Saturday, June 5, 2010

Nine Fairy Tale Films I Want to See

Yesterday's announcement about Brett Ratner's plan for a "Snow White" movie got me thinking. If the next big trend is going to be fairy tales, I'm fully supportive. Fairy tales are a rich source of material, exist in the public domain, and many are quite a bit deeper and more interesting than we might remember. Here are nine fairy stories and folk tales I'd like to see as films, with some suggestions for translating them to the silver screen:

"Hansel and Gretel" – If a director really wants to get dark and edgy, it might be time to finally tackle a film version of this familiar tale of two small children in peril. To date the most notable film version of the story is a 1954 stop-motion animated film based in the Englebert Humperdink opera. I guess the gruesome prospect of cannibalism has kept most lily-livered creative types at bay, but it's high time one of these so-called horror auteurs really gave us something to squirm about. And who didn't squirm at the thought of that wicked old witch fattening up kids like Christmas turkeys on all that gingerbread?

"Rumpelstitskin" – The story always struck me as a lighter version of "Faust," only with a female protagonist and an unambiguously happy ending. It would be easy to go in darker directions, but a modern comedic version could also be fun, in the vein of something like "Bedazzled." In the garish age of crass "Sex and the City" style consumerism, where spinning straw into gold seems like child's play compared to some of the antics Wall Street investment bankers get up to, we could use a rags-to-riches tale with a cautionary twist.

"The Boy who Drew Cats" – This Japanese folktale about a boy whose drawings come to life to help him out in a pinch seems like such an obvious candidate for cinematic translation, I'm surprised that no one's ever done it – or even something with a similar concept. We've seen some Western variations like "Harold and the Purple Crayon," and a memorable episode of "Amazing Stories," but I'd love to see a film adaptation that retains the Japanese setting and finds a way to incorporate the ink-and-brush painting style.

"Jack and the Beanstalk" – Probably the best bet for a traditional action spectacular. Just imagine the potential of man versus giant on an IMAX screen. Sure "Clash of the Titans" might have given us a brief taste of 3D battles with twelve-story monsters, but nobody has ever done justice to a giant on the big screen in years. This would be a great chance to really make use of the new 3D technology. There's also plenty of sequel potential – I always wanted to find out what happened when the giants descended to Earth to take their revenge on Jack.

"Beauty and the Beast" – It's been nearly twenty years since the animated version, a lifetime since Jean Cocteau's great cinematic version, and far too long since the television series with Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman went off the air. It's high time for another one. Recently I've noticed that every time a rugged action hero falls for an alien princess in "Avatar" or "V," it all feels too easy. How about a gender-swapped science-fiction retelling that fakes out the audience by looking like a standard survival flick at first glance?

"Aladdin" – After the egregious whitewashing of "Prince of Persia" and "The Last Airbender" this summer, Hollywood could try to make it up to the displaced ethnic actors by giving an Arabian fantasy film another shot. In some versions of the story Aladdin is Chinese, and in some he's Middle Eastern, so filmmakers have some options. We can even have the token magical white guy in the form of the Genie of the Lamp if they're really struggling for a marquee name. Hey, it worked with Johnny Depp in "Alice in Wonderland."

"The Snow Queen" – Disney had an animated version in pre-production, which was canceled after "The Princess and the Frog" underperformed. It's an awful shame, because Hans Christian Anderson's story could easily become a gorgeous adventure epic. A young heroine tromping through frozen fantasy kingdoms to rescue a missing friend might sound too close to "The Golden Compass" for some, but there are no complex religious themes or polar bears to contend with. And it's got goblins.

"Anansi" – The trickster spider-god is one of the best loved of the African pantheon and it's too bad that more people in the west aren't familiar with him. Sometimes Anansi is the hero and sometimes the villain, but he functions best as a cunning underdog who just can't stay out of trouble – but always finds a way to outsmart his enemies. An enterprising studio willing to take a shot on an African-American lead fantasy film could find no better source material. And there's already a very good modern take on the character - Neil Gaiman's wonderful "Anansi Boys."

"Storyteller" – Finally, I'd love to see a big screen translation or expansion of any of the stories from Jim Henson's "Storyteller" series, a cult children's program from the early '90s that featured many familiar actors like Miranda Richardson, Sean Bean, and Jane Horrocks. John Hurt narrated each installment as the storyteller of the title, telling original stories scripted by the late, great Anthony Minghella, all based on traditional tales. My favorites included "The Heatless Giant," "Sapsorrow," "The Soldier and Death," and "The True Bride."

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