With damsels in distress and fantastical creatures, who doesn’t love a good fairy tale? February 26 marks National Fairy Tale Day and what better way to celebrate than by watching some great fairy tale movies? You could go watch some Disney classics, or you could watch one of these!
The following movies are either retellings of classic tales with a twist or they are movies that take some of the most wonderful and classic tropes from fairy tales of the past in order to make new ones. So, without further ado, here are The Daily Fandom’s top 5 modern fairy tales.
5. The Princess Bride
Released in 1987, this fairy tale has basically become a classic in its own right. The Princess Bride has so many memorable characters and moments to love, all while hitting many of the standard fairy tale features. We have the quintessential “damsel in distress” Buttercup (Robin Wright) alongside our devilishly handsome and clever Westley (Cary Elwes). We also have our typical revenge plot, featuring Indigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin). These fairly commonplace character types are made anything but common by the other aspects of their personalities and humor which come together to make a stunningly hilarious movie.
The Princess Bride is, as I’ve said, a classic, but it doesn’t make it any higher on my list because of its shortcomings. In particular, the problem I have with this film is the rather 2-dimensional character of Princess Buttercup. With every other character having so much energy, hilarity, and life, it’s a little disappointing that Buttercup doesn’t really share any of those. She’s a damsel in distress in the purest sense, with no agency or — quite honestly — personality to speak of. I’m sure some of this is a product of its time, as The Princess Bride is the oldest movie on this list, but I still like my fairy tale females with a little more spunk.
4. Ella Enchanted
Ella Enchanted is a great example of an original fairy tale that uses a lot of the classic tropes in really interesting ways. Released in 2004 and starring the delightful Anne Hathaway, the movie takes magic and mayhem to a whole new level. As in the story of Sleeping Beauty, Ella was cursed as a baby, only instead of being made to sleep for decades, Ella must do whatever she is told.
As an adult, all she can think about is finding the fairy who made her this way and begging the fairy to undo her blessing, which has basically ruined Ella’s life. Until she meets Prince Char (Hugh Dancy) and begins to fall in love. As she gets closer to the prince it becomes clear that her curse may not just ruin her life, but also the life of the one she loves.
This fairy tale is excellent for so many reasons. While the curse Ella is under is awful, the hilarity that ensues because of it is highly entertaining. Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy work great together to show the audience a relationship built on friendship and understanding is what true love is all about. Also, though the setting remains surely in the past, there are moments of modern fun too, like when Ella sings “Somebody to Love” by Queen or when her sisters and most of the females in the town are throwing themselves as Prince Char like he’s the lead singer in a boy band. Ella Enchanted is always fun to watch, and definitely worthy of its spot on our list.
3. Mirror Mirror
“Snow would have to do what snow does best. Snow would have to fall.”The Queen, Mirror Mirror, Relativity Media (2012)
Based on the classic fairy tale of Snow White, Mirror Mirror takes both a more humorous and darker path in its retelling. The evil queen (Julia Roberts) is a more fleshed-out character in this version and gets a heck of a lot more screen time. She knows exactly what she wants, and, thanks to a strange magical mirror, she has the means to get it. It is through this evil power that she is able to rid herself of the king, get Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) to fall in love with her, and try to rid herself of the pesky Snow (Lily Collins).
Despite some of the darker monsters that lurk in this movie, it is ultimately quite funny. The queen is hilarious, with her long and ridiculously complicated beauty routines and her pushy and controlling behavior. Furthermore, the prince meets Snow while he and his companion are hanging upside down from a tree in only their undergarments.
The Seven Dwarves
What really makes Mirror Mirror stand out from its source material is what happens when Snow White meets the dwarves. Instead of just doing all the cooking and cleaning while she stays with them, the dwarves teach Snow how to fight so that she can help them steal. You see, the dwarves were cast out of the kingdom by the queen, so now they rob royal carriages in the area. Through what she learns in her training, Snow is able to stop the queen and take back her kingdom.
Honestly, it’s refreshing to see a female fairy tale character kick butt like Mirror Mirror’s take on Snow White does. Plus, for such important characters in the tale, we usually don’t get a whole lot of backstory on the dwarves in the original. The personalities of these dwarves are much more pronounced, and we can understand why they act the way that they do.
2. Ever After: A Cinderella Story
One of the most well-known fairy tales—retold over and over for endless enjoyment — has got to be the tale of Cinderella. One of my personal favorite iterations of that story is 1998 Ever After: A Cinderella Story starring Drew Barrymore. Now, at first glance, the premise of the movie might seem a little too close to the original to be considered in any way modern. After all, the story takes place in the 16th century and follows much of the same plot as the original tale. However, there’s more to this fairy tale than that.
First of all, the framing of the story right away marks it as a fairy tale, with the Brothers Grimm (Joerg Stadler and Andy Henderson) visiting the home of an elderly woman, the Grande Dame (Jeanne Moreau), who wants to set the record straight about the true story of Cinderella. Starting out by introducing this version as a truer one than the Brothers Grimm classic is certainly a gutsy move, but one that works.
Fairy Tale Future
There are many differences between this version of the fairy tale and the original, but the most important one throughout is the agency that Danielle — this version’s Cinderella — gets to exercise that her predecessor did not. Danielle is fierce and strong, and we immediately see how she tries to support the people around her while being subjugated by her stepfamily.
She’s not afraid to speak her mind when she has to, as becomes apparent during her first meeting with Prince Henry (Dougray Scott). Yes, that’s right, in this fairy tale our prince and princess meet well before the ball and have ample time to get to know each other. Prince Henry is in love with Danielle but doesn’t know that she is a commoner. It is that secret that nearly drives them apart, instead of the tolling of midnight.
With this agency, Ever After fixes one of the biggest problems I have with the original tale. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good princess story, but overall Cinderella doesn’t do much to assert herself in the original fairy tale, and the love between her and Prince Charming seems rather forced, given that they only met one time. Danielle and Henry know and love each other, so we can really root for their happy ending. Even better, we also get the same much-needed revenge on Danielle’s cruel family that the original Brothers Grimm tale gives us. This fairy tale is absolutely worth the watch for its empowerment, true romance, and overall wonderful storytelling.
Sitting at our number one spot is none other than the Shrek franchise. With loveable characters, messages of self-love, and classic fairy tale callouts left and right, it’s no wonder Shrek has had 3 sequels (with the possibility of a 5th movie coming out in 2022).
Shrek’s journey throughout all four films shows that self-discovery is ongoing. In the first movie, he really struggles with his identity as an ogre, and more importantly the isolation that comes with it. Then, in Shrek 2 he has to find his place within Fiona’s family. Finally, in both Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After Shrek struggles with his role as a parent. Even though he’s often grumpy and fairly gross, Shrek is a relatable character.
Into The Storybook
Perhaps the greatest thing about all the previous fairy tale moments in Shrek is how they’re all framed in time. While things are sort of in the past—with horse-drawn carriages and no internet—things are also sort of modern.
The kingdom of Far Far Away has a small-town feeling, and both the wedding at the end of Shrek and the celebration at the end of Shrek 2 contain electronic instruments and microphones. It’s not quite modern or “ye olde” times, but it works to add even more familiarity to a world full of characters we’ve heard of a million times before. It is this perfect balance and timeless enjoyment that makes Shrek the perfect movie to watch to celebrate Fairy Tale Day.
Happily Ever After
Fairy tale adaptations come in all shapes and sizes, and some are ultimately more successful than others. This list may only contain 5, but there are countless others out there for your viewing pleasure. Which fairy tale adaptation is your favorite? Be sure to celebrate by giving it a watch on February 26.