February 14, 2012

Hollywood Increasingly Turning to Fairytales for Source Material

Since the early days of cinema, Hollywood has repeatedly looked to a variety of "proven" source material in favor of stories written directly for the screen. Many of the early silent-era classics, including Birth of a Nation (1915) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), were based on successful novels. But contemporary filmmakers now look beyond books for material on which to base what they hope will be their next blockbuster. Sources for highly-anticipated 2012 releases include Broadway plays (Rock of Ages), old TV shows (21 Jump Street), really old TV shows (Dark Shadows), comic books (The Amazing Spider Man, The Avengers), and even children's games (Battleship.)

Still, the source material of choice for Hollywood producers these days seems to be fairytales. It began in earnest in 2010 with the success of Tim Burton's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland and continued last year with the release of Red Riding Hood and Beastly (a modern day retelling of Beauty and the Beast.) Last fall saw the debut of two new TV series based on fairytales (Grimm and Once Upon a Time) and the trend seems to be peaking this year with not one, but TWO soon-to-be-released Snow White features -- the campy Mirror Mirror, and the darker, edgier Snow White and the Huntsman. (The spec screenplay for the latter sparked a bidding war in Hollywood and eventually sold for an astonishing $3 million, one of the highest figures ever paid for a movie script.) Both of the Snow White films are big budget productions starring Academy Award winners (Julia Roberts and Charlize Theron, respectively) and SWATH in particular is a summer release that's already being aggressively marketed, so the film's producers are clearly counting on it being a hit.

Also in the can and ready to go is Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (which like SWATH, adds a vigilante spin to the traditional fairy tale) and Warner Bothers' Jack the Giant Killer. Other fairy tale-based movies in various stages of production include Enchanted 2, Pan, which turns the tables and casts Peter Pan as a kidnapper and Captain Hook as a police officer on his trail; Beauty and the Beast directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Harry Potter alum Emma Watson; and a new adaptation of Pinocchio with director Tim Burton and star Robert Downey Jr. attached. And just confirmed yesterday was Maleficent, a Sleeping Beauty retelling with Angelina Jolie in the title role as the evil queen.

You wonder what took Hollywood so long to begin what looks to be an exhaustive development of fairytale-based movies. Sure, they've been producing animated features for decades -- in Disney's case, for more than 70 years. But with a built in audience already familiar with the characters and stories, and with nearly all of literature's most well known fables and fairytales (including those by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson) now in the public domain (meaning producers are free to make movie versions without having to pay out licensing fees or royalties) it's surprising that Tinseltown hasn't begun pumping out live action versions in sooner than now.

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