Magic & Myth: Fairy Tales on Film

2013 is shaping up to be the year of the Fairy Tale. A number of film adaptations of popular children’s tales are coming soon to theaters as the fairy tale genre is making a comeback with highly anticipated releases of such wondrous fantasies as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Now playing), Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters (Jan. 25), The Sorcerer and the White Snake (Feb. 8), Jack the Giant Slayer (March 1), Oz: The Great and Powerful (March 8), Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (Aug. 16), Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage (2013), and computer animated films like Epic (May 24), and Dorothy of Oz (2013). 

Hollywood is breathing new life into these timeless traditional fables that may draw some children and adults back to the original canon of stories by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault, the authors of the ancient Arabian Nights tales, and Greek, Roman and Norse myths. The enchanting worlds and characters in folklore, populated with mythical supernatural beings like Giants, Dragons, Wizards, Witches, Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Ogres, Trolls, Titans,  Cyclopes’, flying horses and all manner of creatures never seen before, have always fascinated audiences young and old alike, as they sat around a crackling fire. 

Making these stories come alive, using special visual effects techniques unique to the new medium of film, was a natural irresistible impulse from the beginning, but proved to be a daunting task, and notoriously difficult and expensive to do realistically. The brave films that attempted these types of stories using puppets, men in suits or stop-motion models, often looked antiquated at best. But that didn’t stop people from trying any way they could, no matter how strange the outcome, so willing are we to suspend our disbelief in order that we may relive that feeling of wonder and excitement we remember as children. 

Made by a special breed of dedicated artists and craftsmen, most of whom were relegated to obscurity except for a handful, who eventually became as legendary as the mythical beasts they made come to life, these films gained a loyal fan following. People like Georges Méliès, Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Jim Henson, Dennis Muren and Phil Tippet were just some of the unsung heroes of  magic and myth come vividly to life, in such classic cult fantasy adventure films as King Kong (1933), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), One Million Years B.C. (1966), Clash of the Titans (1981), Dragonslayer (1981), The Dark Crystal (1982), The NeverEnding Story (1984), Legend (1985), Labyrinth (1986), Willow (1988), and The Adventure of Baron Munchausen (1989). 

Folk & fairy tales have traditionally been the domain of animation because it was easier and cheaper to create fantastic stories by simply drawing them on paper. But the results were two dimensional and not nearly as exciting as live-action. That all changed with the phenomenal success of Star Wars (1977), which enabled George Lucas to hire a small group of computer geeks in the early 80s to develop new ways to use the up and coming science of computers in the production and editing of visual effects in movies. It was the beginning of a new digital revolution that would change the way movies were made and set the entire film industry on a course toward a digital future. The fledgling group of computer geeks eventually became known as PIXAR and their pioneering technology gave rise to landmark films like Jurassic Park (1993) and Toy Story (1995), featuring the first realistic digital characters. 

Both live action and animated films have greatly benefited from digital advances in film making and we are now able to make anything we can imagine look amazingly real. The traditional methods of creating movie magic became almost obsolete and changed forever between the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Since then, fantasy films have enjoyed the benefits of much more realistic digital creations with movies like Jumanji (1995), DragonHeart (1996), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Arabian Nights (2000), The Lord of the Rings (2001 – 2003), and the Harry Potter series (2001 – 2011). 

The art and science of the digital medium continues to evolve and improve, showcasing their eye-popping visual creations in new fantasy tales and classic fables like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), The Chronicles of Narnia (2005), King Kong (2005), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), The Golden Compass (2007), The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008), Inkheart (2009), Avatar (2009), Alice in Wonderland (2010), Clash of the Titans (2010), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010), John Carter (2012), Wrath of the Titans (2012), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012). 

The future of the fantasy adventure is looking brighter every year as the technology gets cheaper and easier to use with awesome results. We can now look forward to all our favorite fairy tales, no matter how fantastic, being as real as you imagined them when your mother read the book to you as a child. Thus we can expect to see remakes and re-imaginings coming to theaters near you. 

Did you ever wonder what happened to Hansel and Gretel after their famous escape from the witch’s oven? Get ready for the story of Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters (Jan. 25, 2013). All grown up now, they work as a pair of bounty hunting witch hunters starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton. 

Did you ever ask yourself how the great Wizard, from The Wizard of Oz (1939), ended up in the world of Oz? Well, with next year’s Oz: The Great and Powerful (March 8, 2013), we will finally know. 

You know of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), but what about the other voyages? Now there is a new Sinbad adventure from the Arabian Night tales, Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage (2013).  

Also look for a spectacular new live action retelling of the classic Jack and the Beanstalk tale, Jack the Giant Slayer (March 1, 2013), by X-Men (2000), Superman Returns (2006) and Valkyrie (2008) director, Bryan Singer. 

There will also be a new Percy Jackson & the Olympians adventure coming to the big screen in August as the demigod teenager Percy Jackson battles Titans and Cyclopes’ in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, that will continue the popular book series created by Rick Riordan. 

Also look for The Sorcerer and the White Snake, a Chinese fantasy adventure film coming this February based on a Chinese legend about a thousand year old snake disguised as a woman who seduces a man when a sorcerer discovers her true identity.  



The Desert Rocks said...

Have you see the Open Doors Fractured Fairy Tales Anthology that just came out this month? Cool creative stories that might someday be made into films. Great post by the way.

JP said...
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JP said...

Thanks! No I haven't heard about this book until now. It sounds like a great read. I will certainly be looking for it soon. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Susan Cooper said...

I haven't seen any of these movies. That is a surprise because I think I would like some of them. Thank you for showcasing them. I will be on the look out for a few of these.

Edward Reid said...

I must agree with the post as I have witnessed technological advances have a tremendous impact on film overall. Fairy Tales are easy targets for new films because we are already familiar with the stories. The film maker simply breathes more life into the story.

Leora said...

The Oz movies alone are an exciting development! I predict I will be taking my daughter to the Rick Riordan film - she is quite a fan.

Greg Chirinian said...

Very Good post. I am looking forward to Oz

Greg Chirinian said...

Thank you for a great post I am looking forward to Oz to see what technology can do to bring this classic back again for another generation of viewers