With the imminent release of Bryan Singer’s “Jack the Giant Slayer” we take a moment to examine culture’s new fetish for fairy tales and fantasy.
In the last year several major blockbuster reimagining’s have been released and for all intents and purposes have done fairly well, critically and financially. On the surface these tales are simply new versions of classic tales, Snow White (Sanders), the new Hansel and Gretal (Wirkola) and now Singer’s version of Jack and the Beanstalk; classic tales have become the new thing in Hollywood but what is more interesting is their interpretation.
It is widely accepted that fairy tales have acted as an oral education for the youth of society; one of the clearest example is that of red riding hood. Young girl, lonely forest, basket of muffins, hungry wolf, you start to get the picture that this fairy tale is a cautionary tale for young women about knicker elastic (lets not even mention the name). And it’s not alone in it’s didactic nature, Cinderella (good girls get good men), Hansel and Gretal (strangers are cannibals, in which case set them on fire) and Rapunzel (just because he says he’s a prince, don’t mean he is) are just a few example of the didactic nature of fairy tales.
In an era before everyone could read or write a common language fairy tales provided a form of oral reference for adolescent morality. Hollywood aren’t the first to revise and even redact fairy tales though; the most famous versions of many of these stories are from the Brothers Grimm; a pair of German linguists who collected and collated a wide variety of European folklore in the early 19th century, combining similar stories and tales as they saw fit.
Disney has been working its way through the Grimm anthology for several decades; and whilst Disney have an interpretive values of their own, on the whole their films have been directed at children. With the odd comment thrown in there for the parents, pretty much everyone loved them.
These new films though are definitely aimed at adults, they’re sexy, (sometimes) witty, dramatic reinventions of ‘classic’ tales; filled with leather coats and plunging necklines. The characters are suddenly much older, gone are the young children and prepubescent teens of the Grimm era; here are the attractive, leather clad ass-kickers who have more in common with Beckinsale’s Underworld series than Disney’s singing virgins. Their casts are filled with burley stud muffins the likes of Chris Hemsworth and sultry leading ladies like Amanda Seyfried; and they’re all at it. Let’s be honest, Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood could hardly be called chaste and I’m not sure any teenagers would be comfortable watching that with the family on a Sunday afternoon.
Credits to “Nicola since 1972” (http://www.flickr.com/photos/15216811@N06/5398771984/)
What then is the cause for this sudden sexing up of fairy tales? It’s possible that i’m reading too much into these films and it’s purely a business plan, sex sells; we can all admit that we secretly like to stare at the attractive hero(ine) as they effortlessly engage in the Hollywood version of intercourse (that is fully clothed and without any ill-timed muscle cramps) but has it become something more? Is it merely a symptom of a sex-obsessed culture or is it something slightly smarter?
Given the recent surge in sexy media, particularly vampires and other supernatural subject matter it starts to become apparent that fairy tales and fantasy stories are one of the most popular genres; even if it is only middle aged women with an inappropriate obsession with a sparkly idiot. Even the acclaimed “50 Shades of Grey” by E L James is just another form of fantasy (even if you consider it tame) and like all forms of fantasy they are escapist. These fairy tales have developed from tales that caution youth about the dangers of the real world to stories that allow adults to escape it. This is what is so unnerving about the reinvention of fairy tales; we don’t tell these stories to children anymore (though some may blame that on a nanny state) because we keep them for ourselves.
These fairy tales are our sanctuary from the real world and like the supernatural thrillers they provide a place that isn’t real for us to run away too. Why sit in an office filling quarterly reports that no-one will read when you could be rescuing a sultry princess who looks like she broke all her zips at once or being saved from a snarling wolf by a woodcutter with an abnormally large axe-head? The sex is an added bonus to the fantasy and one that we can allow ourselves to indulge in because it’s not real, these people aren’t real and that makes it acceptable. No-one gets hurt when we have dirty thoughts about a fantasy character, except maybe our expectations when we remember that your other half doesn’t like PVC.
Credits to タクナワン via Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFelling_axe.jpg)
Sexy fairy tales have become the acceptable escapism and Hollywood is capitalising on that fact; and that’s not a bad thing. Everyone deserves a little escapism; that’s how we get through the day, anyone who says they have never daydreamed is either lying or has the most interesting life, in which case we should make a film about it so everyone else can have a turn. My only concern is what stories are we going to tell our children if we’re keeping these fairy tales to ourselves? Does it matter? Do we have a different way of educating our children about morality; more importantly do these stories even reflect our morality anymore? Something to think about next time you’re running away from your four walls and mounting deadlines.