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Grim Fairytales: Sleeping Beauty & Snow White

December 7, 2011

The TV series Once Upon a Time and Grimm aren’t the only new pieces of pop culture looking to fairy tales for inspiration. Dueling versions of Snow White are in the Hollywood pipeline, while a pair of recently released foreign films take the Sleeping Beauty myth and inject it with enough twisted sex to make Walt Disney’s frozen corpse melt.

Trailers for the Snow White flicks—Mirror, Mirror (with Lily Collins and Julia Roberts) and Snow White and the Hunstman (with Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron)—have already hit the Internet and reveal radically different approaches to the seven dwarves’ story. The former, due in March and directed by Immortals‘ Tarsem Singh, promises a slapsticky, kid-friendly tone, although the as-yet-unseen presence of Game of Thrones‘ Sean Bean as the King might ground it in a grittier reality. And Armie Hammer should have no problem pulling off Prince Charming after sweeping Leonardo DiCaprio off his feet in J. Edgar.

The latter, cowritten by Drive‘s Hossein Amini and slated for June, looks considerably darker. But will Twi-Hards turn out to see Bella Swan bite into a poison apple? And will superhero-movie geeks worship Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth without his mighty hammer? With a foreboding vibe that recalls last year’s flop Red Riding Hood, this Snow White could prove to be as unpopular as Jon Huntsman.

Or as either of the Sleeping Beauties, for that matter. The Australian version, simply entitled Sleeping Beauty, opened quietly in a few theaters and was simultaneously released on VOD over the weekend. Sucker Punch‘s Emily Browning sleepwalks her way through the title role as a college student who takes a job that requires her to drug herself into unconsciousness and allow wealthy older men to… well, do anything they want short of penetrating her. In a word, yuck.

If this film had been made by men—and if anyone cared about it—feminists would be protesting outside the (two) theaters where it’s playing. But since it was written and directed by a woman, Julia Leigh (and “presented” by The Piano‘s Jane Campion), it’s getting a pass. I suggest you give it the same.

That’s what I did with The Sleeping Beauty, another kinky take on the legend directed by a woman, Catherine Breillat. After suffering through her tiresome “feminist” porn opuses 36 Fillette and The Last Mistress, I spared myself the agony. The only way I can imagine I would’ve enjoyed the Aussie Beauty less is if it had been in French.

So why are modern-day storytellers looking back to the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen for material? I’m tempted to make some glib explanation like that people want stories featuring clear-cut good guys and bad guys in such morally ambiguous (and economically insecure) times. But mostly, I just think filmmakers have run out of ideas and figure a pre-sold brand-name title is a better bet than trying to do something original. Sorry if that’s not exactly a happily-ever-after ending. Just call me Grumpy.

What’s the fairest fairy-tale movie of all? Post a comment!

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