A while ago, when our lockdown/isolation/shelter in place/quarantine began I wrote a post of some of my favorite non-Disney fairy tale films for all ages. Since we’re still spending a lot of time alone/indoors I decided to make a sequel. Like the first post, I make no guarantees that these movies are safe for the kiddos. I put a * next to the ones that I think are kid friendly and ! next to the ones that are alright for kids above 12.
Beauty and the Beast
! Beauty and the Beast– TV series from the late 1980’s. I wrote a post about this a while ago so, click the link to see it. I know that this was rebooted in the 2010’s at some point, but I wasn’t a fan of the remake. There is a lot of 80’s cheesiness to this show, but that’s part of the charm. It’s about a wealthy NY lawyer whose path crosses with that of a mysterious man-beast who lives in a secret network of tunnels below the city streets. It’s sort of a fusion of romance, fantasy and crime drama. It’s also the work of a pre- Game of Thrones George RR Martin.
! Penelope– This fantasy features a gender reversed Beauty and the Beast with a great sense of fun and fantasy. Penelope Wilhern is born under a family curse; she’s got a pig nose until she earns the love of “one of her own kind” (the reasoning for the curse is explained in the movie). So he mother tries to find ways to fix her up with blue blooded men. Enter Max, who hits it off with Penelope until he sees her face, and promptly refuses to marry her. This sets Penelope off on a journey of self discovery. The move is one of my “happy” movies: things I watch when I need a mood boost. [trailer]
! A Werewolf Boy– In many ways this is similar to Edward Scisscorhands (which I featured on my last list). It’s about a teenage girl who moves to the country and befriends a feral boy who she finds on the grounds of her new home. But his nature may be more animal than human and the beast in him threatens to emerge. [trailer]
Rebecca– This classic novel by Daphne DuMaurier has been adapted for the screen several times. But I think the best bet is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film. Yes, plotwise there are some significant changes from the novel, but the film still follows the Bluebeard template (a woman married a widower and finds herself haunted by her predecessor) and most importantly, it gets the atmosphere of DuMaurier’s atmosphere heavy novel right. If you want some more Hitchcock films with Bluebeard echoes you can also take a look at Suspicion and Notorious, but I find this one has the strongest ties to the original tale. [trailer]
The Secret Beyond The Door– Celia marries Mark while on vacation in Mexico after a whirlwind romance. When she joins him in his New York home, she learns some things about her new husband that he left out during their courtship. For example he’s been married before. He also has a son. Celia’s predecessor died under mysterious circumstances, and she start to suspect that she might be next. [trailer]
Gaslight-Paula and Gregory get married abroad after a whirlwind romance (notice a pattern here?!) When they return to London and settle into their new home, strange things start to happen. Paula notices missing pictures, strange footsteps at night, and gaslights that dim without being touched. Gregory claims to notice nothing. Is Paula losing her mind, or is Gregory up to something? Or both? [trailer]
Dragonwyck– Bluebeard inspired movies were apparently very big in the 1940’s! This one is based on Anya Seton’s novel of the same name about a young girl whose new marriage is threatened by her husband’s streak of madness. [trailer]
Hansel and Gretel
Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? This 1972 film is sort of a campy horror classic starring Shelly Winters. It’s about Mrs. Forrest (also known as “Auntie Roo”), a lovely old lady with a Christmas tradition of inviting orphans to her mansion for a party. But Auntie Roo has a dark side, and when Katie Coombs and her brother sneak into the party they must fight to get out alive. There’s a lot of camp in this one, especially by today’s standards, but that can be fun – and funny. And once you get past it there’s actually an interesting, dark take on the fairy tale. [trailer]
Hansel and Gretel (2007 Korean) This is sort of a horror- fantasy that may appeal to fans of films like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage. It’s about a traveler who gets lost in the woods. He’s rescued by a young girl and brought to her house. It’s a beautiful house, like something out of a storybook. But, as he discovers, it’s a house that hides horrible secrets, and possibly no way to escape. [trailer]
Black Swan- I was hesitant to include this one because it’s based on the ballet, Swan Lake, rather than a single tale. The ballet’s plot is based on a number of folk tales. Possible sources include “The White Duck” and “The Stolen Veil” by Johann Karl August Mursaus. But it could have been inspired by a number of animal bride/swan maiden tales. Regardless I decided it was fairy tale enough to count! The plot of the film follows a dancer whose upcoming starring role in Swan Lake pushes her to the brink of madness. In some ways the “fairy tale ballerina on the edge” story is very similar to The Red Shoes, which I featured on my last list. So if you like one, check out the other. [trailer]
Fairy Tale Mash-up (Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and more)
!Into the Woods (original Broadway cast) Yes, Disney did eventually get to this one in the 2014 film. While that film has it’s good points, I (and many others) felt that it removed the musical’s teeth. And part of the point of the musical is that fairy tales have teeth. And claws. They’re dark, subversive, and not everyone makes it to happily ever after. But they (and Stephelan Sondheim’s beautiful music and brilliant lyrics) also teach us to see complexity. They show us that “witches can be right/ giants can be good/ you decide what’s right/ you decide what’s good.” Here we see a Red Riding Hood and Wolf dripping with innuendo, a Cinderella who finds married life somewhat lacking, and witch who does the wrong things for the right reasons, and the right things for the wrong reasons. It’s been said that The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim was a source of inspiration. If you dig into the lyrics you can analyze them like poetry. The level of sophistication doesn’t take away from the magic of these stories at all. Rather it adds to them, because there’s a sense of danger. We’re left with a caution “Careful the wish you make/ Wishes are children/ Careful the path they take/ Wishes come true/Not free”
Other Non Fairy Tale Fantasy Films
These aren’t based on a specific tale or tales but will probably appeal to fairy tale fans nonetheless.
! Ladyhawke– This is an 80’s film in many ways but it’s a good one. I’ve wanted to rewatch it again ever since I read this incredible analysis. It gets into the folkloric roots behind the film and I highly recommend it to anyone interested. As for the film itself, in a nutshell the film is set in the 13th century and is about two lovers who are cursed to be together and apart: she is a hawk by day and he is a human. By night, she is a human and he is a wolf. They can’t really be in one another’s presence except for a brief moment at twilight and dawn. Unless a young thief can help them break the curse. [trailer]
! Stardust– This is based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman but tonally it’s more in line with The Princess Bride (see below) and old Hollywood screwball romantic comedies like It Happened One Night. But it still works. The story is about a star who falls from the sky and is observed by several parties. One is a trio of witches who believe that eating the heart of a star will restore their youth. One is a prince who needs her power to secure the throne. One is a love-struck young lad whose beloved asks for a fallen star as a token of his esteem. But when he finds her, he finds, not a piece of celestial rock, but Yvaine, a young woman fallen from the sky with an injured leg and a sarcastic tongue. He must get her to his beloved, while keeping her from the others who want her for less noble means. [trailer]
! The Princess Bride– I expect that most of us have seen this movie and so it needs no introduction, but if you haven’t seen this yet, do so immediately. Otherwise you’ll never know the meaning of phrases like “Hello, my name is Indigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” “Inconceivable!” and of course “As you wish.” Since you might have more free time on your hands than usual I would also recommend reading the book (even if you’ve seen the movie). If nothing else it will help you appreciate the artful use of the frame story in the film version as a way to incorporate the annotations in the book. [trailer]
Pan’s Labyrinth– This film makes me think about the purpose of fairy tales. They’re an escape, an enchantment, an education, a warning. They serve all of those purposes in this tale of a young girl in Spain circa 1944. Ofelia’s new stepfather is sent to a remote forest to flush out rebels. He brings Ofelia and her mother. As she witnesses her stepfather’s sadism, brutality and abuse, Ofelia is drawn into Pan’s labyrinth, a magical world of legendary beings. [trailer]
The City of Lost Children– A mad scientist named Krank has lost his ability to dream. He is attempting to fight off death by stealing children’s dreams. The storyline of the film itself follows Krank’s henchman, Scratch, who kidnaps a 5 year old boy. The boy’s father, (a strongman with a travelling circus) and his 9 year old friend Miette, team up to save him. At times this movie is dark and creepy enough to make you think it’s only intended for adults. But at times it allows its heart to show enough to make you think the intended audience might be slightly younger. The result is a visually arresting, sentimental, provocative, nightmare fantasy ride. [trailer]
Beasts of the Southern Wild– Early fairy tales served less as entertainment and enchantment than as warnings. I think that’s how to take this film. In fact, I think watching it at this point in time might be frightening for that reason. 6 year old Hushpuppy lives with her father, Wink in a remote Delta community. When Wink gets sick, nature seems to respond in kind: temperatures rise, ice caps melt, and prehistoric beasts run loose. When the rising waters threaten her community, Hushpuppy goes on a search for her long lost mother. Though this film was made in 2012, the tale of humanity’s seeming inability to live in harmony with nature taking a toll of people’s physical health, seems very apt for today’s world. [trailer]