Total Recall

Total Recall: Big-Screen Fairy Tales

With Snow White and the Huntsman hitting theaters, we run down some memorable films based on folkloric fantasy.

by | May 31, 2012 | Comments

Fairy Tale Movies

Snow White and the Huntsman opens this weekend, following closely behind Mirror Mirror and marking the second trip to theaters for the Fairest of Them All in 2012. With plenty of other folkloric fantasy adaptations in our recent past (Red Riding Hood, Beastly) and plenty more on the horizon (including Jack the Giant Killer and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters), fairy tales are having something of a moment right now — but as any film fan could tell you, and as this week’s list demonstrates, this is nothing new in Hollywood. There are countless examples of filmmakers turning to fairy tales for inspiration, but we couldn’t possibly fit all those once upon a times and happily ever afters into a single feature. Which of your favorites made the cut? Find out in the latest Total Recall!

Beauty and the Beast


We could have filled this list with Disney pictures, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun — and still, when the time came to pick a Beauty and the Beast for our feature, it was no contest. A huge, Best Picture-nominated hit during its original run — and a big success all over again during its repeated reissues — Disney’s version of this timeless tale is the one that comes to mind for multiple generations when they think of Beauty and the Beast. And while it may have taken a few storyline liberties with the original text (and while the IMAX and 3D additions don’t really improve the story), the most important part remains: As Jay Boyar wrote for the Orlando Sentinel, it “Moves us because we know that true love can sometimes seem like a mismatch. And also because, in love, we can all feel like captives or beasts.”

The Brothers Grimm


Their stories have inspired plenty of films, so it’s only fitting that Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm got to topline their own movie in 2005 — albeit one that starred Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as wildly fictionalized versions of the brothers. With a pair of matinee idols in the leads, Terry Gilliam behind the cameras, and an effects-heavy storyline that pitted the Grimms against a fairy tale curse and a wicked queen, The Brothers Grimm could have been a smash hit; unfortunately, its strife-plagued production only led to indifferent reviews and a mildly disappointing $105 million gross. Still, some critics thought Gilliam’s flair was enough to transcend the film’s flaws; as Bob Strauss of the Los Angeles Daily News argued, “You won’t want to pass this version of The Brothers Grimm on to your children. But you may find yourself coming back to marvel at parts of it for the rest of your life.”

Ever After: A Cinderella Story


Starring an utterly winsome Drew Barrymore as the young woman who catches a prince’s eye — but has to overcome her stepmother’s cruel mistreatment to find true love — 1998’s Ever After drew on historical details for its background while offering a postmodern twist to the Cinderella story, positioning its heroine as a woman capable of saving herself from peril (and her royal beau, if need be). Sure, the audience knew the whole story by heart, but with Andy Tennant’s sumptuous direction, a supporting cast that included Anjelica Huston and Dougray Scott, and Barrymore in those glass slippers, they didn’t mind watching it unfold one more time — and neither did Roger Ebert, who proclaimed, “The old tale still has life and passion in it.”



When she made her debut in 1991’s The Man in the Moon, Reese Witherspoon looked like a luminous, innocent kid. Fast-forward five years later to Freeway, and goodness gracious, how things changed: A miniskirt-rocking Witherspoon starred opposite Kiefer Sutherland in this grimy, violent loose update on the story of Red Riding Hood, following a prostitute’s daughter on her dangerous journey up southern California’s I-5 freeway to find her grandmother. (Sutherland, naturally, was the leering serial killer standing in for the wolf.) While not a particularly pleasant film, Freeway earned its young star some career-boosting rave reviews, including Margaret A. McGurk’s writeup for the Cincinnati Enquirer: “I didn’t particularly want to like Freeway,” admitted McGurk, “but I couldn’t help myself. Reese Witherspoon made me.”

Hans Christian Andersen


It’s named after the famous storyteller, but don’t watch 1952’s Hans Christian Andersen looking for a biopic; instead, producer Samuel Goldwyn opted to create a typically lavish musical extravaganza, starring Danny Kaye as Andersen in a sort of fairytale revue that includes nods to “The Little Mermaid,” “Thumbelina,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” As a result, it’s sort of all over the place, but it has a certain gregarious charm that wasn’t lost on audiences, the Academy (who nominated it for six Oscars), or critics; as Variety put it, “No attempt at biography is made, so the imaginative production has full rein in bringing in songs and ballet numbers to round out the Andersen fairy tales told by Kaye.”

The Pied Piper


Take a heaping helping of 1960s psychedelic strangeness, stir it into the timeless legend of the Pied Piper, and you’ve got this 1972 drama starring folk troubadour Donovan as the piper, who’s tricked by the unscrupulous Donald Pleasance into exterminating a village’s worth of rats and is then shortchanged on the fee. You know what happens next — the Piper gets even by stealing the village’s children, Donovan performs a few musical numbers, and Dylan humiliates him at a party. (Oh, wait — wrong movie.) Generally speaking, critics weren’t as entranced by The Pied Piper as the kids in the movie, but it earned nods of approval from a few scribes — including J. Hoberman of the Village Voice, who called it “A dark and smoky affair that, although set in Germany during the Black Death summer of 1349, suggests something brainstormed in a St. Marks Place head shop.”



Like plenty of other Oscar-winning actors, Roberto Benigni used the clout he earned with his awards (Best Actor and Best Foreign Film for Life Is Beautiful) to help get his passion project made. And it had plenty of potential, too — Carlo Callodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio is a classic book, but the character has become more closely identified with its somewhat bowdlerized Disney counterpart, and Benigni could have channeled his love for the book into a more faithful film. Alas, he chose instead to create one of the strangest (and vaguely creepiest) family movies of the 21st century, starring Benigni himself (who also directed and co-wrote the script) as the impish wooden boy. In fairness, it should be pointed out that the international version of Pinocchio did fairly well, but in the States, the English overdubs only compounded the overall weirdness of what unfolded on the screen. As an incredulous Edward Guthmann asked for the San Francisco Chronicle: “What can one say about a balding 50-year-old actor playing an innocent boy carved from a log?”



Strictly speaking, the Shrek franchise was inspired by the classic William Stieg children’s book from which it takes its name — but along the way, the four Shrek films (plus their Puss in Boots spinoff) have gotten a lot of mileage out of lampooning fairy tales. From the first film, which featured a heroic ogre and a princess who knew kung fu — not to mention comedic cameos from Pinocchio, the Gingerbread Man, the Three Little Pigs, and many others — the Shrek series has offered critically approved (and wildly commercially successful) proof that there’s still plenty of creative life left in the stories we all know by heart. They are, as CNN’s Paul Tatara wrote of the first film, “A heck of a lot of fun — even if you don’t believe in fairy tales.”

Sydney White


Put Snow White on a modern college campus and substitute a gaggle of social outcasts for the seven dwarves, and you’ve got 2007’s Sydney White, an Amanda Bynes rom-com about an adorably perky freshman who runs afoul of a popular girl on campus and ends up befriending seven unpopular kids. Along the way, she unwittingly infuriates her nemesis with her widely acknowledged beauty, suffering the effects of an infected Apple (computer) for her transgression before being kissed by…well, you know the story. In spite of Bynes’ charms and the aforementioned clever modern parallels, Sydney struck out with audiences as well as most critics — although it proved a pleasant diversion for Laura Kern of the New York Times, who argued, “Ms. Bynes, with her cherubic face, expressive eyes and comic timing, helps create a positive, pleasing diversion that caters to the geek in all of us.”

tom thumb


Starring Russ Tamblyn in the title role, this 1958 production put a whimsical (and appropriately special effects-heavy) spin on the tale of a diminutive lad who always seems to be getting himself out of one horrible jam after another. With a stellar supporting cast that included Alan Young and Peter Sellers, soundtrack assistance from Peggy Lee, and direction from FX wiz George Pal, tom thumb turned a handsome profit at the box office, earned an Academy Award for Special Effects, and earned praise from a number of critics — including the folks at Film4, who called it “one of the most memorable and beloved films directed by special-effects pioneer Pal, with Tamblyn looking bright and fresh-faced as the diminutive fairytale hero.”

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Snow White and the Huntsman.


Tag Cloud

book adaptation USA finale renewed TV shows universal monsters Fantasy zero dark thirty A24 Musical live event politics Best Director ABC Family Fargo debate Calendar game show crime drama interviews comic book movie classics Alien TIFF Pirates mutant black TruTV SXSW Quiz 79th Golden Globes Awards HBO Max biopic Cartoon Network adaptation new york justice league laika OneApp The Arrangement die hard Stephen King Sci-Fi NBA Peacock war technology Television Academy lord of the rings obituary summer TV 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards anime Comic Book TV witnail streaming 1990s Lucasfilm batman Women's History Month latino Comics on TV Fox News historical drama rt archives festival blockbuster free movies 2021 CBS All Access YouTube Red biography french Election Trophy Talk Christmas halloween tv ABC Signature period drama CW Seed DC streaming service Endgame superman nature asian-american science fiction VH1 crossover Best and Worst blockbusters adventure OWN supernatural BBC One serial killer Wes Anderson comiccon Disney+ Disney Plus Extras Focus Features RT History gangster Reality Competition Western vampires HBO Go Toys Disney Pride Month See It Skip It The Witch Marathons Biopics canceled TV shows foreign book Thanksgiving crime thriller Spring TV Adult Swim Avengers trophy Certified Fresh marvel comics dogs razzies anthology Sundance Cannes Countdown Apple TV Plus stop motion critic resources indie BBC marvel cinematic universe jamie lee curtis legend disaster screenings Tubi new zealand child's play TV Land Image Comics crime festivals Rom-Com Logo tv talk DC Comics FOX Emmys CBS Star Wars Columbia Pictures 93rd Oscars japanese Epix National Geographic Family E3 natural history BET slashers PlayStation dark Mystery Watching Series singing competition psychological thriller unscripted Mary Poppins Returns genre ITV revenge Arrowverse Amazon Studios space Funimation scorecard 72 Emmy Awards Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Apple TV+ Captain marvel Pop TV films twilight FX blaxploitation GIFs vs. WGN kids australia movie action-comedy diversity BET Awards Red Carpet Paramount Plus rt labs TCA FX on Hulu docudrama Lifetime Walt Disney Pictures 2015 christmas movies video on demand golden globe awards Writers Guild of America The Academy hispanic heritage month Best Picture richard e. Grant Polls and Games Sundance TV Vudu Oscar award winner Exclusive Video Film Festival TV One scary New York Comic Con robots CNN Nat Geo Tags: Comedy NBC Chernobyl Song of Ice and Fire chucky Hallmark Christmas movies TCA 2017 worst Rock Set visit YouTube Premium animated name the review Disney Channel The Purge king kong kong Trivia sports fresh leaderboard Creative Arts Emmys sitcom emmy awards rotten movies we love First Look all-time hispanic facebook parents Dark Horse Comics 45 golden globes international TCA Awards game of thrones joker based on movie mob king arthur Black Mirror DC Universe LGBTQ RT21 Turner Classic Movies ViacomCBS cults MCU Syfy sopranos Shudder spider-man Hear Us Out 4/20 Cosplay scene in color series Masterpiece Marvel Television spanish Binge Guide hollywood streaming movies werewolf posters Mary poppins prank TV movies a nightmare on elm street Grammys Ovation Comic-Con@Home 2021 psycho comic book movies BBC America Geeked Week DirecTV Native adenture 21st Century Fox Esquire Prime Video Valentine's Day stoner 20th Century Fox criterion deadpool Travel Channel basketball heist movie doctor who jurassic park Film E! Paramount Network Disney streaming service worst movies LGBT Amazon Rocky comic books dragons Box Office documentaries sag awards DGA Tokyo Olympics PaleyFest Country children's TV Brie Larson Paramount Pictures Fall TV Elton John trailers South by Southwest Film Festival Best Actress green book Paramount zombie cartoon Mudbound Pixar Music 90s cinemax strong female leads pirates of the caribbean Food Network spanish language 24 frames Premiere Dates APB composers Marvel Studios Holidays dc X-Men remakes kaiju italian HFPA Shondaland nfl theme song football 2018 2016 President SundanceTV Apple 2020 dceu MTV olympics GLAAD telelvision Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Discovery Channel broadcast suspense 2019 ESPN toronto true crime saw screen actors guild superhero feel good Hulu young adult target Legendary SXSW 2022 2017 movies spider-verse American Society of Cinematographers indiana jones TCA Winter 2020 new star wars movies zombies versus cancelled Ghostbusters MGM FXX cancelled TV shows dramedy cancelled television Netflix wonder woman Comedy Central cooking summer TV preview scene in color film series Infographic Mary Tyler Moore miniseries high school Opinion sequels IFC Films 71st Emmy Awards Video Games Sneak Peek cops Sundance Now Amazon Prime Turner Character Guide The Walt Disney Company Musicals Nickelodeon Neflix Photos spy thriller franchise Tumblr spain summer preview Amazon Prime Video cancelled TV series 99% AMC Plus live action YouTube social media political drama El Rey Pacific Islander Reality Ellie Kemper Drama comic spinoff Horror series Crunchyroll Marvel Academy Awards concert Pop comedies Bravo sequel Classic Film Black History Month black comedy 73rd Emmy Awards Anna Paquin Broadway art house Lionsgate casting Trailer The Walking Dead Universal Interview 94th Oscars venice GoT boxing USA Network Showtime video talk show Sony Hallmark Oscars nbcuniversal Animation stand-up comedy Netflix Christmas movies rotten Mindy Kaling Fox Searchlight 007 james bond TLC Tarantino reviews Awards Tour scary movies dexter transformers fast and furious Indigenous Crackle news monster movies know your critic mcc television directors VICE obi wan discovery japan Freeform Star Wars Celebration teaser slasher Disney Plus The CW Comedy Best Actor NYCC Rocketman TV renewals History TCM Super Bowl royal family popular HBO ABC MSNBC YA IMDb TV binge Universal Pictures quibi romance Podcast Star Trek south america Action Pet Sematary godzilla SDCC Starz romantic comedy aapi breaking bad canceled cats Tomatazos travel Martial Arts Spike Sony Pictures mission: impossible hist rt labs critics edition archives hidden camera best Spectrum Originals Lifetime Christmas movies boxoffice rom-coms ID Warner Bros. First Reviews streamig AMC Instagram Live target scene in color halloween reboot Winners women harry potter San Diego Comic-Con comics documentary thriller Superheroes Heroines aliens independent CMT Year in Review docuseries BAFTA critics TBS Teen TNT Summer dreamworks mockumentary PBS police drama cars scene in color what to watch Superheroe Television Critics Association Schedule A&E satire Acorn TV Winter TV ratings ghosts elevated horror WarnerMedia Baby Yoda medical drama toy story VOD Awards Emmy Nominations Nominations Holiday Kids & Family Hollywood Foreign Press Association IFC Britbox