Fairytales are a source of endless hope and positivity. They are stories of love, triumph and heroism. Fairytales are about beating the odds and finding happiness. And yet, the source of much of the magic and wonder has originated from the dark and twisted minds of the Brothers Grimm. Although many of us have heard of Snow White and Cinderella, reading the original Grimm’s fairytales is a whole new experience. The Brothers Grimm wrote the stories over two centuries ago, and while many of the stories were themselves based on ancient folklore, their text soon became a German heirloom, valued all over the world. The stories, of which there are over 200, are laden with themes of danger, death and misfortune and are meant to teach children something about the big, cruel, world. Today, not only has Disney lightened them a hundred times over, but fairytales have even been re-worked into books, TV shows and films of all genres. The following is a list of films that are rooted in the Grimm’s Fairytales, but have found quite unique ways to bring them to life.
When Vanessa’s mother is arrested during a prostitution sting, the teen decides to run away to her Grandmother’s house in Stockton, where her boyfriend has asked her to sell a gun. Along the way though, she meets Bob Wolverton, a school guidance counselor who offers to get her safely to her grandmother’s. It sounds familiar because it’s another ‘Red Riding Tale’. Like in the original story, there is a mission which takes the girl to Grandma’s, and a Wolf is met along the way. Of course, Bob is a predator; eventually confessing to being a serial killer who targets young girls. Like in the original tale, the Wolf also kills her Grandma in an effort to get to her. The film is not subtle in its approach to the Fairytale themes, and perhaps this is why it was a commercial flop. Still, there is something fun about recognizing a story within another.
8. Pretty Woman
The term, “a Cinderella story” has become a common way to express the idea of a happy ending that is almost unbelievable. Pretty Woman is no exception. A rags-to-richest story, this one follows a down-on-her-luck prostitute (Julia Roberts) as she forms a bond with a rich looking-for-love man, (Richard Gere) who reluctantly picks her up one night. In an attempt to better her life, the man acts as Prince and Fairy-Godmother, transforming her life of sadness and poverty into one of luxury and romance. In the original tale, Cinderella is subjected to great domestic abuse but here, she is the product of systemic violence against women that lead her to a life of prostitution. And yet, the film sticks with a Rom-com, light-heart style and does very little to discuss the larger issues surrounding sex-work.
7. Sydney White
In this updated version of Snow White, this modern-take gives every aspect of the story a fun twist. Rather than a kingdom of castles, there is a college campus of sorority and frat houses, creating a hellish environment of hierarchies. Rather than an evil Queen for a stepmom, there is an evil campus Queen-Bee. And rather than seven dwarves, there are seven awkward members of a crumbling Frat house who take in our lovely protagonist, Sydney, (Amanda Bynes) a stand-in for Snow. After her mother’s death, Sydney attempts to earn a place in the Sorority house that her mother once pledged to. Sadly, she soon finds out that the Queen-Bee is a jealous girl who refuses to let Sydney become a threat to her “throne”. So Sydney finds herself homeless, turning to a dying Fraternity for shelter. She takes it upon herself to get their house in order, using her carpentry skills to save it from being condemned. Sydney gets to be a heroine, standing up for what is right and triumphing in the face of hardships. The film closely resembles an older retelling of Snow White, All About Eve.
6. Sleeping Beauty
This film features a young woman (Emily Browning) who agrees to an experiment in which, while in a deep sleep, her body will be sold. Although the film is very different from a fairytale, Grimm or otherwise, it boasts a relationship with the idea that a handsome Prince may gaze upon a beautiful sleeping woman. However, in the original Grimm tale, it is not a kiss that wakes Briar Rose from her hundred year slumber. Instead, the curse that puts her to sleep expires just as the Prince arrives. Although she has not yet woken, he is so deeply struck by her beauty that he kneels down and kisses her while she sleeps. At this moment, she awakes and happily takes him for a husband. Since the film has the woman put in a deep sleep which is monitored and controlled by the facility, not the men, it is actually much closer to a Grimm’s tale than a Disney-style fairy tale.
This horror film relies heavily on the horrible aspects of the Grimm tale, rather than the “moralistic” themes. In the film, Rumplestiltskin is turned from a trickster, as he originally was, into a psychotic creature who feeds on child souls. When a recently widowed woman wanders into a Witch’s shop, she gets more than she bargained for, accidentally releasing the evil being who will stop at nothing to get his hands on her baby. This horrific twist is not surprising, considering the Grimm tale had him described as a small, ugly and cruel man. Still in his trickster role here, the goblin-esque creature grants the woman’s wish to bring her dead husband back, but only for one night, and only for the price of her child. The B-Rated movie was not a box-office success but has found some place for itself as a minor cult classic.
One of Hitchcock’s finest is a re-imagining of Cinderella. The story follows a young woman who lives a modest life, working for her demanding boss. While staying at a fancy hotel with her boss, she meets a handsome and mysterious man who takes a sudden interest in her. With no family to speak of, the young woman finds his attention too flattering to pass up and after a two-day whirlwind romance, agrees to leave her employer and marry him. Unfortunately, things are less than perfect when they arrive back at his mansion, Manderly. She finds it difficult to find her place in a home that was so dedicated to his late wife, Rebecca. The beautifully crafted Ghost-Romance has been referred to by Hitchcock, as a look at what happens after the happily ever after. Of course, in the original Grimm Tale, Cinderella’s beauty and grace captivates a Prince who decides not only to take her as his wife, but to punish her evil Step-Mother.
3. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
In the Grimm’s tale, when Hansel and Gretel are abandoned in the woods by their father, at the request of their stepmother, they find that they are in quite the predicament. Hungry and tired, they take shelter with an old woman who turns out to be a wicked witch. After working together to kill the witch, the two return to their father. In this action-packed re-imagining however, Hansel and Gretel do not return home. Not knowing why they were left by their father, the two decide to stick together and grow up to become the most skilled witch-hunters in all the land, saving children from suffering fates similar to their own. The film eventually finds a happy ending by giving them peace of mind when they learn the truth behind their abandonment.
2. Hard Candy
The story follows a 14 year old girl named Hayley (Ellen Page) who meets a man in an internet chatroom. After some inappropriate flirting, the two meet. Soon it becomes clear that Hayley has a different plan for the evening than 32 year old Jeff (Patrick Wilson). Once they make it back to his house, Hayley mixes Jeff a drink, noting that “young girls are oft-warned not to drink something that they did not make themselves”. Jeff suddenly finds himself drugged and being tortured by the young Hayley who, as it turns out, does not take kindly to the idea of a man taking advantage of young girls. The story is therefore a twist on the old Grimm’s tale, Little Red Cap.
Often noted about this film is its prominent connection to many Grimm’s fairytales. Much like another Snow White tale, it has been twisted into an action-thriller. The story follows Hanna, a young girl who has been trained as a skilled assassin by her father who fears for her safety. Knowing she will eventually have to square-off with senior CIA agent Marissa (the evil step-mother figure), Hanna begins her journey. On her own and being hunted by the CIA, as Snow White is hunted by the Queen’s huntsman, Hanna is sure to always be prepared. Her mission, to kill Marissa before she kills her, and to reunite with her father, eventually brings her to a Grimm’s Fairytale-themed house, and then to her German Grandmother’s house. So, while the Snow White themes are prominent, there are definitely more at work in this one than meets the eye.