Posted By: Brock Swinson
With two Snow White movies coming out in the same year, it’s obvious the fairy tale trend is spreading like a medieval plague. Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror are on the big screen while Once Upon a Time airs weekly on ABC. Ironically, Disney also chose to shelve their version of Snow White into the Disney vault; meaning they temporarily take the video out of stores to release again later. Whether it’s television and film or comic books and novels, princesses and evil stepmothers are all the craze. In recent years, it’s difficult to clarify this fascination as a fad because fairy tales never really left the mainstream. In addition to Snow White, Catherine Hardwicke, hot off the Twilight project, followed up the Vampire love story with an updated Red-Riding Hood. In this version, the girl is actually in love with the werewolf. This updated, enhanced phase says a great deal about current society and modern relationships in general.
Ginnifer Goodwin from Once Upon a Time, concluded the following about the recent trend: “I understand why society, especially American society is gravitating toward fairy tales given our economy. We’ve been exploring the world of witches and wizards for years. We’ve been exploring the world of vampires for years. Clearly the public–I mean, I feel like all of this was ushered in by Harry Potter–in my own fannish beliefs. But the world has been responding in the last 10, 12, 15 years very strongly to fantasies. I think it’s always been a reflection of where we are as a society.” This seems to be true, but it’s obvious that any fictional tale can take an audience into another world and help them escape from the present, if only for a moment. Movies are meant to help viewers escape and bring out an emotional response in an audience. Syd Field and countless film experts will always say that film is meant to elicit emotion. Perhaps Goodwin is right, but it seems there could be more to this trend. Perhaps we should continue down the rabbit hole…
The largest and most obvious difference in these new tales are the complex love stories and violence overload. On a timeline of movie-watchers, it makes sense that these movies are being viewed by former Disney fans. In the past, little boys and girls watched their favorite Disney heroes and villains fight it out until their VCRs finally ate the tapes. Back then, the stories always ended cleanly and were wrapped up with a bow on top. The villain was always defeated and the Princess was always swept off her feet by the handsome Prince. By using familiar characters (Snow White and Red-Riding Hood), the movie studios are cashing in on the fact that these children have grown into adults with realistic daily problems. Audiences want to see familiar characters but they also want to watch someone solve new-age problems. Rather than watching good-guy/bad-guy fights and kiss-curing-spells, audiences now want complex sexual relationships and gory violence. According to a popular online news source Back Stage West, “to the audience, a steamy love scene can be titillating and intimate; it can intensify the story and move it along.” Fairy tales have always ended rather cleanly. Perhaps this is part of the current fascination. Whether it’s a past-due mortgage or another year of college tuition, audiences need to see wrongs set right and the lost be found.
Harvard’s Maria Tatar, chairperson of Folklore and Mythology, has a slightly different theory on the recent fairy tale phase of mass media. In the New Yorker, she is quoted as saying: “Boy heroes clearly had a hard time surviving the nineteenth-century migration of fairy tales from the communal heart into the nursery…Once mothers, nannies, and domestics were in charge of telling stories at bedtime; it seems they favored tales with female heroines.” It’s true. Except for Jack and the Beanstalk, most fairy tales focus on females. Tales provide female heroes and villains, and males in the stories are more like personified traits than actual characters. They don’t even have names. Just a list of traits and a title of Prince Charming will fit in nearly every story. As women of today have more and more complex roles in society, it’s possible some of their role models were Disney Princesses. Somewhere between Disney and Twilight, these women decided they didn’t want to wait around in an Ivory Tower and would rather go out and find their own Prince or resolve their own story.