Disney says it’s finished with fairy tales

Although I firmly believe Hollywood can never say never, it appears that Disney, at the moment, has no interest in continuing its revitalized push for big-screen fairy tales.

Ed Catmull of Pixar — who along with John Lasseter oversees the Disney house-brand animated films — told the LA Times: “Films and genres do run a course; they may come back later because someone has a fresh take on it … but we don’t have any other musicals or fairy tales lined up.”

In a sense, this is not new news. When Pixar first found success and DreamWorks was growing in the late ’90s, Disney tried to get out of the game, animating a string of non-traditional films such as “Atlantis,” “Treasure Planet,” “Lilo and Stitch” and others. It was only with “The Princess and the Frog” that suddenly a hand-drawn Disney Classics-style renaissance seemed possible. But the 21st Century “princess movie” only earned $162 million worldwide. As the Times article puts it, only little girls under five or six have interest in princesses these days — and that’s an awfully small market.

“Tangled,” which comes out tomorrow, could mark Disney’s last foray into a fairy tale musical. Even that film will be remarkably different. About two years ago, Disney scrapped the existing plans for “Rapunzel” and brought in the team who made “Bolt” to direct. The emphasis was changed to accommodate more action and appeal to boys as well as girls. Last year, the title was changed to “Tangled” as a result and the film has been marketed in accordance.  Times have indeed changed.

Frankly, we babies of the ’80s and ’90s need to get over ourselves. The animation market is no longer fairy tales or bust. Children today have a higher expectation for action and adventure. As the article also notes, kids are as much part of the blockbuster superhero movie audience as anyone. Maybe not the littlest, but certainly above six years old. The emergence of the tween market has also sucked in girls ages 6 to 10 or so.

I would normally think to call out the old-fashioned themes and perpetuated stereotypes of the days of yore, but fairy tales have far from run out of steam in Hollywood; they’ve simply matured and been geared to a wider and slightly older audience. One of the year’s biggest films was “Alice in Wonderland,” a live-action 3-D take on a story made famous in America by Disney. Tim Burton’s film gave Alice a tougher hero demeanor and upped the action. As such, several live-action takes on Cinderella, Snow White and the fairy tale-esque “Wizard of Oz” are all in the works. The medium has simply changed to fit the wittier, action-oriented model of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films for one.

Sure, if Disney can manage $400-500 million for “Tangled” somehow, the fairy tale won’t be going anywhere, but Disney’s cancellation of “The Snow Queen” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” and comments to the Times pretty much signify they’re convinced of a moderately successful film at best. That implication, in fact, led to Catmull releasing another statement through Facebook with regards to the article:

“A headline in today’s LA Times erroneously reported that the Disney fairy tale is a thing of the past, but I feel it is important to set the record straight that they are alive and well at Disney and continue this week with “Tangled,” a contemporary retelling of a much loved story. We have a number of projects in development with new twists that audiences will be able to enjoy for many years to come.”

Talk about cleaning up a PR mess. Obviously the article seems to imply “Tangled” was the holdover of a breed about to go extinct, but certainly Disney will keep in mind any projects, fairy tale or not, that hinge on a familiar and loved story.

All in all, I think we can kiss the classic formula goodbye, but not necessarily the content it was based on. Disney is serious about competing with DreamWorks and not letting Pixar get all the credit, which means all-ages appealing films for both boys and girls will be the focus. Any future takes on fairy tales will likely be twisted to fit this style. It doesn’t rule fairy tales out, but animation has strived to go to more daring places lately and as such the genre is at an all time high in terms of critical praise.

The 20th Century Disney fairy tale era has simply been established as “a time in movie history” and we all need to recognize it as complete. Meanwhile, Disney will continue to make a killing on the merchandising of its beloved fairy tale films and princesses for decades to come.


You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment