In the post-Shrek age and with the dawn of Snow White and the Huntsman, can Hollywood even make good fairy tale movies anymore? It feels like nothing graces our screens except regurgitated Disney classics, spoof movies, or “the dark fairy tale.” What gives? Where have all the regular, true-love’s-kiss, kill-the-witch conte de fées gone?
I’d consider not diverging too much from these criteria:
An element of magic.
Not magic as in magic spells, necessarily. But just a sense that this is something special, something oh-so-slightly removed from our reality.
A Big Good vs A Big Bad
This doesn’t need to be anything special. You don’t need to give the Big Bad a tragic backstory explaining why he or she became evil. And you don’t need to make Snow White/Belle/Gretl a grizzled anti-hero. This trope screams 2010s, which risks becoming dated later on. Plain good vs. evil is a time-tested trope that satisfies and succeeds. Which leads us to…
Perhaps you’re one of those punks who already wants to say, “Um, excuuuuse me, but didn’t you know that the original Grimm fairy tales were extremely dark to begin with? They added Little Red Riding Hood woodsman later!”
Yes, you are correct. And that’s absolutely something any fairy tale should include. Writers can use ratios to differing effect, but should allow for some moment of facing danger. Preferably a terribly ugly one.
Sense of Wonder
It’s got to be optimistic, overall. The world has potential to be a positive place. That’s not to say we need a saccharine tone, but there’s got to be some optimism here for it to count as a fairy tale.
For a strict fairy tale, basic is best. Make it too complicated and it detracts from the magical element. Make it too complicated and the optimism is lost. Make it too complicated and we don’t know whether to root for the hero(ine) or villain.
Fairy Tales are simple stories, meant to imbue lessons, or at least have some kind of moral for children to consider. They aren’t the next War and Peace. Or Catch-22. They’re just simple, magical stories. And there’s nothing wrong with enjoying them that way.