The Best Movies Loosely-Based On Fairy Tales You Probably Haven't Seen

In college I was assigned to read something that argued all stories can be boiled down to a handful of classic texts. I never actually did the assignment, but when I explained to the professor I was sure the crux of the argument was merely a variation on essential lessons I'd already learned I was swiftly given an A.

This week Tarsem and his team of amazing technicolor dreamcoats are serving up an oddball version of the Snow White story with Mirror, Mirror. It's not a particularly good film, but it isn't awful either. It will eventually sit nicely on the shelf of strange cinematic extrapolations on classic fairy tale stories, which, as luck might have it, is the topic of this week's TBMYPHS.

So close your eyes, my pretties, and get ready for a nice hybrid of creepy violence and overwrought moralism.

Freeway (1996); Matthew Bright, director.

I was an early adopter of Reese Witherspoon, already a fan of her work as the young wife to the very old Oliver Reed in the "not McMurtry-canon" Return to Lonesome Dove miniseries. (Yeah, I know – my tastes are all over the road sometimes.) It was her performance in Freeway, however, that got everyone's attention.

Her turn as the sexy, violent and crafty "Little Red Riding Hood" opposite Keifer Sutherland's Big Bad Wolf is what shot her into stardom. (Note: the film itself wasn't actually seen by many in theaters, but it got a lot of people yapping, was a home video hit, and landed her some choice roles.) Freeway is a great sample specimin of post-Tarantino 90s American indie: a little bit sleazy, a little bit smart.

Krysar (The Pied Piper of Hamelin) (1985); Jiri Barta, director.

A few weeks back I devoted a whole column to Czech cinema but, truth is, I just scratched the surface. I'm pretty sure the boss isn't walking past your cubicle, so take a few moments to watch the opening chunk of Jiri Barta's gorgeous and creative version of the Pied Piper tale. Mixing live action (real rats!) and stop-motion, the architecture and citizens of Hamelin are rendered in woodcuts reminiscent of medieval art. No, you aren't missing the subtitles – after an opening intro, the entire film's dialogue is like the parents from Peanuts. It is one of the most meticulous feature films I've ever seen.

La Belle et La Bete (1946); Jean Cocteau, director.

Disney's Mrs. Potts sang "tale as old as time" and she wasn't kidding. This version of "Beauty and the Beast" is mysterious, magical and poetic. I produced a genuine wonderment-generated gasp the first time I saw the "living candelabras" in Jean Cocteau's film. (I was also a little boy living alone in a train station at the theater with Chloe Moretz.)

Do yourself a favor and rent the Criterion version, then watch it again with Philip Glass' opera on the alternate audio track. It's like an artier version of watching The Wizard of Oz timed to Pink Floyd.

Cindefella (1960); Frank Tashlin, director.

Speaking of French Renaissance men like Jean Cocteau, what about the Gallic nation's favorite son Jerry Lewis?

In this one, the evil step-parent, heartsick servant and proprietary footwear all get genderbent. Cinderalla? CinderFELLA! (Did I mention this guy is a treasure in France?)

Jerry Lewis is certainly an acquired taste (the only thing I know that can clear a room faster is the music of Captain Beefheart) but this is actually one of the better ones. Take a look at the video embedded above, but maybe skip directly to the 2:44 mark. (Oh, and those are the swingin' sounds of the Count Basie Orchestra you're hearing.)

The Company of Wolves (1984); Neil Jordan, director.

Before Neil Jordan was scaring us with close-ups of Jaye Davidson's schlong, he burst on the scene with this fantasia of dark fairy tales. The trailer doesn't quite show how this movie is more of a riff on the insidious nature of horror stories. It blends the fantasy world of grieving young girl and a reality that may just have some fantasy in it. (Hey, I say if Angela Landsbury is giving you red hooded jackets to wear, it is a smart bet that wolves are coming to kill you.)

Little Otik (2001); Jan Svankmajer, director.

If I'm going to suggest Barta's Pied Piper, then I have to mention this. If we lived in Central Europe we'd know all about this fairy tale about the parents who give birth to a tree stump. I'll be honest, though, I thought this just came fresh from Svankmajer's whacked-out mind when I first saw this.

Using far less animation that his other features, this surreal movie is set mostly in an old apartment building and uses that physical space not just for maximum horror potential, but for comedy as well. This one would probably make a killer double feature with Roman Polanski's The Tenant.

Hanna (2011), Joe Wright, director.

Okay, this one is kinda directed more at me. Hanna, still so new you can probably buy it at the Wal-Mart at full price, was actually a box office success. And yet it bounced right off me. I basically shooed the movie away after I saw it, thinking it silly. (I never could get past the fact that the camera went upside-down for no good reason during the bunker escape scene.)

Now that time has passed I'm beginning to realize that it may actually be a great film. Part of my problem, I think, is that I took it too literally and didn't approach it as a fable. And all the signs are there! From a prominently placed Grimm's book to an Act 3 conclusion that is a veritable explosion of fairy tales. If you, like I, were focused more on the ass-kicking and the girls' friendship, maybe it makes sense to take a look at this one again.

Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964); Gordon Douglas, director.

Frank, Sammy & Dino rob from the rich and give to the poor. And sing "My Kind of Town." And cross paths with an old Bing Crosby and a young Peter Falk. This movie is 100 times better than the original Ocean's 11, I swear.

More Movies You Probably Havent Seen: