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“Even miracles take a little time.” — Fairy Godmother, Cinderella

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

All children, no matter where they are in the world, grow up listening to stories. A lot of these stories are based on traditional oral tales passed down from one generation to the next. Many are also literary creations by known authors, among whom are well-known writers such as Hans Christian Anderson, the brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault.

Fairy tales are fictional narratives that combine human and non-human protagonists with elements of wonder and the supernatural. Each of these stories vary from one telling to the next, each one offering a snap shot of the space and time of the telling yet always referring to its predecessors, and always with the shadow of the original present.

Films incorporating fairy-tale narratives, characters, titles, images, plots, motifs, and themes date from the earliest history of the cinema, beginning with director Georges Méliès’s ‘Le manoir du diablemade in 1896 ( They continue to be re-told today by film makers in all the forms of the art: short and feature length movies, animated and live action, produced in film stock, video, and digital formats, fairy-tale films have appeared in movie theatres and more recently on television and computer screens.

Traditional stories are relocated and undated, filmmakers’ re-vision the story, sometimes with new spin, as when Matthew Bright’s Freeway 2’ (1999) relocates “Hansel and Gretel” to 1990s America, with two delinquent teen girls fleeing to Mexico. They have also created an entirely new tale—such as ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, which is not based on any specific previous literary or traditional fairy tale.

Walt Disney has continued to attract viewers to the theme of fairy-tales, most of which are especially created to capture the younger audience. The Disney companies’ formula of innocent persecuted heroines, handsome princes, and happy-ever-afters has dominated popular understandings of such narratives, fairy tales do not have to contain these elements. They concern the fantastic, the magical, the dark, the dreamy, the wishful, and the wonderful. The main characters, by that I mean mostly the heroines, have evolved a great deal over the years, they have changed from being passive girls who rely on being rescued by a Prince to active heroines such as Moana, who showed us that if you want something you go and get it.

More recently, classic works like director Jean Cocteau’s La belle et la bête’ (1946) have received considerable attention from cinema studies and the fairy-tale structure analyzed by scholars of film and media this has taken place since the beginning of the 21st century. Film makers continue to reflect on great master pieces thus motivating Jacques Demy’s to create ‘Peau d’ane’ (Donkey Skin) in 1970 as a tribute to Jean Cocteau.

So, the next time you read a fairy tale or watch a movie based on one remember the quote by Albert Einstein:


Introduction: Envisioning Ambiguity: Fairy Tale Films

Pauline Greenhill and Sidney Eve Matrix

Fairy-Tale Films

Pauline Greenhill

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Film poster

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