It’s hard to escape the influence that fairytales have had on our culture. From evil queens and handsome princes, to poison apples and fairy godmothers; these fantastical motifs have been popularised by classic tales like Cinderella and Snow White. Whilst not always so apparent, modern day versions of these tropes can be found in many of the movies of today.
Fairytales have often been used as a vehicle to convey a certain message, and as society has evolved, so too have the messages of morality we deliver with our media. Damsels in distress and knights in shining armour may seem a little dated to a modern audience, and so many of today’s fairytale-influenced films have been revamped to fit in with our evolving culture. Here’s a rundown of five of the best on-screen fairytale adaptations, including some you may not have linked to the classic tales of the past.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Adapted from the Brothers Grimms’ nineteenth-century collection Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Walt Disney’s version of the story is one of the most famous films ever created. Often a child’s first foray into traditional fairytales, the storytelling and animation still holds up nearly 80 years later.
Whilst the Grimms’ version is objectively darker, the Disney animation keeps many of the more gruesome elements, with the Wicked Queen’s demand to “Bring me the heart of Snow White” still frightening children everywhere.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
A dark and modern take on the classic fairytale. Director Guillermo del Toro blends the crushing realism of Franco’s fascist Spain with a Narnia-style fantasy, seen through the eyes of small child and protagonist, Ofelia.
The story begins after a faun tells Ofelia she is the reincarnation of the Princess Moanna, and sets her three tasks to complete before the full moon. This film takes many classic fairytale elements and turns them monstrously on their heads; the traditional wicked stepmother becomes Ofelia’s cruel stepfather Captain Vidal, the hideous Pale Man takes the place of a Big Bad Wolf-esque monster, and giant stick-insects replace Tinkerbell-like fairies.
Receiving universal acclaim upon its release, Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterclass in reimagining classic fairytale imagery for a modern audience.
Hard Candy (2005)
Subject to numerous retellings since first being published by French author Charles Perrault in 1697, Little Red Riding Hood has endured as one of the most famous fairytales of all time. In Hard Candy Ellen Page’s character, 14-year-old Hayley Stark, dons the eponymous red hooded sweatshirt, but this version of Red doesn’t need saving by a woodsman.
The Big Bad Wolf of the story is sexual predator and paedophile Jeff Kohlver. After weeks of chatting online, the two agree to meet, but the tables are turned when Hayley drugs him and ties him to a chair. Thus begins a twisted game between the two, as Hayley attempts to punish him for his sexual deviations. Hard Candy is Little Red Riding Hood with a twist, and stands as a modern and brutal version of the tale.
The original Shrek marked the beginnings of what turned into a juggernaut franchise for DreamWorks; spawning four sequels, and a spin-off movie for the character of Puss in Boots. Shrek is very much a self-aware fairytale, taking all of the classic archetypes, subverting them, and subjecting them to light-hearted mockery.
Deconstructing the fairytale formula of arch-rival company Disney, the story casts a green ogre as the knight in shining armour, who does not ride in on a white horse, but is accompanied instead by a talking donkey. The film spoofs many classic characters, from the Gingerbread Man to Robin Hood, whilst managing to be a heart-warming story about an outsider looking for acceptance.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The definitive film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, this musical adventure is a true family classic. With wicked witches, fairy godmothers, dark forests and fantastical creatures, the story combines all the elements one usually finds in a classic fairytale.
Much more colourful and light-hearted than the style of the Brothers Grimm, this story is quintessentially American, with its geography and characters exemplifying the America of the time. The film that made Judy Garland a star for her performance as Dorothy, to this day The Wizard of Oz continues to inspire awe and wonder in children and adults alike.