Who’s the fairest of them all?

Hollywood’s latest offering from the fantasy film genre, Snow White & the Huntsman, makes it clear that filmmakers and producers have, of late, been extremely mesmerized by the power of fairy tales as their source of inspiration.

This 2012 British-American film, based on the German fairy tale Snow White by the Brothers Grimm, stars Charlize Theron as the wicked stepmother, and Kristen Stewart, the heartthrob Bella from the Twilight series, as Snow White. In a nutshell, the story is about a young girl Snow White, who grows into a warrior princess after escaping the clutches of her malevolent stepmother Ravenna and gains the fealty of the hunter Eric (Chris Hemsworth), who is sent to bring her back.

Though the film has received mixed reviews on grounds of uneven acting, problematic pacing and a weak script, Charlize Theron seems to have received some votes for her portrayal of the the beautiful Ravenna, the powerful sorceress and the mistress of the Dark Army, who paralyzes her husband Magnus with a poison and seizes control of the kingdom.  Her Magic Mirror (Christopher Obi Ogugua) tells her that there is no end to her beauty and power and that she still remains “the fairest of them all.” Until fifteen years later, when she learns from the Mirror that Snow White, who has now come of age, is destined to surpass her. Snow White is both her ruin, and her salvation, and if she takes the young girl’s heart she will become immortal. And so the appropriately dark take on the fairy tale that inspired it, goes deeper and deeper into the narrative of this age-old classic.

Fairy tales have been revised and made into films time and again. Just preceding Snow White & the Huntsman was another 2012 release, ‘Mirror Mirror’, based on the same classic with Julia Roberts as the evil queen who steals control of a kingdom while a princess in exile seeks the help of seven resourceful rebels (read Dwarfs) to win back her birthright. Unlike the dark take on Snow White & the Huntsman, ‘Mirror Mirror’ is full of laughs as it tells the story from the queen’s perspective, making it a complete family entertainer. Yes, the film did receive a whole lot of criticism for being cheesy and corny, but one can argue that there’s nothing wrong with a children’s classic catering to a childlike innocence and as the mixed reviews of ‘Snow White & the Huntsman’ prove that a sinister take on the fairy tale would guarantee it being called a “good movie” either.

The teen comedy Sydney White (2007) a.k.a. Sydney White and the Seven Dorks starring Amanda Bynes— also based on the very same story of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’— also received mixed reviews, but as is the case of ‘Mirror Mirror’, perhaps not every film is meant to be taken so seriously and criticized. Sometimes it’s okay to cater to kids and just have some fun, and that is exactly what Sydney White does. The film gives a modern-day youthful college-life spin to this age-old story, giving all Amanda Bynes’ fans something to enjoy. With her trademark comic timing, Bynes plays Sydney White whose story is of a tomboyish freshman who ditches her conniving sorority sisters and finds a new home with a group of very dorky outcasts (i.e., the seven dorks/dwarfs.). The fairy tale war of good against evil shows up in her war against the reigning snobbish campus royalty.

For those who would appreciate classic princess fairytales, a little more deconstructed and reassembled for the big screen, the action thriller Hanna (2011) perhaps would be more of their liking. Hanna is a fresh take on the damsel in distress tale and its plot gives a modern edge to a number of different classic fairy tales which are easy to spot if one simply replaces the key players with the age-old fairy tale characters: Once upon a time, a young girl named Hanna (replace the words “young girl” with “young princess”) lived with her father, a former CIA agent (replace “former CIA agent” with “kindly king/hunter”) in the forest. The father taught his daughter and trained her to be the best little warrior she could be, so that one day she would be ready to face an evil CIA agent, ( replace “evil CIA agent” with “evil queen” or “big bad wolf” ) who had been searching high and low across the land for the young girl and her father. When the young girl starts to come of age, she decides to venture out into the big bad world, beyond the nice little bubble she grew up in, in order to slay the evil agent pursuing her. Interestingly, the only book this fourteen-year-old assassin Hanna has ever read is Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and so the film’s world is seen clearly through her eyes.

In the light of an obvious glut of movies based on fairy tales, one can’t help wonder what inspires producers to repeatedly make these adaptations. Naturally, they would like to portray that they are not just for profit but are also here to tell stories that say something authentic to audiences of all ages, even when they plunge us into fantasy realms.

Could it simply be a lazy approach to film production? In the sense that, after having feasted on one too many graphic novels, zombie flicks and vampire romances, they have now turned to fables and fairy tales as their easily accessible source of material. Alternatively, it could also be a decision stemming from practicality, based on the fact that fairy tales are not owned by anybody and therefore there are no rights issues involved.

Giving them the benefit of doubt, the reason could possibly go much deeper than that, as fairy tales do enable us to feed our desire to escape, and perhaps understand, the world we live in. Fairy tales are timeless for the very reason that they speak of conditions that haven’t changed in hundreds of years, or that haven’t resolved. So movie producers resort to fairy tales and fantasy to give audiences room to think and play and understand reality through the powerful medium of our imagination. Whatever their reasons may be, it seems that with the release of Snow White & the Huntsman and its impending possible sequel, audiences will have a whole line-up of many such fairy tale movies to sink their teeth into, in the near future.

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