If you’re looking for a good adult fairy tale, we’ve got just what you need. With so many fairy tale reboots recently coming out of Hollywood, we thought this would be an opportune time to look back at some exceptional fairy tales best appreciated by adults.
1. The Red Shoes
The finest of the Powell-Pressburger collaborations, The Red Shoes tells the story of a beautiful, passionate young ballerina, Vicky (Moira Shearer), who is tutored by the great composer Lermontov (Anton Walbrook.) Lermontov tells the young dancer that she can either choose love or ballet, but she can’t have both — one will always sap the other. Vicky falls in love with the young and equally fervent composer Marius (Julian Craster), and Lermontov grows furious with jealously. The ballet featured within the film is Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes, a production that could propel Vicky and Marius to stardom. The movie is tragic and gorgeous, with Jack Cardiff’s use of three-strip Technicolor and his dreamy photography giving the film a feeling that’s timeless and romantic, and the centerpiece — a 15-minute ballet scene choreographed by Robert Helpmann and scored by Brian Easdale — has more emotion than most entire films.
2. Pan’s Labyrinth
We wrote about Guillermo del Toro and this film’s lush score recently. A young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) moves with her mother to the rural Spanish countryside to live with her new step-father (a frightfully fierce Sergi López), a Falange Captain in Franco’s fascist regime. Ofelia loves books and seems to spend more time in her imagination than her awful life (her new step-father even tells her she’s not allowed to read.) But she soon discovers that she may be a reincarnated princess. Del Toro conjures awe-spurring imagery and sustains a sotto voce mood of magical longing: the sapient old fawn (Doug Jones, always a brilliant physical performer), the nightmarish child-eating Pale Man (also Jones), and the looming tree (not Doug Jones) that splays out in two deep curves, as if reaching up to the sky, but over time, its will has been broken. Guillermo Navarro won an Oscar for his cinematography (he shot digital before digital was the new normal), and save for the dated CGI, the film is aging impeccably.