The 8 Best Live Action ‘Fairytale’ Retellings (That Aren’t Disney)
These are the films Disney wishes they had made..
A lot of people are tired of Disney’s cash grab live-action remakes (and for good reason), but that doesn’t mean live-action fairytales can’t be amazing or don’t deserve recognition. Here’s some truly magical live-action fairytale retellings that were not mad e by Disney. (We are still excited for the upcoming The Little Mermaid, however. But we could maybe stop there, Disney.)
La Belle et la Bête
This 1940s French surrealist film greatly inspired Disney’s telling of the story and many other ‘Beauty and the Beast’ stories to come out since. It was so iconic that it also was remade in 2014 (I guess pointless remakes aren’t just an American thing). Still, the original is a beautiful, highly influential movie that should be more widely seen by all who love a tale as old as time.
Technically, after the Fox/Disney merger, this is officially under the Disney umbrella, but the 1998 movie starring Drew Barrymore remains a standout amongst live action Cinderella adaptations and fairytale adaptations in general. Danielle is a standout Cinderella, balancing intelligence and power with vulnerability and hope. Add in one of the best Cinderella dresses of all time and you’ve got a standout film that holds up decades later.
Mulan: Rise of a Warrior
This 2009 Chinese action movie is the movie the 2020 Disney Mulan was trying to be, hence why it is on this list despite not being about a fairytale character. A war epic that deals with the harsh realities of war and command, this movie does not pull punches. Mulan (Zhao Wei) loses friends in the war and she feels guilt for failing men in her command. It’s the kind of realism that was lacking in the Disney live-action remake.
Snow White and the Huntsman
Granted this was probably also influenced by the Alice in Wonderland remake, but Once Upon a Time’s Mary Margaret/Snow White was clearly influenced by this kind of warrior princess. This 2012 movie featured Charlize Theron as an amazing Evil Queen, Chris Hemsworth’s huntsman was a solid male lead (even if his relationship with Snow White was retconned by the sequel), and Kirsten Stewart in armor is something on many queer women’s checklists.
Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier
Not only is this a better version of Maleficent, but it’s also arguably a better adaptation of Aladdin, calling out the main character’s deceitful tendencies while also being a meta commentary on 2000s Disney. However, be warned that this is a Team Starkid production and as such is very white, with some cringeworthy jokes about the racism of the original film that also play into those same negative stereotypes about Arab/Middle Eastern people. (Though considering the history of Arabian Nights, that’s pretty par for the course.)
Hook or Peter Pan (2003)
The classic 1991 Steven Spielberg movie Hook is a favorite amongst Peter Pan fans and Robin Williams fans alike and for good reason; it basically codified the type of remake where a fictional character comes back to the fiction world as an adult, making it effectively a sequel to the original story. But I think Peter Pan (2003) is underrated for how it portrays Wendy as having a lot of agency in her story and not just being delegated to the role of housekeeper / storyteller for the lost boys.
The Wizard of Oz
Some people don’t consider 1939’s The Wizard of Oz to be a fairytale as much as a fantasy story, but I think it’s got all the notable aspects: talking animals, witches, journeys through dark forests, magical shoes. This was also one of the earliest movies with an active female protagonist and a powerful female antagonist.
This 2006 movie was one of the first instances of platonic, not romantic, true love saving the day. Aquamarine retold the familiar story of a mermaid having to find true love in 3 days or else she is doomed to a terrible fate. Only this time, it’s her two human best friends whose love saves her, years before Frozen, Maleficent, and Once Upon a Time did it. Also, this movie was a bi-awakening for young me and its queer subtext should not be discounted.
Ones to come:
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio
Do you like stop motion? Do you like Guillermo Del Toro? Do you like (hopefully) good adaptations of Pinocchio? Then eagerly await the Guillermo Del Toro Pinocchio, arriving on Netflix in December 2022.
(Personally, I think Disney rushed production of their Pinocchio remake just to compete with this movie, but that’s just my personal tinfoil hat theory.)
While I’m hesitant about this one due to apparently now being divided into two separate movies (because that never ends badly, just ask The Hobbit or Divergent or Hunger Games series), I am still excited to see Elphaba defy gravity on the silver screen.
What’s your favorite fairytale retelling (Disney or otherwise)?
(featured image: Universal Pictures)
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