Wednesday, March 6, 2013

These Revisionist Fairy Tale Movies Must Stop!

You paid for something just like this a few years ago, so...
Now that Jack the Giant Slayer has officially sort of bombed, it would be nice if I could write the obituary for the revisionist fairy tale genre.  (Not sure if that is the title others are giving this recent slew of “okay at best” fairy tale movies, but that’s what I’m going with.)  But I can’t.  Not because great fairy tale movies are right around the corner, but because of the sheer fact that more are coming out.  It doesn’t seem to matter that no one is actually asking for these movies. 
Let’s begin with how this even happened.  I blame Johnny Depp.  No, wait, people (including me) like him.  Okay, I blame Avatar.  No, that won’t work, either.  The internet may have grown to hate that movie, but actual people apparently really liked it (once again, including me).  I’ve got it: 3D is to blame.  I can get behind that, and so can a decent amount of people.
Allow me to explain.  Avatar came out a few years ago and made all that money.  Some genius in Hollywood decided that it must have been because of the 3D.  That certainly explains why 3D has been a part of film world conversation ever since, but that doesn’t necessarily explain these new fairy tale movies.  Alice in Wonderland, a children’s fairy tale, just happened to be the next family friendly film to be released in glorious 3D, and it made far more money than it deserved.  It made over a billion dollars worldwide…ridiculous.  Is it any wonder that Oz the Great and Powerful looks more like a prequel to Alice than it does to The Wizard of Oz?  But more on that later…
The reason isn’t all that important, though.  At this point, the studios need to listen to the audiences.  In general, mass audiences hate revisionist fairy tales.  Let’s go through the list of recent films and their estimated domestic gross and budget (according to

Have they learned nothing from us?

The Brothers Grimm made $38 million and cost $88 million.
Red Riding Hood made $38 and cost $42.
Mirror Mirror made $65 and cost $85.
Snow White and the Huntsman made $155 and cost $170.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters made $54 and cost $50.
Jack the Giant Slayer has made $29 so far and reportedly cost $195.

There are no massive bombs listed here (Jack might eventually qualify), and all of the films that have finished their run ended up making more than their budget after worldwide grosses are applied.  None of these films were smash hits, either.  The only one getting a sequel is Snow White, but I’ll address that “hit” in a minute.  What is most frustrating about this list is that amount of money spent on these films that could be used elsewhere.  But back to the list itself. 
The Brothers Grimm stands out since it was released years before Alice and this whole fairy tale frenzy we’re dealing with at the moment.  I included this movie (which I actually like, by the way) because it is an example that shows audiences didn’t want this stuff back in 2005 and they still don’t want it in 2013.  I know that I said I enjoyed this film, but I’m glad it didn’t start a trend.  This film’s lackluster performance stopped the fairy tale movement before it began, then Alice came out and we’ve been force fed this fairy tale crap ever since. 
Things would have been fine if it had ended with Grimm.  The people who want to see an edgier version of a fairy tale would have their fix and we could be spared the rest of the crap.  Red Riding Hood was too mundane to even remember.  Mirror Mirror, despite being directed by Tarsem Singh, was family friendly drivel.  Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters…well, just say that title out loud and try not to laugh at the stupidity of it.  (I have not gotten around to seeing this one, and I will admit that it looks more promising than its name suggests.)  I never intended to watch Jack the Giant Slayer for multiple reasons.  The CG looked too fake, the human characters looked too goofy, and I never really liked the original story anyway.  Actually, you know what?  I can’t remember if I liked that story growing up, mainly because I was a small child when it was meant to appeal to me.  So why is this film being marketed as some grand action adventure for all ages when the source material is meant only for children? 
Most of these new fairy tales fall into this weird in-between zone.  They try so hard to be for everyone that they end up being for nearly no one.  The exception to this is Snow White and the Huntsman, which succeeded only because it ended up being just right for the Twilight crowd.  This film is being considered a success to the point that a sequel is in the works, but let’s put this in perspective.  The cartoon version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made (over years of re-releases) $185 million.  If you adjust that, it rockets up to $877 million.  You know why that made all the money?  Because it was marketed to the proper audience: children.
Familiar faces! Take my money!
Snow White and the Huntsman’s success is a product of casting, good timing, and not-being-that-bad-ness.  It had Kristen Stewart (whose mass appeal I will never understand), Chris Hemsworth (Thor!), and Charlize Theron (who doesn’t necessarily bring in big audiences, but her performance was noted).  And I remember when this came out.  It was the only major release that weekend and The Avengers had already been out for a month and Men in Black 3 was under performing in its second weekend.  And, most importantly, this one is not all that bad.  In fact, the worst parts about the film are the forced Snow White moments.  You know, like any awful scene with the dwarfs.  If this had simply been an adventure movie without the Snow White part, it might have been truly good.  Because that fairy tale crap is for children. 
The primary definition of a fairy tale (according to is “a story (as for children) involving fantastic forces and beings.”  The key word in that definition is “children.”  Sure, definitions differ and some don’t claim that a fairy tale is exclusively for children.  But look at the plots of these films and tell me that they aren’t more at home in a Disney animated feature.  I’m not saying let’s put an end to all fairy tales.  I’m just saying let’s keep them where they belong: animated and rated G. 
This is  Teens?  Adults?  Anyone...?
This brings me back to Oz.  To be fair, this one is not exactly a revisionist fairy tale because it is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz and isn’t attempting to be a gritty new take on it.  But it is being marketed (down to the nearly identical release date) very much like Alice in Wonderland.  I am afraid that it will make an immense amount of money and there will be another influx of crappy to mediocre revisions of children’s classics for the next few years.  I fear that this brutal cycle could go on indefinitely…and in 3D. 
What’s the point of all this griping?  I want the talent that has been involved in some of this mediocre crap to be used for more original and entertaining work.  Johnny Depp and Tim Burton once made Ed Wood.  Sam Raimi is responsible for the Evil Dead franchise.  Tarsem Singh made The Fall (check that out if you want to see a childhood fairy tale presented in a mature and entertaining way).  Gary Oldman (Red Riding Hood) made (insert one of his dozen-plus awesome roles here).  Tommy Wirkola (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) made Dead Snow.  You get the idea. 
Hollywood can still make fairy tale movies and make more money doing it without wasting the talent of these people.  They could just make them as animated features meant for children.  They can even mess with the formula and modernize it a bit.  The audience won’t mind, or won’t remember it later on anyway.  I’m not suggesting, by the way, that there is no talent in the animated world; quite the opposite, in fact.  It’s just that the animated folk know what to do with fairy tales and the people behind most these films don’t. 
Of course, maybe I’m wrong and Oz the Great and Powerful will turn out to be the beginning of a golden era of Hollywood.  But I doubt it.  There’s just something wrong about Sam Raimi directing a PG rated fairy tale…


  1. I tried to post this comment last night, but it didn't load for whatever reason. I totally agree. They keep making these movies "for everyone" and end up pleasing no one- too violent for kids, too watered down for adults.

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  3. I agree--I love fairy tales but make these fairy tales for children--they don't have enough G rated movies as it is. And kids LOVE fairy tales.
    BUT, there are an awful lot of people out there that went to see that fairy tale this weekend, didn't they?
    And since it is a "wizard of Oz" movie, I will have to see it!

    1. Yeah, I still went to see it too, mainly because of the original Oz. If not for that connection, I probably would have skipped it.