Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Film's Grimm Future ; Once upon a Time, Fairy Tales Lived Happily Ever after. Now They're Being Rejiggered for Stage and Screen

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Film's Grimm Future ; Once upon a Time, Fairy Tales Lived Happily Ever after. Now They're Being Rejiggered for Stage and Screen

Article excerpt

After centuries of fairy tales, most people are familiar with the workings of fortune-telling mirrors, enchanted frogs, and masked balls. They know to be wary if grandmother looks a little hairier than usual, and to check under the mattress for stray peas if they're having trouble sleeping.

But just because everyone knows that Cinderella gets the guy in the end, and that Sleeping Beauty awakens, doesn't mean they are tired of hearing the tales. At least that's what Hollywood, book publishers, and playwrights all hope.

This year alone, at least two versions of Cinderella are hitting the big screen, including "Ella Enchanted," opening Friday, and "A Cinderella Story," with Hilary Duff, in July. Next month the animated "Shrek 2" arrives, and later in the year expect the story of the brothers Grimm, who popularized fairy tales two centuries ago. Fairy-tale plays aimed at children - and some just at adults - are easy to come by in New York this spring, offering a new take on the tale of the frog king and musings about the nature of evil.

Contemporary writers like to tinker with the classics in much the same way the brothers Grimm did. More than just adding cellphones or shopping malls, many imbue the tales with a modern sensibility: What if the frog were kissed and the girl turned into a frog, too? What if Hansel and Gretel

wanted revenge on their parents? What if Cinderella weren't so passive?

They're not likely to turn off audiences, since they're building on a genre that has been with people from childhood - one that forges a common language.

"This is our cultural legacy," says Maria Tatar, who teaches a course in fairy tales, children's literature, and the culture of childhood at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "We haven't all read Hamlet, but we all know immediately what Little Red Riding Hood is about."

Today, the influence of fairy tales is found in everything from TV commercials to artwork, and is particularly noticeable in movies and books. Fairy-tale scholar Jack Zipes counted at least 100 different Cinderella-type stories published in the three-year period leading up to 2002, ranging from picture books to novels for adults. "All of these are attempts to present alternatives to this basic schema: What does a girl do when her mother dies?" he says.

Despite their centuries-old roots, fairy tales deal with issues that people still grapple with, says Professor Zipes, who teaches at the University of Minnesota. Cinderella is about blended families - and survival. And most tales deal with gender or class conflict. "Even though the language is metaphorical, people grasp immediately what these basic conditions are that we have to confront daily and never seem to overcome in any way," he says.

Often there are battles between good and evil, which can be easier to handle in a tale. And, as Professor Tatar notes, there's something satisfying about seeing the oppressors dealt with in the end. (Anyone who's seen the wicked stepmother in "Ever After" - played by Anjelica Huston - get her comeuppance can relate.)

Readers who love the tales from their youth aren't necessarily enamored by all the "updates" - for example, some people find the idea of Prince Charming visiting a shopping mall off-putting. But Tatar argues that collections like "The Blue Fairy Book" aren't exactly the Bible. …

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