The resurgence of fairy tales
"Once Upon a Time" premiers on ABC this Sunday.
October 21st, 2011
03:27 PM ET

The resurgence of fairy tales

Editor's note: Emma Loggins is the editor of Fanbolt.com, an fan news site that specializes in behind-the-scenes information and interviews with the casts and crews of entertainment franchises with organized fan bases.

ABC and NBC have added new spins to classic fairy tales with their fall lineup, Syfy has a Peter Pan mini-series planned and there are not one but two Snow White films headed to the silver screen.

It makes you wonder, why are fairy tales making a comeback? Is it just because Hollywood has nothing new to offer anymore? Because vampires have been done to death?

Perhaps it's a financial decision. After all, no one has to pay for the rights to these classic tales.

ABC’s "Once Upon A Time" premieres on October 23rd, fittingly in the old "Wonderful World of Disney" time slot. Disney, widely known for their versions of "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Snow White," painted fairy tales in pastel shades, making them comfortable, family fare. But ABC's new fairy tale show is not as friendly.

The series focuses on a woman with a troubled past who is drawn to the small town of Storybrooke, Maine. The citizens of this small town are all fairytale characters sent to our world by the Evil Queen. They’ve had their memories erased, and their journeys now are to rediscover who they are.

"Once Upon A Time" creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis said, “We actually had this idea in 2002. We were coming off of ‘Felicity,’ and our agent asked us if we’d like to go sell a pilot."

"But two junior writers coming off of ‘Felicity’ with this idea – everyone went, 'no thank you,'” Kitsis said.

Thanks to a little TV show Horowitz and Kitsis later worked on called "Lost," they had a bit more selling power, and we'll find out this weekend if their hunch about the fairy tale TV show genre is right.

NBC is hoping they’ll cash in on the trend as well with their new series "Grimm" which premieres October 28th. Don’t expect to see Disney-like, sanitized fairy tales with this series, though.

At this year's San Diego Comic Con, "Grimm" creators Jim Kouf and David Greenwalted promised fans that they’ve maintained the darkness of "The Brothers Grimm" collection of folk tales, but the stories are altered.

“It’s not going to be the story that you remember. We’re going to turn them on their heads.” Kouf revealed.

So which tales can we expect to see? The pilot episode of "Grimm" hints at Red Riding Hood, but the creators have a lot more in store for Grimm fans.

“'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' like you’ve never seen them before. We can say the three little wolves instead of the three little pigs, and we can say Cinderella might be called Thinderella,” Greenwalt teased.

Fans seemed very receptive to the ‘Grimm’ teaser, but are there enough fans of this genre to make this show successful in the ratings? Especially when it's up against established shows like "Supernatural" and "Fringe" which have a similar fan base?

“I think because these stories are so iconic and cross every culture that that is why we now have so many fairy tale movies and television shows,” Horowitz said.

But Rhys Ifans, who plays Hook in Syfy’s upcoming "Neverland,"  a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s classic fairy story, "Peter Pan," thinks these stories are becoming so popular again because people need to escape.

“Given this kind of fragile economic climate, maybe there's a need in all of us to escape to somewhere like Neverland where cash isn't an issue.”

Yet fairy tales, in their traditional sense, don't offer anything close to a desirable escape. In fact, they're more like the horror genre than anything else. Violence such as casual amputation is commonplace in stories like "Cinderella," but it probably didn’t go over well when Disney was planning their version of the story.

Even so, Tegan Henderickson, a fan of the genre and a blogger for Cavalcade of Schlock, believes Disney is the reason fairy tales have resurfaced in popular entertainment.

“Honestly, I think it was probably ‘Enchanted.’ For the longest time, Disney seemed eager to attempt to branch away from what had made them the most successful. Then, they decided to make ‘Enchanted’ and play with the concept that they had created," Hendrickson said.

"Once they brought new life to the old stereotype and it made them money, I think studios and producers began to consider fairy tales more marketable again.”

But even if their popularity ebbs and flows, fairy tales have always been welcome in Hollywood.

"Those romantic comedies where the unnoticed girl suddenly turns pretty and attracts her man? That's a 'Cinderella' story,"  Henderickson explained.

"A lot of horror films can be tied back to the core lessons learned from 'Red Riding Hood,' (like) don't ever talk to strangers,” she said.

Is this resurgence enough for mainstream audiences to latch onto or will it just be a passing fad without a happily-ever-after ending? Only time will tell.

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soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. shares

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    May 14, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
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    April 11, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  3. erik

    Very interesting since I wrote a fairy tale and published it a few months ago. Without thinking about market timing which is almost impossible to do especially with cultural tastes. My Fairy tale is called The Witch and the Sunflower girl.

    November 14, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  4. Jonathan Laden

    Fairy Tales, re-imagined and on TV? Sign me up for a whole bunch. Of course, both shows look more likely to be following the Shrek-style mashup of all fairy tales into one pie than focusing on one consistent world, which I'm a bit wary about.

    October 24, 2011 at 7:19 am |
  5. Enlightenment

    It is because they can't write anything original....Studio Gumps.

    October 24, 2011 at 4:02 am |
  6. SixDegrees

    'Lost' is a good writers reference? How can that possibly be? 'Lost' had the most incompetent writing team in the history of the planet, who basically kept promising it would get better while enjoying a years-long Hawaiian vacation while never, ever delivering. It's sad that such schlock and ineptness is considered an asset.

    October 24, 2011 at 2:48 am |
  7. Pee Wee Morris

    I'm not sure how these new shows will hold up for the long haul, but it's nice to have something other than CSI and Law and Order to watch. I enjoy crime drama but something different will be nice for a change.

    October 23, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  8. Brookie 13

    I greatly enjoyed watching the Disney films as a child and look forward to seeing how Once Upon a Time turns out. I thought the pilot episode was intriguing and can't wait for more twists and turns. The films may have been sanitized to make them more family-friendly but the Evil Queen from Snow White and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty were scary enough. Lana Parilla in OUAT is great – she plays the role perfectly!

    October 23, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  9. Teaneck

    I find it rather amusing that California schools banned fairy tales as being too violent. Now they're on TV.
    Such hypocrisy... but when there are dollars involved......anything goes....

    October 23, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  10. Epidi

    The old fairytales had a purpose – to teach our children about life of all things. Wouldn't expect that from a fairy tale but of course this was before movies & tv. The lessons? About not talking to strangers or accepting gifts from them. About trepassing (Goldilocks) and taking things that don't belong to you, about sharing, about greed, about courage & moral fiber. Storytelling is a nearly lost art form of passing information on from one generation to the next in an entertaining way that will be easily remembered.

    October 23, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • vintage274

      Fairy tales also spoke to a larger cultural melieu. They were cautionary tales for the culture. They embodied the fears of people whose futures were uncertain. Beyond the closed enclave of the village or the protection of the castle were the woods in which anything could happen and beyond that the unknown. The world was a very small place, and home and hearth were everything. In our current economy home and hearth are sorely threatened and the future is unknown. Remember when the Jetsons and a look into the "easier" future helped distract Americans from the realities of the Cold War and imminent nuclear inihilation? Remember the horror flicks from the 50s in which giant creatures created by nuclear arms gone amok terrorized the world? We are responding culturally to the world around us.

      October 23, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • lroy

      And as I understand it, the original ending was far more gruesome than what we know it it to be. Fairy tales were meant for adults (sort of like Stephen King) back in those days. Read "between the lines" of some of the nursery rhymes....not so innocent either.

      October 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
      • Pee Wee Morris

        They were also meant to keep children in line.🙂

        October 23, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Steve

      By far the best Grimm tale would be "Godfather Death". It would be great if they treaded into the lesser known stories every now and again. No one can cheat death (you hear me Jesus, no one!)

      October 24, 2011 at 4:19 am |
  11. Hypatia

    Jungian nightmares for illiterates!

    October 23, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  12. Anne

    I look forward to watching both series.....but in watching the commercials for Grimm, they remind me a lot of a Dean Koontz' book, Twilight Eyes...where a young man can "see" demons, no one else sees. I sure hope these shows will be better than American Horror Story.

    October 23, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  13. marajade29sm

    Something new – within all the something new:

    http://www.amazon.com/Ebon-Black-Seven-Dryads-Maynard/dp/1463768753/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1319378854&sr=8-3

    October 23, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  14. Mike R

    I'm telling you, this trend took off right after Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" where the dark, creepy spin on "children's tale" made it hip and cool for adults. It was an awsome movie. Thanks, Disney!!

    October 23, 2011 at 3:38 am |
    • jimbo

      If you think it's a "dark creepy spin" you haven't read the originals. the Disney cartoons were a fluffy happy spin.

      October 23, 2011 at 9:34 am |
      • Epidi

        jimbo is absolutly correct. Disney is the cute watered down version of these stories. Unfortunately most people today don't recall the old tellingsw of these classics.

        October 23, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  15. Harpy Lady

    I've watched the pilots for both shows. Grimm has me hooked – can't wait for the next episode. But Once Upon A Time was rather dry. It actually seemed boring that only the boy knows who everyone is. Hopefully the story will pick up quickly or I'll lose interest.

    October 22, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  16. SPW

    Surprised to see there aren't many shows/movies based on religion listed in this article.

    October 22, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  17. Mangus

    The biggest fairy tale is that of immaculate conception, sorry Joseph, somebody hit that

    October 22, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • D Russell

      The whole magical birth story was added on by later Roman Christians according to their traditions of deifying people and a history of believing that God's did that sort of thing. I think JC's message was not the he alone was the son of God, but that we are all God's children. If JC were alive today or we could time travel, I don't think today's Christians would be too happy with the difference between his beliefs and theirs.

      October 22, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
      • Epidi

        Well said! 😉

        October 23, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  18. Wastrel

    Oh, this is about TV shows and movies. I thought it was about fairy tales - which have never gone away, but have gotten more epic and less scary in the modern world. "The Well At The World's End". "The Worm Ouroboros". "Lord Of The Rings". Turn off the TV and read these. Then, if your taste is more geeky, write some slash fiction based on them🙂

    October 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  19. ichiban

    In the northern part of the U.S., it's "once upon a time...", in the south, it's "Y'all ain't gonna believe this sh-t...".

    October 22, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • AZShawn

      I was born and raised mostly in the South, and I cannot personally relate to your latter statement. I'd say the first. And, if memory serves me correctly, "You ain't gonna believe this sh-t!" would not be unheard of from some in the North...

      October 23, 2011 at 4:07 am |
  20. palintwit

    Once upon a time there was a teabagger named Sarah Palin...

    October 22, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Pee Wee Morris

      Give it a rest.

      October 23, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  21. realtyafairy

    They need to bring these great stories back, even if they do a little editing to soften some of the darkness of them. A few weeks ago I wondered how the 20's and 30 somethings "Occupy" people could live and believe in a Utopic, or Shangrila type world when their parents were of the generation that decided fairy tales lead children to believe in fantastical ideals and unrealistic life outcomes (i.e little girls can grow up to marry a prince, live in a castle and live happily ever after). How did they get such romantic ideals anyway, cause they sure are entrnched in the idea that socialism is the form of government and life they want!! Talk about a fairy tale!!!

    October 22, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • realtyafairy

      meant to expound a little that by the 80s, fairy tales were mostly cleaned up and not so gruesome. But the parents wanted them out of school libraries and basically out of print, they were so opposed to the alleged 'messages' the stories were sending children.

      October 22, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  22. BioHzrd420

    And Disney has said that they would no longer make animated movies based on fairy tales because they were no longer profitable. Depending on how well these series take off, they might be changing their tune. I certainly hope so anyways.

    October 22, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  23. sybaris

    Resurgence of fairy tales?

    Why yes

    Note the mindless faith-based banter among the GOP and Tea Party.

    October 21, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  24. DamselinSOS

    I am excited to see both Once Upon a Time and Grimm. I grew up with fairy tales, appreciate the classics and await an adult/modern spin. The originally fairy tales were somewhat gruesome and I figure it can't be worse than the news or 48 hours. What is really scary is reality shows like Teen Mom!

    October 21, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  25. Matte

    Anyone ever notice this trend? There's never a single show or movie that comes out uniquely. There's always a second one that comes out within weeks of the first. As if everyone is looking at the same gimmicks at the same time. Armageddon came out and around the same time Deep Impact hit theaters. This year theres at least a few comedies about people scraping by in this economy. As if they all sit down and decide what they're gonna show ahead of time and see who comes out on top.

    October 21, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  26. Bella Monte

    The resurgence of fairy tales is great...too bad they writers and producers have to make them so gruesome these days...no wonder the children of today have no idea of the beautiful stories of fairy tales past. Seems all people want is blood, guts, fright and gore, too bad....how I long for yesteryear!

    October 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Amy

      Have you ever read the original versions of the Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales? The originals were quite gruesome. In Cinderella, the stepsisters cut off parts of their own feet in an attempt to fit into the shoe, but were caught when the prince noticed the blood seeping out. I also seem to remember something about birds pecking out eyes toward the end of the story, but it's been a while since I read it.

      October 21, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
      • George

        At the end, Cinderella get's to chose the punishment for her evil step sisters and step mother. She and the prince decide that they can live in the castle, which was their original plan, but they can only live at the top of the towers (outside) and the birds of various types peck out their eyes for food. Disney sanitized the Grimms' fairy tales. I think Disney's versions suck. The original Grimms' fairy tales were gruesome because they are retelling stories from the Black Forest and Bavaria dating back to the dark ages. They're truly boogie men stories, and they worked for my brothers and I!

        October 21, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
      • BioHzrd420

        I have to agree with Schmedley. While Disney may have changed the stories, I don't think they suck by any means. I loved those movies as a kid and still do today. Their goal was never to recreate the fairy tales in their true form, but to make well animated family entertainment, which they did with a bang. They are good stories and just that. And early Disney movies were definitely scary for kids. I still tear up at Bambi running around for his mother in the forest.

        October 22, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • r

      Why don't you review every Disney made cartoon movie and see how the mother is already dead or dies during the movie.

      October 21, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • Schmedley

      Not to mention that in the original "Little Mermaid", the prince chooses the other girl and the Little Mermaid dies and disappears in the foam of the ocean. The actual story of Beauty and the Beast is very dark as well.

      I can totally understand why Disney alters the stories the way they do because in their original form, I really don't think they would be all that popular/marketable because the stories are pretty depressing. So, even though Disney changed the stories, I don't think they "suck". My daughters enjoyed watching those movies and there is value in that.

      October 21, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • JA

      @Bella Monte:

      Rofl. Have you even read the original text of any fairy tales? In "yesteryear", as people have already said, fairy tales were bloody, violent and dark.

      October 21, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
      • SixDegrees

        So was the world in which they were told. They simply reflected the commonplace of everyday life at the time. They do the same today, and have morphed accordingly.

        October 24, 2011 at 2:55 am |