So I have looked at adaptations of Little Red Riding Hood and later on I will be looking at fairy tales such as Snow White and Hansel and Gretel and how they have been translated on film. For this post, however, I would like to look at original fairy tales on film, so films which have created their very own unique fairy tale. There were too many to choose from so I have split this post into two parts. The first part will be two films from the 80s and the second part will cover two more recent original fairy tale films.
Now you may think that any fantasy film can fall under the umbrella of a ‘fairy tale’ but the choices I have made I have always considered as fairy tales due to their general storylines and the atmosphere they convey. The main connection between them is the suggestion of history behind the story and the foundations of myth, legend and folklore that push the narrative forward. Also their similarities to well known fairy tales in terms of the general themes and plot. Not to mention the many crazy, fantastical creatures, the enchanting but slightly unnerving atmosphere and that element of danger and impending darkness that runs through each of them.
My first film from the 80s is The Dark Crystal (1982). I find it hard to find the words to express how fantastic this film truly is and how much I loved it growing up (and still do!). It’s such an incredibly dark story with a wealth of fantastical creatures. Some of them are cute and delightful like the Podlings or even beautiful and graceful like the Gelflings. The Mystics are enchanting with their aged fragility and gentleness. Then of course there’s the Skeksis, grotesque and vulture-like with their henchmen the Garthim: scary and soulless giant beetles.
The story is based on the legend of the Mystics and Skeksis who were once one race of beings but were split in two when the ‘Crystal of Truth’ was shattered: the best qualities going into the Mystics and the worst into the Skeksis. It is Gelfling Jen’s destiny to reunite them by completing the Crystal using the remaining shard. There is so much more to the story though, including the Skeksis’ sinister quest for youth by draining it from the enslaved Podling’s, the battle between them for who will be their new emperor, and Jen finding his soul mate Kira when he thought he was the last of his kind.
What truly makes this film magical is the (revolutionary at the time) seamless use of puppets for all of the characters. I strongly believe that this film is a perfect example of how CGI (no matter how much it has evolved) isn’t the be all and end all to achieve fantastical characters or situations. The puppeteer’s give their characters life and emotion through their movement. They are far more real than a CGI creation could ever be. The story itself is intricate and laced with the qualities that make dark fairy tales so captivating. A story which features an age old legend, a quest based on the main characters destiny, an evil which is scouring the land and a vivid, mystical landscape with unusual creatures and a life of its own. Partner that with the artistic genius of Brian Froud, who was the concept artist, the unique vision and style of director Jim Henson and finally a beautiful and at times dramatic soundtrack and you have a truly magical, enchanting and somewhat sinister fairy tale on film: The Dark Crystal.
My second film, from the genius of Jim Henson and Brian Froud again, is Labyrinth (1986). Any film that can retain its “dark fairy tale” atmosphere whilst also accommodating David Bowie in tighter than tight leggings and ridiculously catchy pop songs is going to be classic! Significantly lighter than The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth still uses puppets for the majority of its characters, bar the stars Jennifer Connolly and David Bowie. This mixture really adds to the juxtaposition of real life and fantasy as Sarah (Connolly) enters Jareth’s (Bowie) world, which thrives within an intricate Labyrinth leading to his castle. Jareth has taken her little brother Toby in answer to a wish made by Sarah in a temper, and will turn him into a goblin unless she can solve the labyrinth in thirteen hours. The story is not as intricate or rooted in its own legend as with The Dark Crystal but it certainly retains the usual characteristics of a classic fairy tale.
Sarah, her head full of fairy tales, maintains in the beginning that she is a Cinderella-like character with a wicked stepmother who does not care for her. But in her case the wish granted to her does not end up so well as she is thrown into a world which really isn’t as wonderful as she had always dreamed it would be. Like Snow White and her seven dwarves, Sarah makes unusual friends during her quest. She is often confronted with bizarre obstacles and riddles within the Labyrinth much like Alice and her adventures in Wonderland (not strictly a fairy tale, I know!). There is even a nod to Hansel and Gretel, when Sarah tries to mark the stones with lipstick to ensure she doesn’t get lost in the labyrinth. Quite aside from fairy tales it even delves into Greek mythology, with Sarah as a modern day Persephone, being drawn into the underworld by Hades (in this case Jareth) who wants to keep her there forever. All of these themes within the plot, the cinematography and magical use of a labyrinth all contribute to another fantastic original fairy tale on film.
Both Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal were very significant influences with me when writing Faerytale and the world I wanted to create within it. Both films contain worlds which are not only mystical and fantastical, but have un unearthly presence which goes beyond the strange creatures which inhabit it. The Dark Crystal embodies a world divided in two: both light and dark, but which ultimately should co-exist together in harmony. Whereas Labyrinth depicts the classic “dreamer” who gets her wish but soon begins to realize that not all fairy tales are romantic and enchanting adventures of discovery: they can be twisted and perilous. Both fantastic examples of original fairy tales on film from the 80s with both of them capturing that quintessentially dark and disturbing fairy tale ethos.