GREAT: Frozen (2013)
What’s left to say about Disney’s mega hit, which became the highest-grossing animated film of all time within four months of its theatrical release — and has launched a fathomless online cottage industry of tributes, parodies, and crazy fan theories? Only this: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s ”The Snow Queen” succeeds because of the way it skewers old formulas, emphasizing familial bonds over clichéd love at first sight and, most radically, operating without a villain at its core. (For most of the film’s run time, anyway.) Well, that…and ”Let It Go,” of course.
GRIMM: Maleficent (2014)
Casting an old story’s villain as the hero is about as revisionist as it gets. But Disney’s attempt to add shading to one of the genre’s most malevolent forces falls flat, despite its striking visuals — especially star Angelina Jolie’s wickedly enhanced cheekbones, which look sharp enough to plunge a princess into eternal slumber. Alas, the story itself isn’t nearly as well-honed; instead of explaining why Maleficent went bad, it simply recasts her as a wronged woman with a good heart and thrusts the burden of villainy on the man who betrayed her.
GREAT: Shrek (2001)
Everything from sterile fantasy theme parks to cute bluebird-princess singalongs gets gleefully skewered in Dreamworks’ blockbuster, which functions on one level as a straight parody of the films producer Jeffrey Katzenberg once presided over at Disney. But on another level, Shrek is a sweet, endearing riff on ”Beauty and the Beast” that teaches a valuable lesson about appearance vs. reality. If only endless, ever-cruder sequels hadn’t ultimately diluted that message.
GRIMM: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
You know what’s missing from the original ”Hansel & Gretel” story? Guns. And automatic crossbows. And diabetes. (Jeremy Renner’s Hansel gets it as a result of eating all that candy at the gingerbread house. Seriously.) Neither cheeky parody nor straightforward action-adventurer, H&G marries the worst of both worlds and throws it all into the third dimension, just because. But unless you enjoy the sight of branches constantly flying at your face, you might want to follow the breadcrumbs away from this one.
GREAT: Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
It’s a shame that offscreen drama overshadowed this onscreen ”Snow White” face-off. Rupert Sanders’ action-adventure, grrrl-power take on a classic tale of passivity isn’t perfect — but it does feature scores of striking visuals, gorgeous costumes, and, best of all, a flawless Charlize Theron as the youth-hungry Queen Ravenna. Who knew audiences would ever root for the wicked monarch to defeat the fairest of them all?
GRIMM: Sydney White (2007)
Everything about this modernized take on ”Snow White” is groan-worthy: The love interest’s name is…Tyler Prince (Matt Long)! The evil ”queen” is a sorority president named…Rachel Witchburn (Sara Paxton)! Instead of seven dwarfs, the heroine (Amanda Bynes) takes refuge with…seven dorks! Sydney’s beloved computer is beset with a virus called…The Poison Apple! Take away the hackneyed wordplay, though, and all that’s left is a clichéd slobs-vs.-snobs story that even Snow herself would find corny.
GREAT: Ever After (1998)
Yes, Drew Barrymore’s accent might be a little shaky — but it’s still tough not to be charmed by this ”Cinderella”-inspired fable, which purports to be the true story of the cinder girl who snagged a prince. Ella is reimagined as Danielle de Barbarac (Barrymore), a book-loving French noblewoman treated as a servant by her haughty Baroness stepmother (Anjelica Huston, of course). Royal balls, glass slippers, and one major makeover all make an appearance, but with a clever twist — and in this version of the story, the role of Fairy Godmother is cheekily filled by an elderly Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey).
GRIMM: Beastly (2011)
When the best thing about your modernized version of ”Beauty and the Beast” is Mary-Kate Olsen as a campy, clearly not high-school-aged teenage witch, you might just want to re-evaluate things. Alex Pettyfer and Vanessa Hudgens star as a rich, vain, cursed prep and the scrappy girl who inexplicably loves him in this perfunctory film, which adds unnecessary elements like a drug-addicted dad and a maid in need of green cards to the classic meditation on inner beauty. At least Pettyfer avoided the embarrassment of a fur suit; his beast gets covered in badass tattoos instead.
GREAT: Tangled (2010)
Of all the damsels in the Grimm catalogue, poor, shuttered Rapunzel must be in the most distress. Enter Disney’s proto-Frozen, which sets the long-haired maiden free and sends her on a madcap adventure with a charming rogue named Flynn Rider. The heroine’s princessification isn’t entirely necessary — in the original story, Rapunzel’s parents are common folk — but even so, the film’s witty script and even wittier visuals (The Hair should get second billing) made Tangled a deserved hit.
GRIMM: Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
A weak stab at girl power, via a plucky princess who yearns for adventure?then ends up needing to be saved anyway? Check. Generic CGI beasties? Check. Battle sequences that seem lifted wholesale from better, more interesting movies? Check, check, and check. This action-packed take on ”Jack and the Beanstalk” isn’t offensively bad, but it doesn’t tweak the original tale in a particularly interesting way — and while screenwriter Darren Lemke reportedly came up with his version of Jack in the mid-’00s, its much-delayed release date made the movie seem like nothing more than cheap attempt to cash in on the fractured fairy tale trend.
GREAT: The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Disney’s last traditionally animated fairy tale doesn’t just switch things up by making the heroine of ”The Frog Prince” African-American — it completely changes the film’s setting from a fantasy kingdom to 1920s New Orleans, its villain from a spiteful fairy to a flamboyant witch doctor, and its plot from a straightforward tale of transformation to a complicated story involving Mardi Gras, voodoo, and a Cajun firefly named Ray. The whole thing is as sweet and satisfying as a good beignet.
GRIMM: Red Riding Hood (2011)
Turning ”Little Red Riding Hood” into a young adult story about sexy werewolves seems like a no-brainer in these post-Twilight times. But no amount of moody music and swooning shots of a red-on-white palate could enliven this snoozy story, which ages up Red (Amanda Seyfried) and thrusts her into a dull love triangle with two village dudes who look exactly alike (Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons). Also, one of those dudes is named ”Peter.” As in ”Peter and the Wolf.” Screenwriting just doesn’t get much lazier than that.
GREAT: Ponyo (2008)
Master animator Hayao Miyazaki was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s ”The Little Mermaid” while making this whimsical film about a goldfish who yearns to be a girl. Luckily, Miyazaki left out the original story’s violence — and bummer of an ending — and added in plenty of family-friendly hijinks and beautiful visual sequences, as well as vocal heavyweights like Tina Fey and Liam Neeson in the English-language version of the movie.
GRIMM: Mirror Mirror (2012)
Tarsem Singh’s energetic, candy-colored family comedy aims for post-modern self-awareness, but prizes lush visuals (and corny, corny jokes) over strong storytelling. And come to think of it, maybe those visuals are a little too much; as EW film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote in her review, the director (who got his start in music videos and commercials) ”never met a lily he didn’t want to gild and then photograph through a kaleidoscope.”
GREAT: Enchanted (2007)
This live action/animated hybrid answers a question every fantasy fan has posed at some point: What would happen if the characters from a classic Disney movie were dropped into the real world? The answer: They’d lead joyous singalongs in Central Park, mistake buses for fearsome dragons, and draft rats and cockroaches to help clean a nasty apartment. Enchanted pokes fun at fairy tale conventions without lurching into cynicism, making the whole saga thoroughly, ahem, charming.
GRIMM: A Cinderella Story (2004)
Most teen romances are, in some way, variations on the tale of Cindy and her glass slippers — but this mid-aughts misfire takes things a step farther, giving its good-hearted heroine (Hilary Duff) a cartoonishly wicked stepfamily and replacing that fragile shoe with a lost cell phone. The movie as a whole is too bland to inspire anything more than a medium-sized eye roll, though that hasn’t prevented two even blander straight-to-DVD sequels from getting greenlit.
GREAT: A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Perhaps ”The Adventures of Pinocchio” is not, strictly speaking, a fairy tale (it’s a children’s novel rather than a piece of folklore). It is, however, a story that heavily involves an actual fairy, so we’ll let it slide — especially because Steven Spielberg’s poignant twist on the tale, which recasts the marionette as an android who fervently wishes to become a real boy (played by Haley Joel Osment at his otherworldly best), hits the sweet spot between cold futurism and gooey sentiment. Also: Meryl Streep as the Blue Fairy!
GRIMM: Puss in Boots (2011)
Take the Shrek franchise’s kitchen-sink sensibility but leave out the heart, and you’ll get Puss — a muddled mish-mosh of stories and nursery rhymes including ”Jack and Jill,” ”Jack and the Beanstalk,” ”Humpty Dumpty,” and, of course, the titular tale. Antonio Banderas’s voice work is winning, but his one-note suave kitty character isn’t interesting enough to sustain his own movie, no matter how wide he can open those baby greens.
GRIMM: Sleeping Beauty (2011)
This Australian drama is a loose adaptation of Yasunari Kawabata’s novella House of the Sleeping Beauties rather than a direct, modernized take on Charles Perrault’s classic fairy tale. Still, its plot is so skin-crawlingly creepy — Emily Browning plays a young prostitute who drinks soporific tea so that her clients can take advantage of her as she sleeps — that we’d be remiss not to include it.