Hollywood Fairy Tale Feeding Frenzy: “Mirror Mirror,” “Snow White and the Huntsman”

Hollywood Fairy Tale Feeding Frenzy: “Mirror Mirror,” “Snow White and the Huntsman”
Julia Roberts and Lily Collins in "Mirror Mirror"
(© 2011 Snow White Productions, LLC)

The discovery in Regensberg of 500 long-hidden German fairy tales assembled by Franz Xaver Schbnwerth (1810 – 86), which was  reported in The Guardian on Monday, is potentially excellent news for Hollywood. At the current rate with which the studios are racing to reformulate the fairy tales of Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and other writers and collectors into modish, mostly live-action films, they will exhaust the familiar canon in two years tops.

Following 2010’s animated “Tangled” (based on “Rapunzel,” which the Grimms’ adapted from the 1698 French original), last year’s “Red Riding Hood” and the “Shrek” spin-off “Puss in Boots” (both from Perrault), the fairy tale trend continues this month. Tarsem Singh’s “Mirror Mirror,” adapted from the Grimms’ “Snow White,” opens on March 30, giving it a two-month window before Rupert Sanders’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” bows on June 1.

Guillermo del Toro is lined up to direct Emma Watson in “Beauty and the Beast” (the famous version by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont followed the 1740 original in 1756). Angelina Jolie will play the title character in “Maleficent,” which will depict Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty” from the perspective of the evil sorceress. “Usual Suspects” director Bryan Singer is readying “Jack the Giant Killer,” based on the English tale first published in 1711. Joe Wright (“Atonement”) will direct a live-action film of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” Shana Feste (“Country Strong”) is prepping the film of Carolyn Turgeon’s comparatively dark 2011 novel “Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale.”

Thirty-six years after the flowery British musical “The Slipper and the Rose” and 14 after the limp “Ever After,” a new “Cinderella” can’t be far behind, whether it’s based on the Greek version recorded in the first century B.C., the ninth-century Chinese one, the 1634 Neapolitan one, Perrault’s, the Grimms’, or Turgeon’s 2009 “Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story.”

Judging by the trailers, “Mirror, Mirror,” starring Julia Roberts as a none-too-evil Evil Queen and Lily Collins as Snow White, looks to be a comedy in the vein of “The Princess Bride,” while “Snow White and the Huntsman,” with Charlize Theron as the Queen and Kristen Stewart as Snow, has a moodier, cod-“Lord of the Rings” ambience that will work to its advantage commercially.

In fact, the casting of mostly hard-edged British character actors like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, and Toby Jones as the eight dwarves suggests “Snow White and the Huntsman” is making a pre-emptive strike against the first part of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit,” which has 13 dwarves accompanying Bilbo Baggins across Middle Earth.

The fairy-tale craze – which TV, too, has exploited with ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” -- was triggered by the massive success and prestige of Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” and the three films adapted so far from C.S. Lewis’s “Narnia Chronicles.” After  a wave of bland but violent period adventure films in the nineties, “LOTR” and then “Narnia” opened the doors to “romance” cinema – by which I mean medieval or medievally inflected stories and their ilk, as opposed to stories of romantic love. They depicted great deeds of heroism, invoked mysticism, deployed state-of-the-art special effects, and, crucially for grabbing the attention of female tweens and teens, had women or girl warriors. “King Arthur” (2004), with Keira Knightley as an aggressive proto-feminist Guinevere, extended this idea less convincingly, though the film was a global hit.

Notwithstanding the modernity of Theron’s and Stewart’s personas, “Snow White and the Huntsman,” predicated as a tentpole by Universal, should be massive, not least because it will attract Stewart’s legions of “Twilight” fans. However, there’s something awfully contrived about the images of Stewart’s Snow in armor in the trailer – even as they show how far we’ve come from the animated 1937 Snow trilling to cute woodland animals and passively wondering when her prince will come, the idea of the most beloved Disney princess metamorphosing into a knight stretches girl power a bit far.

Below: trailer for "Snow White and the Huntsman"