Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters // Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (David Appleby; Paramount Pictures, courtesy Everett Collection)


Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters lands in your local multiplex this Friday. Starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as the titular siblings, the story is an updated version of the much-loved Brothers Grimm bedtime story we were all told as kids.

It’s not the only modern day take on a classic fairy tale that’s set for our screens however. Later on this year we’ll be treated to Bryan Singer’s Jack: The Giant Slayer alongside Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and the Powerful. Even Angelina Jolie is in on the act and her turn in Maleficent, which is set for 2014, might just prove to be the fairest of them all. All three follow hot on the heels of Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman and Red Riding Hood which have all graced the box office over the past two years. The trend even continues on the small screen where shows like Grimm and the Vancouver shot Once Upon A Time have proved to be runaway success stories. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to realize that fairy tale films are thriving, but why?

The growth of make believe movies
Though it’s not strictly a fairy tale, it’s hard to look past the success of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland when it comes to the recent growth of make believe movies. After all money talks, and since taking more than $1billion at the box office it’s clear that Hollywood’s bean counters are listening. The same could be said about the growing popularity of fantasy films. Ever since the Harry Potter franchise conjured up its successful brand of movie magic, fantasy has been in fashion; and where the boy wizard led the teenaged vampires of Twilight and the primary coloured protagonists of comic book movies have followed. 

Escapism is alive and well at the cinema and in that regard the recent trend for fairy tale films is just an extension of the fantasy films that have gone before it. Like Twilight, Harry Potter or even The Avengers there’s a definite good vs. evil vibe to these movies; a sense of moral black and white that’s flourished whilst real world events have increasingly occupied ever more indistinguishable shades of grey. With a worldwide recession, global warming and the ongoing war on terror, it’s perhaps easy to see why Hollywood has turned to a genre in which good always triumphs over evil and where living happily ever after is all but guaranteed from the outset.  

Like fairy tales only different
Of course filmmakers and fans alike would protest that these blockbusters are altogether more complicated than the child-friendly source material on which they’re based. Full of dark brooding characters, epic violence and complex relationships, they’ve been sexed up for adult audiences. The clue to finding this type of film is often in the title. Hansel and Gretel for example are no longer vulnerable infants but ‘Witch hunters’; Jack isn’t just a peasant boy but a ‘Giant slayer’ and the Wizard of Oz is now both ‘great’ and ‘powerful’. They’re like bedtime stories for grown-ups, only filled with kick-ass versions of the characters you remember from your childhood.

But scratch below the surface and fairy tale films are still full of the kind of monochrome morality that made these stories popular in the first place. Pick any example and you’ll find that damsels are still in distress, good continues to triumph over evil and knights in shining armour haven’t stopped turning up in the final act to save the day. It’s a formula that’s entertained audiences for hundreds of years, so perhaps the only surprise is not that fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel are proving to be such a hit on the silver screen, but that it’s taken them so long to deliver a happy ending for Hollywood.