Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Fairytale Reboot: Tales Come Alive

"Give me the same thing... only different" that is what storytelling has always been about. But it's the way we put new twists on old tales, bring them up to date, and give them a spin that's meaningful for our contemporaries. It's a skill we must master and apply to all aspects of the craft. - Blake Snyder (Save The Cat! p. 44)
With the recent trend of show reboots/remakes like Man Of Steel, Star Trek and The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, Total Recall, I was inspired to take a look at some classic fairytales that have been given some sort of reboot as well.

My idea of a fairytale has always been connected to Disney. This probably stems from the fact that my fondest childhood memories all involve hand drawn 2D Disney animation - my personal favourite is The Little Mermaid.

The Little Mermaid has been given a live reboot a number of times. Although not quite like the actual tale, it definitely went through a modern overhaul like in the movie Splash and Aquamarine. There's even a Hong Kong movie based on The Little Mermaid tale called 人魚傳說 aka Mermaid Got Married. The television series Charmed also had an episode about a mermaid looking for love and even resulted in one of the lead characters, Phoebe, turning into a mermaid herself

However, reboots can always have reboots and the mermaid tale’s most recent reboot is the teen movie titled Aquamarine starring Sara Paxton, Emma Roberts and Joanna Levesque better known as singer JoJo.

Although it is loosely based on a children’s book of the same name by Alice Hoffman, the mermaid played by Sara Paxton does talk of wanting to find true love so that she doesn’t have to marry a mermaid her father chooses for her.

The latest fairytale reboot that inspired this article is the tale of the Beauty and the Beast. We all know the classic tale of the handsome man who was transformed to look the way he acted towards people - ugly, who had a set time frame to become normal again by truly loving a girl and getting her to love him in return, proving the love with a kiss. The most well known telling of the fairytale is Disney’s animation Beauty and the Beast.

The modern spin on this fairytale comes in the form of the film Beastly starring Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer. The movie is actually based on a book also titled Beastly by Alex Flinn, an updated version of the original tale. And of course, this year, there is a remake of the Beauty and the Beast television series which I absolutely adore.

Now there are also many other tales that have been updated or retold. After all, if the story works, why not use it again right? Anyway, adaptation is about the director's or screenwriter's vision or interpretation of the original text. Isn't it limiting to say that a good film has to be of an original idea? Sometimes even the oldest of tales when retold in a fresh way can be pretty groundbreaking or interesting. 

For example, the story of Pocahontas, when Avatar was released, many drew comparisons of its tale to that of Pocahontas. But is that a bad thing? The only thing negative I can see from the connection is that we may not have learnt much from past history.  In 2005, I also watched The New World which is based on the historical figures Captain John Smith and Pocahontas.

Little Red Riding Hood has also been presented in film and animation many times. As a horror film in 2011's Red Riding Hood and the character of Red Riding Hood was the lead in the animation Hoodwinked!. Now I really love this animation because it not only follows the structure of Rashomon in which we hear the point of view of various lead characters in the film, but also because it tries to "solve" a crime that has been committed. It was an animation I throughly enjoyed.

Cinderella has been given so many makeovers it really makes it hard to surprise people or interest people in another version of the tale. I guess it's because the tale of the rags to riches is a popular and common plotline so anything with that kind of plot could be categorized as a Cinderella-telling. Disney's recent update on the Cinderella tale would be Another Cinderella Story starring one of Disney’s It Girl Selena Gomez and Drew Seeley. 

This movie was trying to repeat the success of A Cinderella Story with performances by Hilary Duff, Chad Michael Murray, Jennifer Coolidge, Regina King, and Dan Byrd (I first noticed him through this movie and I always mix him up with Hannah Montana’s brother Jackson Stewart played by Jason Earles). But I liked A Cinderella Story much more than the sequel. 

There are of course other movies that feature the rags to riches, nobody to somebody type theme that doesn’t quite scream Cinderella but is very similar. Everyone wants the underdog to win, that’s one of the reasons why this theme is so popular with the masses - think of movies like The Princess Diaries; the film that launched Anne Hathaway’s career, Maid in Manhattan; which didn't do much for Jennifer Lopez's film career, and What A Girl Wants; starring Amanda Bynes, a film that put her on my radar.

My favourite Cinderella retelling so far is Ever After. Not exactly modern day California like in A Cinderella Story, but this is a somewhat modern twist because Cinderella didn’t need saving (Prince Henry was a little late) and Cinderella had to save the Prince when encountering a band of Gypsies (She carried Prince Henry on her back when told she was free to go with whatever she could carry - She chose to carry Prince Henry).

Ever After's Cinderella was a girl with gusto and held her own ground. With excellent performances by Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston, and Dougray Scott. Even the horrible step sister played by Megan Dodds acted so well I wanted to punch her myself (thankfully Drew Barrymore’s Cinderella named Danielle did it for me).

Now if Cinderella has a modern updated version, how can Snow White not have one too? Amanda Bynes acted in a teen comedy film called Sydney White, in fact, Aquamarine's Sara Paxton also acts in the film as well. And the actress currently playing Beauty from CW's Beauty And The Beast televisions series Kristin Kreuk, also played Snow White in 2001 in a film also known in the US as Snow White: Fairest Of Them All alongside Miranda Richardson and Warwick Davis.

Now the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves fairytale has been done to death. But the most recent film is Mirror MirrorSnow White And The Huntsman and one of my favourite television series right now Once Upon A Time. Although the series covers many fairytales and storybook characters from various genres, I think because it first follows the tale of Snow White and her Prince Charming together with the Evil Queen, I'd classify it under the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves tale. However, the mixing of fairytales is very popular these days. There's also the series called Grimm, which is darker and more like a supernatural police procedural. And even in movies like the Shrek series and Enchanted, where multiple fairytales or story book characters come together to share the "screen" so to speak.

Talking about Enchanted, this is a film that I absolutely love. Although I don’t exactly know which fairytale to classify it under because I feel that it doesn’t just encompass one fairytale theme. It can be considered a type of fish out of the water Little Mermaid theme (without the tail). It can also be seen as a Sleeping Beauty theme where she doesn’t literally wake up from her slumber but she wakes up to the real world and sees New York City in all its glamour and “horror”. I’d say there is also a little Cinderella in there too because she’s just an ordinary girl who’s hoping that her prince will come and give her True Love’s Kiss, and she does become a princess if she marries the prince, but instead she found her modern day hero in Patrick Dempsey’s Robert. Of course the film also pays homage to Disney’s finest with countless references to the “original” animations from Disney.

These days making the original look good again or better is in, if it isn’t a book adaptation, its a retelling, or a reboot, or a remake of an old film, a musical, a comic book, or another fairytale story.

Now let's take a look at other “fairytales” not mentioned earlier...

Aladdin - Disney released the animated film Aladdin
in 1992 with Robin Williams voicing the Genie. Now, I'd love to see a live-action version of Aladdin some day.

Hansel and Gretel - Now in 2002, Jacob Smith (Party Of Five) and Taylor Momsen (Gossip Girl) played as Hansel and Gretel in the film Hansel And Gretel, and in fact, the film also starred Dakota Fanning. And next year, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play Hansel and Gretel in the action adventure film Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters while Famke Janssen plays one of the witches. 

Puss In Boots - Now before you met the dear little cutie in Shrek, I first encountered the ginger cat in the live action film Puss In Bootsin 1988 through the Cannon Movie Tales series, where Puss in human form was played by Christopher Walken. There is also a Japanese animation called The Wonderful World Of Puss 'N Boots, and another animation in 1999. And in 2011, Shrek's Puss in Boots was given his own animated film titled of course Puss In Boots.

Rapunzel -  In 2010, Disney released the animated film Tangled based on the story of Rapunzel. The lead character was voiced by Mandy Moore, and the leading male Flynn is voiced by Zachary Levi.

Sleeping Beauty - Disney released the animated film Sleeping Beauty in 1959. In 2011, a Australian erotic drama film titled Sleeping Beauty was released. It was a film written and directed by Julia Leigh and its lead was played by Emily Browning. 

The Frog Prince - My first contact with this fairy tale is through the Cannon Movie Tales film The Frog Prince released in 1986; a little known film starring Aileen Queen (Annie) and Helen Hunt! I loved the songs in this version of the film In fact, there are a number of Cannon Movie Tales films that I really loved as a child. But more of that later. The concept of a prince turning into a frog was also the premise of a Taiwanese idol series called 王子变青蛙 aka Prince Who Turns Into A Frog. The two leads were played by Joe Chen and Ming Dao and was a very well received television series. Disney also did a version of the fairytale in the form of the 2009 animated film Princess And The Frog.

The Wild Swans - I don't remember any animation or film I watched based on this fairytale. However, this is one of the fairytales I loosely based my story time tale on for one of the Mat Yoyo episodes.

The Ugly Duckling - I don't remember it but according to research, this tale has been made into an animated film twice by Disney. Once in 1931, and later in colour in 1939.

The Elves and the Shoemaker - I don't think this fairytale has ever made it to movie land but I think it'll be a great idea to have a film based on the tale. I mean think of all the fashion that can showcased in a film based on the tale!

The Goose Girl - I've not seen this adapted into a film or television series or animation, however, I have read a book of the same name written by Shannon Hale and released in 2003.

Thumbelina - My earliest memory of the Thumbelina tale was Don Bluth’s animation in 1994. I remember falling in love with the songs in the film like "Let Me Be Your Wingsand "Follow Your Heart". But I know that there has been a recent adaptation of Thumbelina called Barbie Thumbelina (2009) although I'm not sure if it's based on the actual tale at all. And in 2002, Disney did make an animated film called The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina in which the title characters are voiced by Eiljah Wood and Jennifer Love Hewitt.

Of course there any too many fairytales to cover them all, but let's go back to the Cannon Movie Tales I mentioned earlier. I remember watching Snow White, Puss In Boots, and The Frog Prince, but there are others under the Cannon Movie Tales series. Rumpelstiltskin is the first to be released out of the planned 16.

Then we have Snow White with Diana Rigg as the evil queen, Nicola Stapleton as young Snow White, and Sarah Patterson as the grown up Snow White. I loved the songs from this Snow White film especially the songs "Where Is The One I Long For?", "Let It Snow", and "Everyday".

And as mentioned earlier, Puss in Boots and The Frog Prince were both released under the Cannon Movie Tales and I really love the songs in The Frog Prince. My favourite being "Friendship" but I even like the sad song "Have You Forgotten Me?" from the film. And the song "Lucky Day" always put a smile on my face and "A Promise Is A Promise" just makes me laugh out loud.

I don't remember the Cannon Movie Tales' version of Beauty and the Beast, but I know it's one of the 9 films that was eventually made and released. Then there's also Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and The Emperor's New Clothes that were made into films under the Cannon Movie Tales banner. In all, I think my two favourite Cannon Movie Tales' films are Snow White and The Frog Prince because I love the songs they had in the films.

But to be honest, films are not the only way through which fairytales find a new lease on life. Classic fairytales are also given a new spin through books. Here are a list of some of the books that carry on the tale or give the tale a modern  or new twist to it:

Beauty and the Beast 

Alex Flinn's Beastly, and Robin McKinley's Rose Daughter.


Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, and Margaret Peterson Haddix's Just Ella

Snow White

Gregory Maguire's Mirror, Mirror, and Gail Carson Levine's Fairest

Hansel and Gretel

C. J. Skuse's Pretty Bad Things.

Sleeping Beauty

Alex Flinn's A Kiss In Time, Gail Carson Levine's Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep, Robin McKinley's Spindle's End, and Jane Yolen's Briar Rose.

The Princess and the Pea

Gail Carson Levine's The Princess Test.

The Frog Prince

E. D. Baker's The Frog Princess.

So do check out these films, television series, and books if you need a fairytale fix.

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