Once upon a time, it used to be enough to lift a story from the Brothers Grimm and fashion a kid-friendly version that families flocked to. Then the “Twilight” franchise put a modern twist on overly familiar characters and went on to make a lot of money at the box office from young women, tweens and their moms all over the world.
Now, Hollywood thinks it’s found a way to mine the Team Edward/Team Jacob crowd by turning overly familiar fairy tales into angsty youth-targeted entertainment. CBS Films’ “Beastly” and Warner Bros.’ “Red Riding Hood” bow in March; on deck are updates of “Snow White,” “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Hansel and Gretel.”
Studios are endlessly searching for familiar properties with name recognition and spinoff potential. And fairy tales, with their European origins, are tailor-made to appeal to international auds as well as domestic. Another factor? Special effects and 3D have enabled more sophisticated ways for filmmakers to reimagine the yarns in ways that couldn’t have been done 10 or 15 years ago.
The success of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” — not technically a fairy tale but a classic and internationally known property with fantastical elements — helped spur several studios to fast-track their long-gestating fairy tale rethinks.
Indeed, one exec close to such a project says that while his pic was in the worksbefore “Alice in Wonderland,” that film’s success convinced the studio to get behind his project.
Joe Roth, who produced “Alice in Wonderland” with Richard Zanuck, says the classic stories are a way to give auds something recognizable, but at the same time something new. “The symbolism is still alive with these stories, and it’s our job to find the best way to retell that story,” Roth says.
Roth is now producing “Snow White and the Huntsman” and a “Wizard of Oz” prequel, both of which are set to go into production sometime in this year.
Some bizzers are feeling fairy-tale fatigue before the first round of redos even opens. Several lit agents say that the market is saturated with such specs, and agents continue to come to their clients with ideas for fairy tale reinventions.
Tired? Maybe some are but plenty of other Hollywood execs see them as a brand that audiences are still drawn to.
Warners’ “Red Riding Hood” is first out of the gate, opening March 11.
“From a business side, it’s extremely marketable, because these stories are so universal,” says Jennifer Killoran, who produced “Red Riding Hood” along with Leonardo DiCaprio through their Appian Way Prods. “We also didn’t want to (be influenced) by all the other fairy-tale films being made,” instead focusing on fantasy-thriller elements of the story that helmer Catherine Harwicke — who’s made a career out of sympathetic portrayals of troubled youth and extra-human love — exploits in the retelling of the tale. Pic stars Amanda Seyfried as a young woman torn between two hunky young men — but is one the marauding werewolf who’s been killing townsfolk?
“This film is trying to become more than your average fairy-tale film,” Killoran says.
A week before, CBS Films’ “Beastly” — an angsty adolescent spin on “Beauty and the Beast” — hits screens with hot actor of the moment Alex Pettyfer as an egocentric teen who becomes deformed after falling under a spell, and Vanessa Hudgens (the “High School Musical” franchise) as the only girl who can break the spell.
Pettyfer is also on the radar of the “Beastly” demo as the titular character in “I Am Number Four,” the adaptation of the hugely popular young-adult novel that hits screens in this month via Disney.
Both Relativity and Universal have “Snow White” projects in the works. Universal’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” set to be directed by Rupert Sanders, focuses on the relationship between the princess and the woodsman who was ordered to kill her. Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender are said to be interested in the project.
At Relativity, Tarsem Singh is on board to direct “The Brothers Grimm: Snow White,” with the helmer courting Julia Roberts to play his evil queen.
New Line has been working on getting “Jack the Giant Killer” off the ground since 2005. A twist on the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story, it’s going ahead with Bryan Singer directing. He’s already begun testing such up-and-coming thesps as Nicholas Hoult, Aaron Johnson and Pettyfer for the role of Jack.
At Paramount, “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” is getting an update from Will Ferrell’s Gary Sanchez Prods. This tale is set 15 years after the siblings killed the witch who kidnapped them. Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) are now bounty hunters who pursue witches.
But finding that right balance that draws auds worldwide is, of course, tricky. There’s more to it than just adding violence, fx and sex. One project that can’t seem to get tractiontion isan untitled comedy that follows Prince Charming, who, though married to Sleeping Beauty, goes through a midlife crisis after after Snow White and Cinderella come back into his life. It sounds like a fun spin on a stock fairy tale character, but one lit agent says its big problem is that no one can figure out the demographic it’s meant to target.
The performance of “Red Riding Hood” will likely help determine how many more fairy tales are greenlit, insiders say.
“Amanda Seyfried isn’t a star just yet, but if that film hits big, it will open the floodgates for more of these films,” the insider says.
Roth says he had been wanting to do stories like “The Huntsman” because of its fresh approach and the story’s timelessness, something he also believes is a driving force for some of these other fairy tale pics.
“With ‘Huntsman,’ auds don’t want a remake, they want something that feels fresh,” he says. “It’s kind of like driving in a car and you hear an old song and you think about where you were the first time you heard that song. That’s what I’m going for with these latest projects, something original that has a nostalgic feeling to it.”