Four Unintended Lessons Behind “Gritty” Fairytale Reboots

I grew up on Disney movies. Pinocchio, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Fantasia, Robin Hood—you get the idea. By the time I was born, Walt’s occasionally racist legacy had long become a staple of American pop culture, as had Disney’s stamp on popular fairytales. In fact, there were so many Disney “classics” floating around my house I’d just assumed they were all the original versions. But those films aren’t exactly the best prep material for adulthood, are they? Too many unrealistically rosy, poetic endings; too many happy couples riding into the sunset. The gravity of my disillusionment didn’t set in until high school, where members of the opposite sex were as unpredictable as my afternoon erections.

The thing is, Disney-brand stories  rarely embody Aesop and the Grimms’ original intentions: to scare the shit out of kids as soon as their ears and eyes started to work. Hard lessons got taught way earlier back then, because that’s how you raise a generation of Black Plague survivors.

“Have fun at the coal mines today, bucko! Mind the smallpox on your way home.”

But today’s Hollywood has the right idea.Two teen-marketed Snow White movies are in production right now, and Red Riding Hood got the gritty-sexy werewolf treatment last year.

With this in mind, I recently handpicked some “gritty” fairytale reboots that would have done a number on my Bedknobs and Broomsticks days. The movies themselves might not be much to write home about, but some of their unintentional messages are a far cry from “Hakuna matata.” Yes, life might have turned out very different if my impressionable 13-year-old self had seen…

Red Riding Hood (2011)

In this reimagining of the classic tale, the local townsfolk have a werewolf problem on their hands, because why not? Amanda Seyfried plays the titular protagonist, and she’s torn between two handsome suitors: one a lowly woodsman, the other a wealthy blacksmith. Naturally she falls for Peter the woodsman, choosing him in the end despite his newfound wolfiness. Throw in some old-timey Sapphic action, and we’re in business.


This is porn to most 13-year-old American males.

The (Unintended) Lesson: Classism isn’t really worth struggling against.

Though it’s a minor plot point in Red Riding Hood, we see the rise of modestly born protagonists all the time—even “street rats” can win the day if their hearts are in the right place. Sure, triumphant underdogs exist in real life, but things usually suck for them until/unless the “triumph” part happens. Sounds like a lot of wasted energy.

It takes years to understand the sheer depth and breadth of upper-class privileges, and thankfully I’m no longer naïve enough to compete with deep-pocketed rivals. That battle’s not worth the struggle, Peter; you’d have been better off just knowing your role. Technically you got the girl, I guess, but look at the trade-off: you also got wolfified. So woo hoo, Peter, your sexual dry spell’s over, but now you’re a hunted mythological creature. Smooth move.


Beastly (2011)

In the most baffling use of Neil Patrick Harris to date, Beastly lumbered onto the scene last year. Yes, of course this whole trope stresses the importance of inner beauty, but to the impressionable Young Me, the “beast’s” tribulations in this flick would have appeared…inconvenient? At least Disney’s beast was actually hideous; nobody wants to spend the rest of their lives cursed with that much obligatory grooming. But the character of Kyle just looks like he was mugged by a psychotic tattoo artist. Pretty sure he’s still rich, though.

And NPH plays a blind tutor who is inexplicably SICK at darts. Seriously.

The (Unintended) Lesson: Money and physical appearances don’t mean everything. Unless you have those things. Then they do.

Instead of wasting all those years developing a personality and exploring personal talents, I could have been developing a more chiseled figure and an insatiable lust for power. That might have even offset my whole classism problem from earlier, and I definitely would have reached for higher stars than the glow-in-the-dark ones on my bedroom ceiling.

Plus it’s not like Kyle ever had it all that bad. To combat that emo-ugliness curse (Mary-Kate Olsen hits it OUT OF THE PARK as the witch), Kyle’s father whisks him away to a luxurious private house with a private tutor. How…tragic? Once Kyle learns how be less of a tremendous douche, the movie ends with him just as rich and attractive as before, which seems pretty convenient. Even Young Me would have spotted the real takeaway here.

Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997)

While other titles on this list fall into the “gritty reboot” category, this one’s a straight up horror movie that would have made the real Grimm brothers proud. To be perfectly honest, this film would have terrified 13-Year-Old Me, and for good reason. I’ll never look at Sigourney Weaver the same way again.

Not pictured: A suitable legal guardian.

The (Unintended) Lesson: Stepmothers are f**king evil.

God as my witness, this movie would have scarred my soul for life. Not only would Young Me have immediately demonized all stepparents in general, but he would have acquired some truly uncomfortable questions about childbirth.

The Brother’s Grimm (2005)

In a unique twist, Matt Damon and Heath Ledger play the Grimm brothers, two con artists who prey upon superstitious villagers by performing bogus exorcisms and whatnot (for a price). Not a bad premise, though the movie didn’t get a whole lot of critical praise. Young Me would have loved the notion of Grimm Brothers = Clever Womanizer Badasses.

The (Unintended) Lesson: Fraud is totally cool if you’re good at it.

At the end of the movie, the Grimms look like they’re headed for the straight and narrow, but that’s only because their previous vocation got exposed in the first place. So the message to Young Me would have likely been, “Just don’t get caught” instead of “The regular practice of deception is wrong.”

But seriously, who knows what kind of professional hoodwinkery Young Me might have started if those clowns had been my role models?


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  1. Cool article. I too grew up on Disney classics, what opened my eyes was Bill Willinghams “Fables”; that then made me go out and buy the originals like Grimms Fairytales and Hans Christian Anderson etc.

  2. I think it’s really important to keep in mind that Grimm’s stories weren’t actually the originals though. They traveled around collecting oral folk tales and then edited the hell out of them until the stories matched their own radical political beliefs. Like the original oral folk stories had a lot of sex, because people thought it was actually important to teach their children about sex. The Grimm’s took out all the sex because of their religious views. The original stories contained none of this “fairest of them all” stuff either; physical beauty and appearance were almost never mentioned because they weren’t important to the lesson. It was the Grimm’s who threw that in later. There were also very few “evil stepmothers” and female villains; the majority of villains were male. The Grimm’s had a very strong anti-women stance though, and decided the best way to discredit woman was to either turn them into naive, simper princesses or to vilify them as ugly, violent antagonists and to up the woman-on-woman violence.
    The Grimm’s were pretty much just as bad as Walt was at twisting the original stories to better suit their agenda.

  3. The Snow White reboot was epic, and I still have it on VHS because it scared the fuck out of me. And when she went back into the castle! Oh my Christ, I feared Weaver with a passion, but she played an epic nutter of a woman.

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