Friday, October 18, 2013

Favorite and Recommended Fairy Tale Films?

I haven't finished my Beauty and the Beast entry for today, so I'm going to save it for Monday, maybe Sunday. Instead, let's start a weekend conversation. I recently received an email with a question I thought I should open up to the community at large:

"If you could tell me, in your opinion, the best non-Disney fairy tale adaptations people should watch?"

My list is long, and I really don't want to list them all since I want to encourage everyone else to share. But I'll get the ball rolling.

Ever After - A Cinderella Story is first on my list, not necessarily because it is my top favorite, but because about 70% of the reader recommendations will be for this one. So if you agree, yes, say so, but try to add a second and third choice, too, not just this as a top pick. Let's make it interesting.

My sentimental favorite is The Slipper and the Rose: The Story Of Cinderella [Blu-ray], which is being re-released to Blu-Ray in November. Hoorah! This is the film I grew up with. It's the one that made me never give up on Cinderella. Be warned it's a musical and Richard Chamberlain "sings." The happy ever after is worked for a little harder in this one. And I LIKE the music by the Sherman Brothers (who also wrote Mary Poppins). No apologies from me, but I admit it's not for everyone. But this is perfect for many Disney fans. And Annette Crosbie is the Fairy Godmother I want.

I also offer up Donkey Skin as a very important fairy tale film. Not to everyone's taste but very beloved by those who do. It's French. It's Donkeyskin. It's a classic. It's an iconic film in France, actually. I see it referenced every time I am in that country. And I'm not looking for it either, despite being, well, SurLaLune.

Beauty and The Beast (The Criterion Collection) is the most important film to watch in the fairy tale canon. Outside of Disney, it is the most discussed and analyzed by scholars. Pretty much every paper or article about fairy tales and film will cover this one. If it doesn't, it better have an excellent reason or it won't be taken very seriously by those in the know. Again, it's French. Expect subtitles or dubbing.

Ditto for The Company of Wolves. The other most analyzed film outside Disney fairy tales. Thanks to it being strange and an adaptation of Angela Carter. Not for the faint of heart. And not in French, but sometimes you'll wonder if you are watching a foreign film. This isn't for converting friends unless they are goth or their tastes veer far away from popular culture. Think more horror art house style. Personally, I'll admit not an entertaining favorite, but it's an important film.

Three Wishes for Cinderella (Tri Orisky Pro Popelku) [DVD] is another fan favorite and was the most asked about film for the first five or so years that SurLaLune existed. I wasn't aware of it when I started SurLaLune. Now I know. Not your Perrault Cinderella, more like all the other versions that aren't known in pop culture.

Jim Henson's the Storyteller - The Definitive Collection is a cult classic for a reason. While I personally find the Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Complete Collection a little too campy and slightly tedious, there are few flaws to be found in this series of tales from Jim Henson and several other heavy hitters from the 80s, including narrator John Hurt (most recently known here in the US for the voice of the dragon in the BBC Merlin series.) I love these but some may disturb younger children, so know your audience. Highly recommended all the same.

On the more educational side, I also like Storybook International Collection 10 Disc Set. It is a series by different filmmakers, usually made in the country of origin for the tale. The quality is inconsistent, but we've enjoyed several of these and I still haven't watched them all, more from time than interest limits. There are a lot in here. Expect slower pacing than the average child is used to these days.

Finally, I enjoy the Brothers Grimm series by Tom Davenport. Again, not always consistent and these have older production values (as do most of the films on this list), but these linger in your brain. Of course, I am slightly biased since I'm from below the Mason Dixon line and Southern in all the best ways, but these are great renditions of tales, somewhat unexpected. My husband remembers watching them when he was in grade school, but I was never that fortunate. Our sentimental favorite is From the Brothers Grimm: Soldier Jack: The Man Who Caught Death in a Sack. John just referenced it a few weeks ago in casual conversation even though is has been years since we watched it. From the Brothers Grimm: Willa: An American Snow White is one of the best and unexpected ones, also the last one produced, I believe. These are also inconsistent in appropriateness for younger age levels.

Come to think of it, both the Brothers Grimm and Storyteller series offered darker renditions of tales 20+ years ago. This is not a new trend in the film industry just happening now.

Oh, I almost forgot!

Just kidding! Ella Enchanted [Blu-ray] is my absolute LEAST favorite fairy tale film. I ADORE the book and hate the film which removed anything lovely from the text. There are worst movies out there but none with as big of stars and budget as this clunker. Perhaps if I had been three years old when it was released, I may have liked it briefly. But this was painful. Very painful. And I had a 3-year-old niece who did enjoy it when it was released so I sat through it several times. Never improved with multiple exposures. The loathing only increased. And, yes, it may be okay if you've never read the book, but the book would have made an excellent movie just as it was. Yes, that is a common refrain with readers but this movie, yuck. Prime example of horrid Hollywood rewriting.

I'm sure I've forgotten 20 or so titles, but this is a start. Now what do you readers recommend?


  1. Yay! New fairy tale films for my collection! I recently watched Snow White: A Tale of Terror, with Sigourney Weaver playing the evil stepmother: Totally recommend it. I also love this ballet adaptation of The Little Mermaid, even though it's not really a film. It's called Ondine: My least favorite fairy tale adaptation is probably Snow White and the Huntsman, with Kristen Stewart. It was terrible, and it makes no sense. I wrote a blog post on it actually:

  2. I highly recommend this rather obscure anime version of Jack and the Beanstalk which has remained stuck in my head ever since I first saw it in Kindergarten--once. It's from 1974 and is called Jakku to Mame no Ki. I rediscovered it through youtube while in college--and it is still delightfully trippy. However, with the exception of one other person, nobody has any idea what I'm talking about when I bring it up.
    Sure, it has Jack, and a beanstalk--but once Jack gets to the other side we get a completely different tale.

  3. Do you know this one : ??
    It's "Le Petit Poucet" a french film from 1972.
    This movie fascinated me !

  4. I come in with a terrible bias, but I've completely fallen in love with the czech version of "Beauty and The Beast"... There are two films, based around the same script, that do a lovely job with it -- I think everyone knows Juraj Harz's Panna a Netvor these days, but a few years earlier, there is black and white made-for-TV version, Kraska a Zvire, that has some loveliness of its own, despite low production values and questionable costuming.

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  6. I love that you mentioned Slipper and the Rose! It is one of my absolute favorites. Have you seen Hanna? It is a secret agent film that uses tons of fairy tale imagery.

    1. I was surprised by this one - I loved it! I'm very aware it won't be to everyone's taste though - very raw and difficult stuff but it uses fairy tales well - and differently - to many other films.

  7. My favorite versions of Cinderella are 1) Zolushka, a great 1947 Russian movie, based upon Perrault's "Cendrillon". It's like the russian counterpart of "The Wizard of Oz": gorgeus sets and costumes, beautiful (vintage) visual effects and catchy songs, and of course good acting and script! 2) Aschenputtel, 2011, it's a German TV-movie, which is part of a beautiful Tv series named "Sechs auf einen streich" (Six at one blow, "Brave Little Tailor reference). It started on 2007 and it is upon its sixth season. The series retold faithfully various Grimm and Andersen's tales. The "Cinderella" episode is one of my favorite! It's really well done and well acted! 3) Lotte Reiniger's "Aschenputtel, 1922, the magic this woman could make only with paper and scissors!
    Then other fairy tale movies I love are 1) Rapunzel, 1988, another German movie really well made, which brilliantly combines the "Rapunzel" tale with "Maid Maleen"! A must-see!
    2) The Thief of Bagdad, 1940, this one really needs no explanations!
    3) Allerleirauh, 2012, a "Sechs auf einen streich" episode again, and really beautiful again!
    4) Every single episode of Jim Henson's The Storyteller!
    5) Every single epidode of the 1987 anime series "Grimm Meisaku Gekijo" (Grimm Masterpiece Theater), but the English dub is terrible! They edited and banned almost everything! The original version is better! This series contains my favorite version of Snow White!

    1. I'm glad you added Lotte Reiniger's film! She has so many to choose from. I find it hard to pick a favorite and definitely recommend them.
      I'm very curious about "Sechs auf einen streich"! I have to try and find a copy of these. Thank you.

    2. You have to! No question! They're great! I know that exists a english sub version of some episodes, called "Grimm's finest tales". This is a list (complete) of the german episodes:
      Season 1:
      Tischlein deck dich (The wishing table)
      König Drosselbart (King Thrushbeard)
      Frau Holle (Mother Holle)
      Das tapfere Schneiderlein (The Brave little tailor)
      Brüderchen und Schwesterchen (Brother and sister)
      Der Froschkönig (The Frog prince)

      Season 2:
      Schneewittchen (Snow White)
      Der gestiefelte Kater (Puss in boots)
      Dornröschen (Briar Rose)
      Die Gänsemagd (The Goose maid)
      Rumpelstilzchen (Rumplestiltskin)
      Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten (The Town musicians of Bremen)
      Die kluge Bauerntochter (The farmer's clever daughter)

      Season 3
      Das blaue Licht (The blue light)
      Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse (The princess and the pea)
      Der Meisterdieb (The Master thief)
      Des Kaisers neue Kleider (The Emperor's new clothes)

      Season 4:
      Jorinde und Joringel (Jorinda and Jorindel)
      Aschenputtel (Cinderella)
      Die Sterntaler (The star money)
      Die zertanzten Schuhe (The worn-out dancing shoes)

      Season 5:
      Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood)
      Schneeweißchen und Rosenrot (Snow White and Rose Red)
      Hänsel und Gretel (Hansel and Gretel)
      Allerleirauh (All Fur)

      Season 6:
      Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern (The Little Match Girl)
      Die kleine Meerjungfrau (The Little Mermaid)
      Der Fischer und seine Frau (The Fisherman and his wife)
      Der Teufel mit den drei goldenen Haaren (The Devil's three golden hairs)

      They're all available on DVD, in german, but no subtitles!

  8. I was hoping to join the conversation on the weekend but wasn't able to. Apologies for being late with my additions.

    First of all: The Storyteller series & Cocteau's Beauty & the Beast would have to be my favorites. Being partial to Snow White "A Tale of Terror" is great.
    Other films I'd recommend seeing are:
    - Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade - it's anime and I usually can only take anime in small doses but this film is quite amazing (and not for kids!). Little red Riding Hood with a big difference during an alternate history in 1950's post-war Japan.
    - Hallmark's made for TV mini-series Arabian Nights was beautifully done for the most part. The writing is well done and the way the stories interweave is wonderful. I've enjoyed every repeat viewing despite it having less-than-perfect moments from time-to-time.
    - Also Hallmark's Hans Christian Andersen: My Life As A Fairy Tale - is a nicely done fictional account of HCA's life with his stories woven in.
    - If I could take out little chunks of Gilliam's Brothers Grimm and leave the rest I would - maybe one day I'l reedit the whole thing into a short film for my own personal enjoyment! Some of the sequences are breathtaking, the rest make me want to hurl the movie across the room.
    - Pan's Labyrinth - totally fairy tale, both dark and light (and dark again) but not for kids
    - Edward Scissorhands - I couldn't believe it took me so long to see. It's a lot more family friendly than I originally thought and deals with a few fairy tale tropes & has become a family favorite
    - The Princess Bride mixes up a lot of fairy tale standards (expectations) for a new tale and kids love this too (the book is even more marvelous!)
    - The Red Shoes - almost up there with Cocteau's Beauty & the Beast

    I've also seen a wide variety of impressive short films and foreign shorts that I can't recall the names of right now. :/

    I was pleasantly surprised by Ondine and Black Swan (though the second is not for the faint of heart) and by how both wove the fairy tales throughout the movie. Ondine is unexpectedly tender. Black Swan makes a good modern companion to The Red Shoes (though families can watch Moira Shearer and fall in love with ballet, whereas as Black Swan is for mature audiences only and akin to a giant "don't choose this career" sign).
    - Amelie is very much a fairy tale type of film too, though not specifically so. If you can watch it in French it's even better. :)

    Argh! I have forgotten so many! Oh well. Hopefully more people will chime in late with their recs as well.

  9. A feature-length story of a single FairyTail mission. It introduces all the anime's core characters doing what they do best, but the plot falls short of the series' usually-high standards. It was nice to see Juvia and Gray teaming up and Erza doing impulse shopping.