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Underrated Movies That Treat Fairy Tales Seriously

Updated August 24, 2021 747 votes 113 voters 3.4k views14 items

List RulesVote up the movies that turn fairy tales into something more than kid stuff.

Dark fairy tale movies are able to play with their audience in a way standard horror films aren't, simply because they're able to go back to an audience member's own childhood by twisting a story they've heard their whole lives. Playing with these established characters and tropes allows a filmmaker easier access to a viewer's psyche. A horror movie where a kid is devoured by a witch is scary enough, but make it an even darker take on Hansel and Gretel, and your audience will be eating it out of your hand. 

Taking an old fairy tale and modernizing it with an R-rating is fairly cliche at this point, but because there have been so many, some genuinely good ones have managed to slip between the cracks. 

  • There are plenty of films that tell serious versions of the tales made popular by The Brothers Grimm. But Ever After goes a step further by incorporating that idea into the structure of the movie, as this film opens with an ancestor of the real-life Cinderella explaining the actual story to the Brothers themselves. 

    Ever After has an evil stepmother and ugly stepsisters, but also incorporates a prince fleeing from his castle, Leonardo da Vinci, and a group of bandits. In multiple instances, both the Cinderella stand-in and the prince have to literally fight for their love. 

    Lisa Schwarzbaum for Entertainment Weekly went into the movie knowing that a Cinderella without the fantastical elements would have to be excellent to please her, and according to her review, it passed that test. Schwarzbaum agrees with other reviewers that Drew Barrymore - and her character Danielle - is the main reason to see the film. Stating that, unlike other fairy tale protagonists, Danielle is the type that "argues about economic theory and civil rights with her royal suitor - rather than a passive, exploited hearth sweeper who warbles 'A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.'"

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  • Hook takes a look at the Peter Pan story from a different angle. In this tale, the forever boyish Peter Pan moves away from Neverland and grows up. He has a child of his own but is too swept up with his career to properly care for his kids. 

    When his kids go to Neverland, Peter has to rekindle his youthfulness to rescue them and win back the love of his children. It's a decidedly more nuanced take on what it means to stay a kid forever, and how that's not such a bad thing after all. 

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  • Maleficent aims to show a different side of the Sleeping Beauty story. Instead of the black-and-white storytelling for children, this movie has shades of grey. Maleficent isn’t evil, she’s simply scorned as a peasant boy betrays her trust to increase his standing in the kingdom. This leads her to curse his child, but as she watches over the kid throughout the years, she begins to care for it, leading her to attempt to break her own curse.

    In this story, it’s Maleficent’s own “true love” for Sleeping Beauty that wakes her up

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  • In the 19th century, the real-life Brothers Grimm spent their days collecting, rewriting, and publishing folklore. These stories are all-time classics that have greatly affected English literature. Among their ranks are household names like Cinderella and Snow White. 

    In 2005's The Brothers Grimm, starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, the brothers are portrayed as con artists who travel from town to town to trick citizens into thinking they’re fighting monsters. Eventually, their travels lead them into an actual evil magical plot by a cursed queen to regain her youth and beauty. Their adventures later serve as the basis for their career change into becoming fairy tale authors.

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