This weekend in cinemas, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms opens… and while we’ve seen the franchise-ification of a lot of familiar tales in recent years, this one seems different.
Perhaps this is because The Nutcracker is so closely associated with the famous ballet that it’s harder to envision expanding it into something that can support a movie franchise (though the different interpretations of that ballet have continued to evolve to spectacular effect.) And anyway, this cinematic Nutcracker epic has got Helen Mirren (!!), so you can certainly say they’re off to the right start. Whether the gamble pays off or not, we thought it would be fun for today’s Friday Five to look at some other cinematic (and television!) spins on what we traditionally expect of fairy tales, and highlight the ones we look back on fondly…
Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)
On paper, there’s really not a whole lot about Ever After that strays too wildly from the original Cinderalla tale: Kind-hearted girl is left in the hands of her cruel-hearted stepmother and stepsisters after her father’s death, and yearns for her freedom from indentured servitude while eventually happening upon a swoonworthy prince. What’s delightful about Ever After is that it actually doesn’t involve any magic at all; the film is bookended with a decendant of Drew Barrymore’s Danielle telling the tale to the Brothers Grimm, and it features loads of real-life historical references including a cameo from Leonardo da Vinci, of all people. Barrymore and Dougray Scott (man, what happened to him after he lost the role of Wolverine, anyway?!) are a dreamy couple, Anjelica Huston’s stepmum is deliciously nasty, and Melanie Lynskey occasionally steals the show as the stepsister who has it in her heart to be good.
Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997)
I mean, you’re definitely off on the right foot with a title like that; this late-90’s Showtime take on the Snow White tale dives in with both feet into the notion that fairy tales are meant to be terrifying. Sigourney Weaver delivers in spades here, resented by her stepdaughter Lilli (an excellent Monica Keena) and eventually devastated by the loss of a stillborn child. And then, that freaky mirror she keeps in her bedroom starts seemingly corrupting her soul. Make no mistake, Weaver’s stepmother is one twisted sister; at one point she tries to resurrect her dead child with blood magic. (?!) Meanwhile, instead of seven dwarves, Lilli finds refuge with seven miners who save her from another of Stepmommy’s ruthless schemes, and one of them (Gil Bellows, who was Ally McBeal‘s heartthrob at the time) kind of takes the role that the prince usually plays in this tale… so that’s a first!
The Company of Wolves (1985)
From The Crying Game to Interview With the Vampire and everything in between, Neil Jordan is one of those directors whose CV has covered various genres over the years. One of his earliest films is this incredibly freaky gothic horror tale based on a collection of short stories called The Bloody Chamber; writer Angela Carter evoked lots of fairy tales in her book, but Jordan leans hard into the Red Riding Hood lore in his movie. We’ve always known there was a particular gruesomeness to Red’s grandmother being eaten but the wolf, but it’s even harder to take when Granny is played by the great Angela Lansbury – noooo, not Jessica Fletcher! Not to mention the werewolf transformation scenes in this were state of the art in 1985 and are are genuinely horrifying. Good stuff for horror afficionados!
Tin Man (2006)
Critics were somewhat harsh toward this updated, scifi-heavy take on The Wizard of Oz lore when it landed on Syfy (then still SciFi Channel), claiming that its overall approach to L. Frank Baum’s fantasy realm was too bleak. Thing is, that’s kind of exactly what the creators were going for – an action-forward, character-driven adventure tale that snags as much DNA from Indiana Jones at times as it does from traditional Oz tropes. And Zooey Deschanel is very, very good as D.G., a small-town waitress (check out her blue gingham uniform nod to the original before she opts for a leather jacket and slacks) pulled into what’s now called the O.Z., threatened once again by the forces of darkness and joined by an incredible cast (Richard Dreyfuss! Alan Cumming!) Sure, some of the characters’ updates are drastically different from what you’re used to – Neal McDonough’s former lawman is definitely not your parents’ Tin Man – but boy, this is original and fun stuff. (Audiences agreed; Tin Man was actually the highest rated TV miniseries that year!)
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2012)
Look, I’m not going to try to fool you here: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is not a great movie. The dialogue is hokey, the action set pieces are wildly over the top and there are plenty of times where it feels like they’re shoehorning in more sexuality and violence just for the sake of it. (Hahaha, they’re not two little kids in lederhosen anymore! What a concept!) That said, there’s no denying that this take on Hansel and Gretel is unrepentantly entertaining, with Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton’s siblings now employed as professional evil-dispatchers who take on a coven of witches (led by the always-wonderful Famke Janssen) and uncover some dark secrets about their past in the process. Give it a watch if you’re in the mood for brain-free cheesy fantasy-horror; the jokes don’t always land but when they do, they’re pretty hilarious. And for as much as Renner has the background in action flicks, it’s Arterton who steals the show; this gal kicks ass, someone please give her a franchise!