OK, so my “Fairy Tales on Film Week” is kind of being spread over a fortnight but hey ho! This is Part 2, looking at two more recent original fairy tales on film. There were a few to choose from but there is one film that simply cannot be left out – Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). This film is and will remain in my top ten films of all time and, coming from someone who watches a ridiculous amount of films that is quite high! (I have a film studies degree if that makes me sound a little cooler…I doubt it though)
Pan’s Labyrinth starts off with a fairy tale about Princess Moanna (daughter of the King of the underworld) who becomes curious about the world above. Blinded by the sunlight, she loses her memory, becomes ill and dies. The King, lost in grief, believes that her spirit will return to the underworld someday. The film then cuts to post-Civil war Spain with young Ofelia and her pregnant mother travelling out to meet her new stepfather: a cruel and sadistic fascist. She meets an array of unusual mystical creatures including a fairy (which looks like a large stick insect) and a faun. The faun gives her 3 tasks to complete to prove she is the princess Moanna in essence. Her first task is to retrieve a key from a giant frog (which was visually fantastic!), then to retrieve a dagger from a child-eating monster with eyes in his hands who nearly catches her. Her final task is to rescue her baby brother from her stepfather and take him into the labyrinth. This is the most dangerous task of all as her stepfather is now viciously out of control having brutally murdered a number of rebels and even caused the death of her own mother. Once in the labyrinth with her brother Ofelia refuses to harm him (the faun wants blood from his finger to open up the portal to the underworld). Her stepfather catches up to her and shoots her, and is then killed himself coming out of the labyrinth. Ofelia’s blood opens the portal and she is reunited with her family as Princess Moanna. Sacrificing her own blood was in fact the final part of the faun’s test, proving her essence was complete.
This film has all the building blocks of a fantastic dark fairy tale. A child with her head full of fairy tales clashing with a wicked and tyrannical step parent, a task/mission with 3 steps (3 being the magical number in fairy tales – things always come in threes!) and a significant increase in the danger as the stories progress. The film has a happily ever after but it is somewhat bittersweet, as Ofelia has to die to return to the underworld. I also loved the coupling of a fantasy world with post-war Spain– the contrast was really effective. Guillermo del Toro really is a gifted director. His films are so full of atmosphere and tension and that line between fantasy and reality is never quite clear e.g. The Orphanage and Devil’s Backbone.
I honestly have not met a single person who has watched Pan’s Labyrinth and did not like it! Even those who steer clear from subtitled films as a rule. With its mix of magical legend, violence, danger and sinister atmosphere coupled with fantastical and dangerous creatures and a war-ravaged setting it truly is an original and classic fairy tale on film.
My second film is a lot more light hearted: Stardust (2007). Adapted from a book by Neil Gaiman, it is truly just a lovely, colourful and enchanting film. The author even described it as such: “It’s a fairytale. It’s like an ice cream. It’s to make you feel happy when you finish it.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/oct/13/film.fiction)
Stardust is a rip roaring love story with witches, feuding princes, protective unicorns, a quest for a fallen star in human form and pirates in a flying ship catching lightening for a living. Add to the mix Robert De Niro dancing to the can can in a tutu and what more could you really ask for?
Stardust proves that “fairy tale” films don’t have to necessarily be dark and sinister like Pan’s Labyrinth, or have a deeper psychoanalytical/sexual subtext like Company of Wolves or Black Swan to appeal to adults. Stardust is a perfect fairy tale film for adults and children alike, much like the Shrek series. Silly in places (the can can and Ricky Gervais playing the part of Ricky Gervais for example) it is also very sweet with just the right amount of cheese. It reminded me a lot of The Princess Bride (1987), which was another contender for original fairy tale film of the 80s, with its comedy characters and snappy script.
A relatively unknown fairy tale (when compared to the likes of Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood I mean) this film could not rely on familiarity with the tale to bring in audiences. Instead, along with a star studded cast and vibrant special affects (which can’t hurt!), it achieved its success as a fairy tale on film through its exciting, enchanting and romantic plot. As such it ranks very high as a contemporary fairy tale on film!
So there you have it: fairy tales on film, both from the 80s and from more recent years, all of which tell highly original and enchanting tales. Some are darker and more gruesome than others, some are brighter and more fun, some are even quite twisted in their own way but all of them are fantastic fairy tales on film that will keep on enchanting audiences, both old and young for many years to come.