Fairy tales are such a consistent staple at the theater and while reflecting on the recent addition of Snow White and the Huntsman to the numerous attendees of this category, I asked myself “hey what do I consider the best fairy tales of the new millennium?” I figured that shouldn’t be too daunting a list to assemble. Well, if not daunting, still, tough enough.
Once I whittled this list down like a big ‘ol block of wood I came up with these seven that I believe are the shining fairy tales so far in this new century/millennium. So, in no particular order;
Lets get the obvious out of the way first and of course, I refer to the Shrek films. This series offers the first really interesting twists on the standard princess and her rescuing prince premise. I think it shines as an animated film that has real chemistry between the voice actors. Sometimes, animated film suffers from this lack, but this franchise really came alive with the inspired casting of all the principle players. The dichotomy between Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers in this was such a great platform for humor and they both brought depth to the screen. Cameron Diaz was the competent no nonsense sort of princess you had to respect as well as appreciate. Most folks have a favorite out of the 4 films and so I will just let that be and heap accolades on the franchise.
Next up is Tangled which easily ranks in my top 20 all time greatest animated movies and is one of the most definitive ‘Disney fairy tale’ examples ever. High praise I know, but it more than measures up. Mandy Moore as Rapunzel is a master stroke and she has such a vocal presence with both dialogue and singing in this role that I just can’t imagine anyone else doing it. She has that sweet, slightly naïve portrayal, but yet, is also tough enough to make her journey believable. The rest of the cast from Ron Perlman to Zachary Levi as the thief/love interest just works splendidly! All the twists and turns and the great skewing of certain classic Rapunzel story elements to make it all seem fresh and even better than the original. This is a miraculous achievement. The cherry on top is the lush animation.
Alice in Wonderland
The only real CGI hybrid on this list is represented by Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I know some may take issue with this inclusion, but like Tangled it gets extra points from me for taking a slightly different road than just a standard fairy tale re-hashing. This was Alice’s second trip down the rabbit hole and she is neither wide-eyed, or precocious. She has come of age and her attitude as a grown woman adds tension to this darker and more ominous Wonderland. Of course, once again casting choices save the day! Obviously, as with all Burton films he uses his wife Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp, yet still coaxes great work out of both. From her cartoonishly rabid glee to his empathic and slightly depressed insanity, their work is inspired. Burton also spins his magic around new comer Mia Wasikowska as Alice and transforms Anne Hathaway into the tough yet dainty white queen. This was also in my mind only the second great 3D movie released into the new technology and Burton used it to great creative effect.
Next up, one of the live action entries. This selection was live throughout and a bit more of an original fairy tale but with some familiar yet unique tropes. Stardust is a film that may not show up on many fans radar, but for me it makes this list based on its epic nature and inspired characters. This tale is ambitious and like the recent Snow White, when you give legendary actresses evil roles to portray you usually get larger than life effort. As was the case in Snow White with Charlize Theron, so is the case here with the manically wicked Michelle Pfeiffer as the witch Lamia. It’s stellar and speaking of stellar, Clare Danes plays the star just wonderfully and Charlie Cox as object of her star shine couldn’t be more perfect in an oddball sort of way. But as everyone seeks the star, including the rulers of the realm, Tristan finds her first and as they stumble along trying to avoid capture, it’s the cross dressing Captain Shakespeare that nearly steals the show. With an over the top Robert Deniro playing the part it is memorable filmmaking. The end of this is just as satisfying as the end of Tangled and how can you not love fairy tales for happy at the end?
Second Hand Lions
This next one would hardly be viewed as a fairy tale by anyone but I include it nonetheless, for it warmly portrays what happens when a tall tale retires. Once the unique aspect of it wiggles its way into a soft spot for me, I am a sucker for it ever after. Second Hand Lions wins me over lock, stock, and barrel. With wonderful work by Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, and Haley Joel Osmet, it takes the whole of the film to tell the depth of the story. You are not sure if the tale is based in fact, as it talks about wars and damsels and sheiks and larger than life brothers that hoodwink said sheik. It does so much over one summer to help a troubled boy come of age that he soon views both these old coots as the dad he should have had. I like it a lot for answering a ‘what ever happened to them?’ with a heart felt resolution!
As the saying goes lets save the best two for last. I cant pick either over the other but they sit at the top of the heap together in my world of fairy tale.
When you take a classic Disney story and draw it out of its comforting animation and plop it down, in real life, into modern New York, you get the magic that is Enchanted. I liked Amy Adams before this, now I kind of worship her. Yeah, it’s like that. She took that classic Disney Pollyanna and brought her to life in a complicated world via such simple terms and makes it work so beautifully you have no choice but to love her as the cautious and leery Robert Philip – played by Patrick Dempsey – ends up doing. Of course his young daughter played superbly by Rachel Covey helps that process, and when things get complicated and the magical Giselle realizes she doesn’t really love the original prince that is still trying to rescue her and when the evil Queen Narissa ventures to the Big Apple to finish the job of destroying Giselle and lead her prince son home, things get wild. But of course this is a fairy tale and it doesn’t disappoint.
Lastly, the one true masterpiece in the lot, Pan’s Labyrinth. This is a standard bearer in so many ways for so many reasons. It is the best dark fairy tale ever put to screen. Its authenticity by director Guillermo del Toro is so impeccable that it is one of the few foreign films so engrossing to me that I don’t ever recall reading subtitles, though I obviously did. It is dark and intense and unpleasant as many fairy tales were when first created. It’s a tale of caution and of hope that balances the dichotomy of loss and reward. It is bittersweet and self righteous and justice is served in a way to make you embrace the lament of Ofelia. This epiphany of craftsmanship doesn’t use any name actors yet all involved play it brilliantly. With all that said, it is, in the end, the heart of 11 year old actress Ivana Baquero that takes this to a special place. Of course Doug Jones legendary work as the Faun and the pale man is astonishing to behold as well.
These seven hold high the fairy tale standard to me, and will hold court with fairy tales to come and judge them worthy or not.
With Ardor Ever After,