Retrospective: Top 10 Live-Action Fairy Tale Movies | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Retrospective: Top 10 Live-Action Fairy Tale Movies

Disney's highly-anticipated reimagining of the iconic SLEEPING BEAUTY in Angelina Jolie-starred MALEFICENT had been widely touted as one of the can't-miss summer movies of 2014. Well, before I get to the review of the movie which is due later on Thursday, check out my personal picks for "Top 10 Live-Action Fairy Tale Movies" right below:


Actor Gene Wilder and director Mel Stuart did it first in 1971's WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, which itself an adaptation from Roald Dahl's 1964 children's novel. But I preferred Tim Burton's darker and more faithful version in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. The story centres on the poor young boy named Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), who dreamt of winning one of the five limited golden tickets to enter the amazing chocolate owned by Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp). Fortunately, Charlie was lucky enough to find the last golden ticket and ended up going with his grandpa Joe (David Kelly), along with four other winners: Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry), Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb) and Veruca Salt (Julia Winter).

Depp was certainly born to play the eccentric and weird-behaving Willy Wonka. And frankly, he was one of the main reasons to watch this movie. As up-and-coming young actor who first gained attention with Depp in 2004's FINDING NEVERLAND, Freddie Highmore gave a wonderful performance as Charlie. And of course, there's Tim Burton's keen eyes for dazzling visual palette. With the help of Philip Rousselot's colourful cinematography who turned Alex McDowell's edible-looking sets into a confectioner's wonderland a cinematic trip worth remembering for, as well as Gabriella Pescucci's eye-catching costumes and Danny Elfman's delightfully eccentric score, Tim Burton has certainly scored a winner in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. But still, it's not without some of the movie's glaring flaws, including the annoying addition of South Asian actor Deep Roy being cast as the singing-and-dancing Oompa-Loompas.


A revisionist spin and the more politically-correct version of Cinderella, it's certainly worth applauding that co-writer and director Andy Tennant was daring enough to rework the classic fairy tale inside out. Purists who adored the Walt Disney classic version might cried blasphemy, but those who were game enough for something different would be pleasantly surprised with EVER AFTER: A CINDERELLA STORY. It's interesting to see Dougray Scott's Prince Henry in a different character where he was just a confused man trying to make sense with his unbalanced life beyond horizon. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast was just as vibrant: Drew Barrymore as the self-confident Danielle and Anjelica Houston as the evil stepmother.

8. EXCALIBUR (1981)

I believe that most people (young and adults) had surely came across the legendary myth of King Arthur at some points in their life. But back in 1981 when writer-producer-director John Boorman created this oft-told tale, it was extraordinarily different than your average fairy tale fantasy aimed for young viewers. Instead, EXCALIBUR was made remarkably for adults in mind.

While the script, based on Le Morte D' Arthur by Thomas Malory, was predictable, EXCALIBUR remained an inspiring motion picture. John Boorman had great eyes for lush visuals and excellent production design (the movie was filmed with timeless effect in the rustic Ireland). The violence during the battle scenes were both shocking and brutal, while Trevor Jones' music score was wonderfully eerie. The cast was excellent with effective performances from Nigel Terry as King Arthur, Nicholas Clay as Lancelot, and Helen Mirren as Morgana. But best of all came from Nicol Williamson who gave a scene-stealing performance as Merlin.


When comes to movie about decapitation, Tim Burton's creepy and stylish fairy-tale horror of SLEEPY HOLLOW always sprang into my mind. Based on Washington Irving's classic story of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the movie followed ambitious policeman named Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp), who is assigned to investigate a series of gruesome murders at the town of Sleepy Hollow. Apparently he is led to believe that the victims were killed, decapitated and taken by the ghost of legendary Headless Horseman (Christopher Walken). Unfortunately, as Crane continued to investigate further, he discovered that the mystery was more complicated than he thought.

SLEEPY HOLLOW was a triumph in dark and gothic visual appearances. The opening sequence itself was simply unforgettable: an old man tried to escape from a moving carriage but ended up getting his head decapitated with an axe. Speaking of decapitation, the visual effects -- courtesy from Industrial Light and Magic -- were genuinely frightening and definitely not for the squeamish. Depp was superb as Ichabod Crane and Christina Ricci was perfectly typecast as the mysterious beauty Katrina. But it was Christopher Walken who stole the show in his unforgettably creepy performance as the Headless Horseman.

6. BIG FISH (2003)

Prior to the release of BIG FISH in 2003, Tim Burton's directing career took a temporary creative stumble in the forgettable big-budget remake of PLANET OF THE APES back in 2001. Fortunately, Tim Burton rose again with the magical adaptation of Daniel Wallace's novel. The incredible story revolved around a dying father Edward Bloom (Albert Finney), who loved to spin tales about his extraordinary life full of unbelievable adventures. However, his son, William (Billy Crudup) figured his father was a liar all the while until one day, he paid him a last visit and wanted to hear his father's true story about his life once and for all.

Adapting Daniel Wallace's mythic novel was certainly a great choice for Burton, since he had a knack for creating a dark and visionary tale beyond imagination. Visually speaking, BIG FISH was a technical marvel in terms of production design and special effects. But the real deal here was the way Burton combined his trademark offbeat direction with John August's delightful and thought-provoking adapted screenplay that truly touches the heart. Veteran Albert Finney gave a poignant performance as the elderly Edward, while Ewan McGregor was equally captivating as the young and naive Edward. The rest of the actors were similarly remarkable, including Helena Bonham Carter's dual role as the swamp witch and the wonderful Jenny. Although BIG FISH felt long-winded, it was one of Tim Burton's best movies to date.


In 1991, France's renowned filmmaking duo Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet impressed many critics and viewers around the world with their controversial pitch-black comedy, DELICATESSEN. In their highly anticipated follow-up, the duo proved their worth again with the extraordinarily grotesque but stunning fairy tale fantasy, THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN. A movie definitely not for kids, the story involved an evil genius named Krank (Daniel Emilfork), who kidnapped innocent children to steal their sweet dreams. When One's (Ron Perlman) little brother, Denree (Joseph Lucien) was kidnapped by Krank's men, he sets out to search and rescue him with the help of young Miette (Judith Vittet).

While the plot may have been deadpan and sometimes overly sappy, THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN remained a unique cinematic experience. Jean Rabasse's award-winning production design of the murky port city and Angelo Badalmenti's orchestral score were outstanding, while the movie was particularly blessed with lots of visually dazzling set pieces and great eyes for innovative camera works. The cast, in the meantime, was spot-on: Ron Perlman was perfectly typecast as a strong but soft-hearted One; Judith Vittet was wonderful as Miette; Daniel Emilfork was wickedly funny as the evil Krank; and Dominique Pinon was amazingly colourful in his multiple roles as six clownish clones.

4. FREEWAY (1996)

A bizarre but inventive re-imagining of Little Red Riding Hood told in a contemporary setting, Matthew Bright's debut feature centres on 15-year-old Vanessa Lutz (Reese Witherspoon), who drove along the freeway with her family station wagon to search for her grandmother. Unfortunately, her family station wagon broke down midway and eventually picked up by Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland), a so-called school counselor who was actually a notorious serial killer of teenage prostitutes.

Reese Witherspoon gave a tour de force performance as a troubled and foul-mouthed teenage girl, while Kiefer Sutherland was similarly engaging as a psychotic serial killer. Matthew Bright proved to be a highly talented filmmaker who knew how to turn the oft-told fairy tale inside out with his unique blend of quirky storytelling that almost evoked the offbeat work of Quentin Tarantino.

3. HARD CANDY (2005)

British-born director David Slade, whose feature works including 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007) and THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE (2010), were both cinematic disasters from my opinion. But his feature debut on HARD CANDY back in 2005 was entirely different story altogether. A twisted dark tale that brilliantly referenced from Little Red Riding Hood (again!), Ellen Page played 14-year-old Hayley Stark, a seemingly innocent-looking young teenager who befriended with a 32-year-old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) via online chat. One day, the two agreed to meet at a coffee shop called Nighthawks. Despite their massive age differences, Hayley flirted with him and proposed to go to his house. Once home, Hayley prepared a screwdriver and Jeff subsequently fainted after drinking them. When Jeff awoke, he found himself tied up to a chair. Hayley accused him of pedophilia, and soon began to torture him in a cat-and-mouse game.

No doubt the role reversals were fascinating, while both performances from Page and Wilson were simply riveting. This was one edgy and gripping revenge fantasy worth watching for.


A hauntingly beautiful mix of Frankenstein and Beauty and the Beast-like fairy tale with gothic undertone, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS was no doubt one of Tim Burton's most imaginative and greatest movies to date.

The story, written by Burton and Caroline Thompson, was simply heartfelt: Edward (Johnny Depp) was the creation of an aging inventor (the great Vincent Price) who died unexpectedly before he could fixed his metal shears of hands with a pair of prosthetic human hands. Then one day, a kind-hearted housewife-cum-traveling Avon saleslady Peg (Dianne Weist) showed up at Edward's old castle and took pity for his loneliness. Soon she brought him back to her home located in a idyllic suburb and started to take good care of him. The arrival of Edward had instantly piqued curiosity among Peg's nosy neighbours and he quickly became famous with his unique talents for hedge sculpting and hair styling. However, it didn't take long before the neighbours started to hate his existence after Edward is found guilty of a crime.

Burton's direction was both funny, charming and above all, moving. The visuals were breathtaking, particularly in a memorable scene where Edward created beautiful ice sculpture while Kim (Winona Ryder) danced around the icy flakes. All the actors were top notch: Depp was impeccable with his mime-like performance as Edward; Ryder gave a wonderfully sweet performance as Kim; and Weist was downright poignant as Peg.


Mexican director Guillermo del Toro may have been popular with Hollywood blockbusters such as BLADE 2, PACIFIC RIM and two HELLBOY movies, but he was particularly at his peak when he crafted something original. A dark and vivid mix of gothic fantasy horror with the brutal nature of the Spanish Civil War setting, PAN'S LABYRINTH took place in 1944 era of fascist Spain where a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) who often escaped her harsh reality with her fascination for fairy tales. When she encountered a faun named Pan (Doug Jones) in the center of the labyrinth, she must successfully complete three dangerous tasks in order to prove her worthiness as the long-lost princess from the King of the Underworld.

PAN'S LABYRINTH was definitely not for kids, where del Toro never shied away with the depiction of graphic violence and horrifying images (such as Pale Man, the nightmarish ghoul with eyes in his palms) that truly stuck into your mind. Easily one of the best fairy-tale movies ever made from the imaginative minds of Guillermo del Toro.

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