replaces him as the saviour of the poor and downtrodden. With her growing line up of sci-fi and fantasy books (including the Beauty and the Beast- inspired Hunted), Meagan Spooner is becoming a rising star in the Young Adult genre, and Sherwood seems like it will be another hit with the teenage (and predominantly female) audiences who have made YA into such a profitable part of the literary industry. 

Hadestown arrives on Broadway (Previews begin 22nd March, Opening Night 17th April)

Beginning life as a concept album created by the singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell, Hadestown has become a cult favourite amongst musical fans in recent years. It had a long journey to Broadway (including acclaimed productions at New York Theatre Workshop, Toronto's Citadel Theatre and London's National Theatre) which is finally culminating in its arrival at the prestigious Walter Kerr Theatre, which recently hosted the record-breaking Springsteen on Broadway. Hadestown updates the Greek myth of Orpheus for the modern era, with Eurydice forced to go to Hadestown in search of work, and Orpheus embarking on a doomed quest to get her back. The soundtrack is based on Depression-era folk and jazz music and the story deals with numerous social and environmental issues. We don't yet have confirmation that the National Theatre cast (with Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada as Orpheus and Eurydice, and Broadway icons Andre de Shields and Patrick Page as Hermes and Hades respectively) are going to return to reprise their roles on the Great White Way, but it is reasonable to assume that they will. However, regardless of whether they return or not, Mitchell and director Rachel Chavkin will provide a powerful and dramatic take on an iconic ancient tragedy. Chavkin was behind the acclaimed but short-lived Broadway musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, but hopefully this project will enjoy a far longer run. Whilst the 2017-18 season was a pretty weak one for musicals, the 2018-19 season will be a lot more exciting and diverse, and Hadestown will be one of the primary favourites to succeed at the Tony Awards in June.

Dumbo (Released March 29th)

Tim Burton's 2010 remake/sequel of Alice in Wonderland was certainly not his best work, but it proved a phenomenal success, making over $1 billion worldwide and ensuring that remakes would become the cornerstone of Disney's live-action division. Almost a decade later, Burton is adaptation nother early Disney classic, Dumbo. Whilst Disney's live-action remakes are often criticised for being too close to the source material, Burton will make plenty of changes for Dumbo. After all, The original film was just 65 minutes long, and featured a lot of padding and dated material that is not suitable for 2018. This means that the Burton has to radically expand the story in order to turn it into a 2 hour blockbuster. The greatest change is shifting the focus from Dumbo to the human employees of the circus, with Colin Farrell playing a father who comes across the titular big-eared elephant and tries to help him learn how to fly. The supporting cast includes the likes of Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton, but the CGI elephant will remain the primary scene-stealer. Burton's reputation has been waning in recent years, but Dumbo should provide the blend of whimsy and darkness which has made him so successful.

The Princess and the Fangirl (Released April 2nd)

It is hard to do something truly unique with a story as familiar as Cinderella, but Ashley Poston managed this with her 2017 novel Geekerella. This updated the story popularised by Charles Perrault  to fit the world of modern fan culture, with the Grand Ball being a Sci-Fi convention and the Prince being a handsome young actor who is about to play the lead in the Sci-Fi blockbuster Starfield. This spring, Poston is returning to the Geekerella universe with The Princess and The Fangirl, centred on a side character from the original novel. The Princess and the Fangirl takes the ambitious actress Jessica Stone and makes her the protagonist in an adventure inspired by Mark Twain's classic The Prince and The Pauper. Jessica plays Princess Amara in the Starfield Franchaise, but wants to quit the role in order to find classier projects. However, rumours that Princess Amara will be killed off lead fangirl Imogen Lovelace (who looks remarkably like Jessica) to start an online campaign to save the character. When the script to the new Starfield movie is leaked, Imogen and Jessica have to switch places in order to find the person responsible. In addition to providing a feminist twist on the source material, The Princess and the Fangirl pays tribute to the legions of fans obsessed with iconic Sci-Fi brands such as Star Wars and Star Trek. The stars of these franchises have become the modern-day equivalent to royalty for many, and the studios where they are filmed have the same awe-inspiring power as royal castles. Like Geekerella, The Princess and the Fangirl will provide an entertaining exploration of fan culture, demonstrating what happens when a Fangirl fulfils her their fairytale dream and gets to meet the people whose output has played such a major role in their lives.

Missing Link (Released April 12th)

The Stop-motion studio Laika are one of the most exciting and innovative animation companies in America, and it is always great to see them release a new movie. This year, they are releasing Missing Link, a new take on the Bigfoot legend. The story concerns a giant half-ape, half-human creature (voiced by Zach Galifanakis) who teams up with two explorers (voiced by Hugh Jackman and Zoe Saldana) in order to travel to the mythical city of Shangri-La and find the rest of his species. Compared to the likes of Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, Missing Link seems like a rather conventional 'road trip' comedy, but the characters and settings should be engaging enough to make the movie stand out. It goes without saying that the stop-motion animation will be the highlight of Missing Link, as Laika will provide a Jules Verne-style Victorian world even more ambitious than anything they have created before - Far Eastern mountains, atmospheric American forests and giant sailing ships are all being portrayed in a wonderfully detailed and colourful fashion. Hours of effort have gone into even the smallest details, as the studio have created new technology to allow characters to breathe authentically. In a year where most of the major animated movies (including The Lego Movie 2, Toy Story 4 and Frozen 2) will be sequels, Missing Link is the sort of creative stand-alone film that will really excite fans of the genre. 

Charming (Released in the UK in Spring 2019)

From the philandering princes of Into the Woods to the outright villainous Prince Hans from Frozen, handsome princes are rarely treated with anything other than contempt in modern revisionist fairytale films. However, Charming represents an interesting exception to the rule. It tells the story of a Prince who is affected with a curse which makes him irresistible to every woman he meets. This naturally comes with some increasingly unpleasant side effects, and Prince Phillipe has to team up with a jewel thief to undo the spell before all love in the world is lost forever. Charming has been awaiting a major release for a very long time (Wilmer Valderrama and Demi Lovato, who voice the protagonists, were a couple when they recorded their lines but have since split up), but it was finally released in various European territories last year, and fledgling studio Blue Finch Films have acquired the rights to release it in the UK.  Producer John H Williams helped bring Shrek to the big screen, but his 2007 animation Happily N'Ever After was critically panned, and there is a real chance that Charming could be a second consecutive fairytale-themed failure. That said, the premise is certainly interesting and any film with the legendary John Cleese as a fairy godmother will definitely be fun. At the very least, this will be a decent time waster for children during the holiday. 

Cinderella Liberator (Released May 7th)

As we become more conscious about the messages that we send to young girls, fairytale retellings are under pressure to set a positive example for them. One new book which will inspire numerous girls in 2019 is Cinderella Liberator, written by the prominent feminist commentator Rebecca Solnit. Needless to say, this Cinderella is not going to wait for a prince to return her missing shoe, but will instead be a tougher and more active character fighting for herself and those around her. However, Cinderella Liberator will still stay true to the core idea of a mistreated girl escaping her miserable and monotonous world. The book also honours its roots through its use of silhouettes created by the legendary fairy tale illustrator Arthur Rackham, and the contrast between classic illustrations and modern messages is certainly intriguing. It will be fascinating to see an academic like Solnit transfer to the world of children's literature, but it allows her to promote her ideas and beliefs in a unique and entertaining manner. 

Aladdin (Released May 24th)

Disney's live-action remakes have tended to be adapted from more serious and old fashioned films, but their take on Aladdin represents a different approach. Disney's 1992 hit, based on the classic Arabian Nights tale about a street urchin who discovers a powerful Genie and tries to win the heart of a Princess, took a more action-packed and comedic approach than the likes of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, and the live-action remake will need to emulate this in order to stand out. The project has attracted considerable scepticism, but it looks like the most interesting of Disney's three live-action remakes this year. Sherlock Holmes director Guy Ritchie will apply his brash, action-packed style to this family-friendly adventure musical, but needs to provide a more sensitive depiction of the fictitious Arabic kingdom of Agrabah, responding to criticism which the original film has received for its heavily stereotypical depiction of the widely misrepresented Middle East. The star of the show will undoubtedly be Will Smith, playing the legendary Genie and returning to the smooth, energetic and lively persona he has discarded in recent years. The rest of the cast consists of various rising stars with a Middle Eastern or Indian background, with Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Jasmine. The classic songs from the original will return, but there will also be a couple of new ones from The Greatest Showman composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The additional songs created for Disney's live-action remakes tend not to upstage the originals, but if anyone can break this convention, it's the duo behind "This is Me" and "You Will Be Found". Aladdin will either be the best or the worst of Disney's live-action projects, and we are all waiting to see whether it exceeds expectations or lives down to the worst fears if Disney fans...

Wicked Fox (Released June 25th)

Due to its focus on fantasy and melodrama, the YA genre often draws on mythology and fairytales. A lot of YA stories are based on familiar Western fairytales, but Katharine Cho's Wicked Fox does something diferent, using Korean Folklore as its inspiration. Wicked Fox tells the story of Gu Mihoung, a seemingly ordinary women who lives in modern day Seoul with her mother. However, she is actually a Gumiho - a mythological nine-tailed fox who has to eat the souls of men in order to survive. Mihoung decides to use her deadly powers for good by becoming a vigilante and feeding on the criminals who have evaded justice. However, things get complicated when she befriends a young man and falls in love with him. Cho has been writing since the age of nine, but this is the first book of hers to actually be published. With an intriguing premise that combines several familiar elements in a creative and exciting way, Wicked Fox marks Cho out as a talent to watch. 

With the rise of Netflix and Amazon Prime, streaming is becoming an increasingly prominent part of film and TV culture, so it is no surprise to find out that Disney will enter this lucrative market with their new service Disney +. First announced in August 2017, Disney + starts operating in the second half of 2019. Disney films used to be a Netflix staple, but they are all being moved to . Disney +, and all Disney movies released from now on will be released on this channel after their cinematic runs conclude. Once it is complete, Disney + will provide a major platform for a wide range of Disney films and TV series, including older classics, more recent blockbusters, and productions from Disney-owned brands such as Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic. However, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, Disney + will also provide plenty of original films and TV shows created especially for the platform (There are rumours that these projects will include a live-action remake of The Sword In The Stone and a new version of Don Quixote.)  Netflix productions like Orange Is The New Black, Stranger Things and Roma have set an incredibly high bar for streaming services, but Disney definitely have the talent and resources to provide some big hits of their own. Aimed primarily at families and cheaper than most of its rivals, Disney + will definitely be another major money-spinner for Disney. 

Moulin Rogue arrives on Broadway (Previews Begin June 28th, Opening Night July 25th)

Baz Luhrman's 2001 film Moulin Rogue was a creative and unusual musical about a star-crossed romance in a fantasy version of 1890's Paris. For the first musical of the 2019-20 season, the Hirschfield Theatre will be hosting a new stage adaptation of this Oscar-nominated hit. The story and setting are mostly the same, but the Jukebox soundtrack of the original film (including "Your Song" and "Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend") is being updated to include hits for the last 17 years such as "Rolling in the Deep" and "Royals". Les Miserables star Aaron Tveit plays the protagonist Christian (portrayed by Ewan McGregor in the film), whilst Karen Olivo will play his ill-fated love interest Satine. Director Alex Timbers has gained a reputation for being one of the most innovative directors on Broadway. The eye popping detailed and immersive sets were the highlight of the production at the Boston tryouts last year, and they will probably be upgraded for Broadway to be even more incredible. On paper, Lurhman's output should be perfect for Broadway, but his fast-paced and chaotic filming style is not easy to translate to the more static medium of the stage. Although an adaptation of Strictly Ballroom did not do very well on the West End this year, this version of Moulin Rogue looks set to prove that Luhrman's decadent approach can be successfully transferred to the stage. 

The Lion King (Released July 19th)

The last and biggest of Disney's live-action remakes is The Lion King. In the 25 years since the original was released, it has become one of Disney's signature films, and remaking it for 2019 is a pretty difficult challenge. Jon Favereau, whose 2016 adaptation of The Jungle Book is probably the most acclaimed of Disney's live-action remakes, is transferring its motion capture approach to the Savannahs of Africa, sparking plenty of debate over whether a film without human characters can be considered live-action. The inhabitants of Pride Rock will be brought to life by "photorealistic" visuals and an all-star cast, with Donald Glover voicing Simba, and Chiwetel Ejofor voicing the diabolical Scar. However, the two biggest attractions will be BeyoncĂ©, voicing Simba's love interest Nala, and James Earl Jones, who voiced Mufasa in the original film and is returning to reprise his role as the King of the Jungle. It will be incredibly difficult to improve on the near-perfect original, but this version of The Lion King should still be an impressive and entertaining summer spectacle on its own terms. 

The D23 2019 (August 23rd - 25th)

Since it was started in 2009, the Biennial D23 convention (established by Disney's Official fan club D23) allows Disney fans to head to California for three days of exciting activities themed around the output of the iconic studio. The attractions include cosplay competitions, concerts, film screenings and the opportunity to meet the people behind their favourite films. However, the undisputed highlight of any D23 convention is the opportunity to learn more about the Disney films which will arrive in cinemas over the next few years. With all three live-action remakes and Toy Story 4 already released by August, the focus of D23 will probably be Frozen 2. "Let It Go" was first performed at the 2013 D23 - will D23 audiences get to hear an equally impressive song? We can also expect news on forthcoming live-action and animated projects, including release dates, casting information and even exclusive footage. 

Mary Poppins arrives on the West End (Previews and Opening Night in Autumn 2019)

The recent sequel Mary Poppins Returns has probably not been as much of a hit as many anticipated, but it has undoubtedly succeeded in its primary role of revitalising interest in Disney's 1964 classic Mary Poppins. In order to capitalise on this, Disney Theatrical's 2004 adaptation of Mary Poppins will return to the West End in Autumn 2019. It will replace Aladdin at the Prince Edward theatre, opening shortly after that musical closes at the end of August. This is the first time that Disney have provided a major revival of one of their own musicals, and it will be interesting to see whether the new version can emulate or surpass the success of the original production, which ran for four years at the same theatre. The stage version of Mary Poppins, a collaboration between Disney Theatrical and British mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh, combines elements from the Disney film and the P.L Travers novels which inspired it. Zizi Strallen will play Mary Poppins (having previously played the iconic nanny in a well-received touring adaptation of the production in 2015 and 2016), whilst Charlie Stemp will be her chimney sweep sidekick Bert. The numerous classic songs from the original film, such as "A Spoonful of Sugar", "Feed the Birds" and "Step in Time" will return, as will popular songs from the original West End production such as "Practically Perfect" and "Anything Can Happen". The production also contains some incredible special effects (from bottomless bags to actors walking on the ceiling), but the most important aspect will undoubtedly be the timeless story of how Mary Poppins brings joy to the lives of the Banks family. This new West End production will keep a lot of the elements which made the original such a success whilst providing enough new material to justify the decision to give it such a high-profile revival. 

P.S - fans of Mary Poppins may also be interested in The Life I Lead, a new play which will be performed at North London's Park Theatre in March. It tells the story of David Tomlinson (the prolific British actor best known for playing Mr. Banks in the original Mary Poppins) and will reveal how Tomlinson's relationship with his father inspired his portrayal of the Banks family patriarch. TV comedian Miles Jupp will play Tomlinson in a production which will blend both drama and comedy to highlight his unique role in cinema history. The Life I Lead is not the first work to examine the role unreliable fathers played in the making of Mary Poppins, but seems like an intriguing counterpoint to the 'Disneyfied' approach of Saving Mr Banks. It is only going to be on for 12 nights (March 18th - March 30th), so you have to book quickly in order to see it...

Frozen 2 (Released 22nd November)

Out of all the fairytale related projects mentioned in this article, there are none which will attract as much scrutiny and hype as Frozen 2. It is almost six years since the original Frozen became an unexpected phenomenon, and it remains incredibly popular with audiences of all ages. Jennifer Lee, director and writer of the original film, is returning for Frozen 2, and this film represents her greatest test since she was appointed Disney's new Chief Creative Officer in June. Co-director Chris Buck and songwriting duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez will also be back, and Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel will be reprising their roles as royal sisters Anna and Elsa. The original Frozen is both one of the most loved and most hated films in the Disney canon, and the team will have to put in extra effort to keep the fans happy whilst winning over detractors. Information on Frozen 2 is pretty thin on the ground at the moment, but there will be new characters (two of whom are likely to be voiced by Sterling K. Brown and Evan Rachel Wood) and around eight new songs. Lee has confirmed that the film will take Anna and Elsa far from their kingdom of Arendelle, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez has implied that some of the mythology added for the recent Broadway adaptation could make its way into the sequel. Following up a film as iconic as Frozen is an incredibly hard task, but of Frozen 2 builds on Anna and Elsa's relationship whilst providing them with a compelling new story and more catchy songs, it could equal or even surpass its predecessor. 

The 2019 Pantomimes (Opening November/December)

Given that the Christmas 2018 pantomimes are still on, it seems a bit too early to get excited about the ones which will open at the end of 2019. However, many theatres have already announced their 2019 pantomimes, as these are a highlight of the calendar for many major suburban and regional theatres. As usual, most of the major pantomime venues are adapting the small handful of classic fairy tales which define the traditional pantomime repertoire. The Lyric Hammersmith will be adapting Cinderella, whilst the Theatre Royal Stratford will be providing a version of Dick Whittington. We can expect the cast and crew to liven up these familiar tales with slapstick, topical humour and even a few smutty innuendos. 

In addition, some theatres have already announced the stars of their annual pantomimes. Craig Revel Horwood will play the Wicked Queen in Manchester's version of Snow White, whilst Shane Ritchie will play Robin Hood in Bristol, having played him in Milton Keynes over Christmas. We can expect more popular British celebrities, ranging from panto mainstays to genre newcomers, to be confirmed as headliners soon. There is still a lot more to learn about the pantomimes which will define Christmas 2019, but most of the information about them will be revealed by the end of April, so you won't have to wait too long to find out which pantomimes are worth booking a early ticket for...

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