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A Brief History of Pantomime Stories on Film: Part 2

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This time of year is synonymous with that great British tradition, the festive pantomime. Once again, however, the pandemic is making it difficult to get to theatres (oh, yes it is!). So, why not let Cinema Paradiso bring the pantomime to you, so you can have a fun night in with the whole family?

In the first part of this Cinema Paradiso Brief History, we have seen how pantomime started in Ancient Rome and reached the British Isles in the form of the medieval commedia dell'arte. Over time, staples such as the 'harlequinade' chase and the magical set transformation scene were dropped from the pantomime formula, as Victorian impresarios came to base their festive shows on the fairytales written by the likes of Charles Perrault, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, Joseph Jacobs, and Hans Christian Andersen

Stage pantomimes have rarely stuck to the original fables and the structure became looser than ever after leading music-hall stars started taking starring roles and slipping their specialities and catchphrases into the script. Yet, while film-makers started making screen versions of the most popular scenarios, they tended to return to the literary sources rather than incorporate bits of pantomime business. We have already seen how cinema approached the enchanting sagas of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Red Riding Hood. So, now let's see how some of the other pantomime storylines that have delighted generations of theatre-goers have gone on to become firm film favourites.

A Whole New World

So far, we have focussed on pantomime princesses. However, a clutch of popular storylines centre on male protagonists, even though they are sometimes played on stage by female stars. We've had the occasional Prince Charming to sweep Cinders, Aurora and Snow White off their feet. But the characters we are about to encounter are more like anti-heroes, who have to overcome overwhelming odds and personal foibles in order to triumph over adversity and win the hand of their beloved.

The tale ofAladdindidn't form part of Hanna Diyab's original text of One Thousand and One Nights, which is also known as The Arabian Nights. However, it has been part of the canon since being added by translator Antoine Galland in the early 18th century. In the hands of Britain's pantomime producers, the story of the impoverished boy who is tricked into tracking down a magic lamp for an evil sorcerer has often been linked with the saga of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

Moreover, stage writers also created the most iconic pantomime dame in Widow Twankey, whose influence can be seen in characters like Arthur Lucan's Old Mother Riley and Brendan O'Carroll's Agnes Brown. Cinema Paradiso users can enjoy six features and a short on The Old Mother Riley Collection, while Oswald Mitchell's Old Mother Riley MP (1938) and Old Mother Riley in Paris (1939) are available in their own double bill. As for the Queen of Dublin town, she can be found in Ben Kellett's Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie (2004), as well as in the BBC sitcom Mrs Brown's Boys (2011-).

A still from Mrs. Browns Boys (2012)
A still from Mrs. Browns Boys (2012)

As Orientalism frequently impacted upon the creative imagination in fin-de-siècle France, it's hardly surprising that Georges Méliès ventured into the exotic in The Palace of the Arabian Nights (1905). However, Prince Sourire didn't encounter the Genie of the Lamp and it was brothers Chester and Sidney Franklin who first brought the story to the screen in Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917), which was notable for the fact that seven year-old Francis Carpenter led a cast made up entirely of children.

When German animator Lotte Reiniger wrote her silhouette masterpiece, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), she spiced up the action by havingAladdincompete for the hand of Achmed's sister, Dinarsade, with the wicked sorcerer. Producer Alexander Korda also urged his writers to borrow elements of theAladdinstory for The Thief of Bagdad (1940), a Technicolor remake of Raoul Walsh's 1924 Douglas Fairbanks vehicle, The Thief of Bagdad, which was directed by Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger and Tim Whelan. Not only is there a genie (played by Rex Ingram), but the villain confronted by Ahmad (John Justin) and Abu (Sabu) is now the ruthless Grand Vizier, Jafar (Conrad Veidt).

Aladdin resurfaces in the form of John Qualen in John Rawlins's Arabian Nights (1942), which was the first film made in three-strip Technicolor by Universal Studios. Teaming Maria Montez, Sabu and Jon Hall, the action revolves around the storytelling Sherazade and the travelling circus in whichAladdinis now a star attraction along with Sinbad the Sailor (Shemp Howard). Hall and Montez would reunite in Arthur Lubin's Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1943), which typified the exotica that the studio released to boost wartime morale and which Columbia shamelessly sought to emulate in Alfred E. Green's A Thousand and One Nights (1945).

Despite being nominated for two Oscars, this romp isn't currently available on disc, even though Cornel Wilde cuts a dash as Aladdin, Rex Ingram plays a giant who looks very like his earlier genie, and Evelyn Keyes plays the screen's first female genie (although she was closely followed by the Bollywood star Nimmi in K. Armanath's 1953 masala, Alif-Laila, which is one of several Indian reinterpretations of the tale). But Universal wasn't above plundering its own catalogue, as it teamed Yvonne De Carlo and Richard Greene in the Montez and Hall roles for Frederick De Cordova's The Desert Hawk (1950).

If Keyes brought a little anachronistic sex appeal to the role of Babs, Japanimators Osamu Tezuka and Eiichi Yamamoto took the story into 'adults only' territory with A Thousand and One Nights (1969), which launched the Animerama series of erotic fairytales that also includes Cleopatra (1970) and Belladonnna of Sadness (1973). Chronicling the rags-to-riches exploits of a water seller named Aldin, this 130-minute odyssey riffs on severalArabian Nightsstorylines in becoming the first X-rated cartoon three years before Ralph Bakshi's groundbreaking Fritz the Cat (1972).

A still fromFritz the Cat (1972)
A still from Fritz the Cat (1972)

Although he had featured in cartoons starring Popeye (1939) and Mr Magoo (1959), Aladdinhad failed to capture the imagination of Walt Disney. In 1988, however, lyricist Howard Ashman pitched a 40-page treatment that prompted a protracted writing phase that culminated in directors Ron Clements and John Musker being entrusted with Aladdin (1992). Borrowing elements from Korda's The Thief of Bagdad and Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz (1939), the scenario eventually pittedAladdin (Scott Weinger) and Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin) against Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), the Grand Vizier of Agrabah. The show was roundly stolen, however, by Robin Williams, who improvised much of his dialogue after being chosen to play Genie over John Candy, Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy.

Despite adding a first Grammy to its two Oscar wins, Disney proved unable to persuade Williams to return for either direct-to-video sequel, The Return of Jafar (1994) and Aladdinand the King of Thieves (1996). Neither won critical favour, however, and led to Stewie Griffin bemoaning the release of Aladdin4: Jafar May Need Glasses in the 2007 'Lois Kills Stewie' episode in Season Six of Family Guy (1999-).

Made in anticipation of Disney's version, Masakazu Higuchi and Chinami Namba's Aladdin was released seven months in advance. However, neither Cam Clarke in the title role nor Jeff Bennett as Genie could hold a candle to the British cast assembled for Timothy Forder's Aladdin (both 1992), which boasts Derek Jacobi as the Magician, Kate O'Mara as Madam Roly Poly, Penelope Keith as Madam Dim Sum, Jason Connery as the Vizier and Edward Woodward as the Sultan.

Jafar would join forces with Cruella, Hades, Ursula, CaptainHookand Maleficent in Jamie Mitchell and Rick Calabash's Mickey's House of Villains (2002) before returning in the guise of Marwan Kenzari in Guy Ritchie's live-action Aladdin (2019), which also recruited Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott and Will Smith to play Aladdin, Jasmine and Genie. Keen to cash in, Glenn Campbell's The Adventures ofAladdin also went down the live-action route to retell the tale of love against the odds with Adam Hollick and Lucia Xypteras playingAladdinand Shahzadi. All we need now is for someone to remember that Cole Porter put a musical spin on Aladdin for US television in 1958, although it would also be nice to see Donald O'Connor headlining Henry Levin's 1961 version, as the second unit work was directed by future horror maestro, Mario Bava.

A still fromAladdin (2019)
A still from Aladdin (2019)


Although The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean first appeared in 1734, it's Joseph Jacobs's 1890 account of a young boy's mishaps with a handful of magic beans that has inspired the majority of stage and screen retellings of Jack and the Beanstalk. Indeed, Edwin S. Porter drew on the Jacobs version in makingJack and the Beanstalk (1902) just 12 years later and this pioneering panto tale can be found on Charles Musser's Before the Nickelodeon: The Cinema of Edwin S. Porter (1982).

Seen by some as a parable about the lower classes toppling the élite, Jack's clash with the giant bears comparison with stories about Satanic temptation and the slaying of dragons. However, such interpretations were probably far from the minds of Max and Dave Fleischer while starring Betty Boop inJack and the Beanstalk (1931), which can be found on Betty Boop: The Ultimate Collection (2006). Walt Disney was also looking to entertain rather than moralise in Giantland (1933), the first of two versions featuring Mickey Mouse. He clambered into the clouds again in Hamilton Luske's Mickey and the Beanstalk, which originally formed part of Fun and Fancy Free (both 1947), a musical anthology that is also available to rent from Cinema Paradiso.

Plans for Disney to make Gigantic in the 2010s came to nought, but don't be surprised if the project is revived. After all, it has been keeping American animators gainfully employed since Friz Freleng starred Bugs Bunny in Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk (1943), which is available on Looney Tunes: Parodies Collection (2004). And if you fancy seeing Freleng's Tweety and the Beanstalk (1957), why not place an order for Volume 5 of Looney Tunes: Golden Collection (2008) ?

A still fromRevolting Rhymes (2016)
A still from Revolting Rhymes (2016)

If it's a full-length feature you're looking for, why not check outSpikeBrandt and Tony Cervone's Tom and Jerry's Giant Adventure (2013), which sees the cat-and-mouse duo help the young son of the owner when the Storybook Town theme park falls on hard times. But there's also a short and not-so-sweet version on offer in Revolting Rhymes (2016), an animated series based on Roald Dahl's reimagining of some familiar stories that sees Jack develop a crush on the girl next door, who just happens to be Cinderella.

Staying on the small screen, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie took on Alfie Bass's undersized giant in The Goodies and the Beanstalk (1973), which can be rented from Cinema Paradiso on The Goodies...At Last (2003). But they were not the first comedy team to scramble up some freakish vegetation and confront an ogre, as Bud Abbott and Lou Costello had locked horns with peasant basher Buddy Baer in Jean Yarbrough's Jack and the Beanstalk (1952). Bookended with sepia sequences, this was the twosome's first colour feature and was made through their own company, as Universal insisted on keeping them in black and white. If the sets look familiar, check the backdrops to Victor Fleming's Joan of Arc (1948), which had earned Ingrid Bergman an Oscar nomination.

Sadly, it's also not possible to see Gene Kelly's Emmy-winning TV special, Jack and the Beanstalk (1967). although today's younger viewers would probably rather sit down to Bernard Cribbins introducing CBeebies Panto:Jack and the Beanstalk (2014), in which Jack (Sid Sloane) has to recover objects stolen from the royal palace by a light-fingered giant (Andy Day).

Fans of stop-motion animation can rejoice, however, in the fact that Nathan Juran's Jack the Giant Killer (1962) is avaible on high-quality DVD and Blu-ray to show how a Cornish farm boy (Kerwin Mathews) incurs the wrath of Pendragon the sorcerer (Torin Thatcher) by rescuing Princess Elaine (Judi Meredith) from a hulking menace named Cormoran. By contrast, Colin Ford plucks Chloë Grace Moretz from the clutches of a giant voiced by James Earl Jones, after he has turned her into a singing harp, in Gary J. Tunnicliffe's Jack and the Beanstalk (2010).

This version finds room for Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Hansel and Gretel. But Bryan Singer keeps things simpler in Jack the Giant Slayer (2013), in which the Kingdom of Cloister is imperilled by the two-headed General Falion and any hopes of rescuing Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) depend on Jack (Nicholas Hoult) and Elmont (Ewan McGregor), the commander of the king's guard.

A still fromInto the Woods (2014) With James Corden And Emily Blunt
A still from Into the Woods (2014) With James Corden And Emily Blunt

Hoult doesn't have as much to carry as Daniel Huttlestone in Rob Marshall's take on Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods (2014), as he has to descend from the beanstalk carrying a golden harp, a magical goose and lots of shiny coins. But spare a thought for Jack (Eddie Karanja) in David Sant's Jack and the Beanstalk: After Ever After (2020), as he has to smuggle the giant (David Walliams) past The Woman With No Name (Sheridan Smith) and out of the village before he recovers his memory and starts eating people again.

Second Star on the Right

One hundred and twenty years have passed sincePeter Panfirst appeared in five chapters of J.M. Barrie's adult tome, The Little White Bird. Such was the reception that the Scotsman wrote a 1904 stage play and a 1911 novel about the boy who never grew up (who was modelled on a brother who had died young in a skating accident). Marc Forster explores how its genesis was shaped by Barrie's friendship with the Llewellyn Davies family in Finding Neverland (2004), which echoed the story told in Rodney Bennett's The Lost Boys (1978), which saw Ian Holm predate Johnny Depp as the much-troubled author.

Curiously, no British film-maker felt compelled to adapt the story and it fell to Herbert Brenon to make Peter Pan (1924) for Paramount Pictures. Although Barrie wrote an original scenario, the studio rejected it in favour of a reworking of the 1904 stage text. Barrie did get to choose Betty Bronson for the title role, however, which followed the pantomime tradition of casting an actress as the male lead. She was ably supported by Mary Brian and Ernest Torrence asWendyand Captain Hook, while George Ali donned a dog costume to play Nana.

It's a shame this lively silent isn't available on disc, but its influence can be seen on Disney's Peter Pan (1953), which was co-directed by Clyde Geronomi, Hamilton Luske and Wilfred Jackson. It took 18 years for this project to reach the screen, as wartime commissions from the US government forced the studio had to postpone work on both PeterPan (1953) and Alice in Wonderland (1951). Jean Arthur and Cary Grant were considered for the voices ofWendyand Peter, but the roles went to Kathryn Beaumont (who also voiced Alice) and Bobby Driscoll, who had made his name as the boy who cried wolf in Ted Tetzlaff's thriller, The Window (1949).

A still fromPeterPan (1953)
A still from Peter Pan (1953)

Peter guested in Tony Craig's Mickey's Magical Christmas (2001) before the studio finally got round to a sequel. This reunited him with Hook,Tinker Belland Smee in Robin Budd's Return to Never Land (2002), which centres on the rite of passage experienced by the cynical Jane, when she follows in mother Wendy's footsteps. Plans are afoot for a live-action version, with Alexander Maloney and Ever Anderson being teamed in David Lowery's Peter Pan&Wendy, which will also feature Jude Law as CaptainHookand Yara Shahidi as Tinker Bell.

A still fromTinker Belland the Legend of the NeverBeast (2014)
A still from Tinker Belland the Legend of the NeverBeast (2014)

Such is the popularity within Disney of this sometimes grumpy fairy that she has become the studio's unofficial mascot after Mickey Mouse. Indeed, her wand had sprinkled stardust on numerous releases before 'Tink' (voiced by Mae Whitman) was given her own franchise. Via the magic of the Internet, Cinema Paradiso users can enjoy Tinker Bell (2008), Tinker Belland the Lost Treasure (2009), Tinker Belland the Great Fairy Rescue (2010), The Secret of the Wings (2012), The Pirate Fairy, and Tinker Belland the Legend of the NeverBeast (both 2014) at the click of a mouse.

Away from animation, a number of live-action pictures have reworked Barrie's story, including Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys (1987), which centres on the ageless Californian vampires led by biker David Powers (Kiefer Sutherland). By contrast, Peter Banning (Robin Williams) succumbs to growing up and forgets all about his carefree youth in Steven Spielberg's Hook (1991). However, when the scheming pirate (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps Peter's children, he has to return to Never Land and ally withTinker Bell (Julia Roberts) to bring Jack (Charlie Korsmo) and Maggie (Amber Scott) home.

Shrugging off indifferent reviews to make money and acquire cult status, this reboot has fared better with audiences than either P.J. Hogan's Peter Pan (2003) or Nick Willing's Neverland (2011). The former restored the romantic spark between Peter (Jeremy Sumpter) andWendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) during their tussle with CaptainHook (Jeremy Isaacs). But the latter mini-series opted to go down the prequel route to show how Peter (Charlie Rowe) is recruited to a gang of street thieves in Edwardian London by JamesHook (Rhys Ifans). With Bob Hoskins as Smee, Anna Friel as Elizabeth Bonny and Keira Knightley as the voice of Tinker Bell, this origin story was more widely seen than Damion Dietz's Neverland: Never Grow Up, Never Grow Old (2011), which put a dark spin on proceedings by making Peter an androgynous teen,Wendyan African-American adoptee,Tinker Bella drug addict, Tiger Lily a transvestite and CaptainHooka gay hustler.

A still fromPeter and Wendy (2015)
A still from Peter and Wendy (2015)

Joe Wright's Pan (2015) also delved into Peter's early days, as it plucks a lonely 12 year-old (Levi Miller) from a London orphanage and sweeps him off to Neverland, where Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) andHook (Garrett Hedlund) need help seeing off the threat of Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). The same year also saw ITV broadcast Diarmuid Lawrence's Peter and Wendy, which stressed the connection between Barrie and the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital to which he had bequeathed the copyright to his stories. While awaiting heart surgery, Lucy Rose (Hazel Doupe) imagines she isWendyon an adventure withPeter Pan (Zak Sutcliffe), CaptainHook (Stanley Tucci) andTinker Bell (Paloma Faith).

In following his success with Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), Benh Zeitlin reimagines the story as saga of the Deep South in Wendy (2020), which sees the daughter of a diner waitress (Devin France) and her two brothers follow Peter (Yashua Mack) on to the roof of a passing train that takes them to the volcanic island where they encounter CaptainHook (Kevin Pugh). There's more revisionism on offer in Come Away (2020), which sees director Brenda Chapman follow the Pixar classic, Brave (2012). with a live-action drama that blends Barrie and Lewis Carroll in having Peter (Jordan A. Nash) and Alice (Keira Chansa), the children of Rose (Angelina Jolie) and Jack Littleton (David Oyelowo), seek solace following the death of their brother in respective dreams of becoming a pirate and hosting an animal tea party.

A still fromPeter PanGoes Wrong (2016)
A still from Peter Pan Goes Wrong (2016)

Michael Caine provides some comic relief as a dodgy wheeler-dealer, while both Peter (Robbie Kay) and CaptainHook (Colin O'Donoghue) supply some Storybrooke villainy in the fantasy series, Once Upon a Time (2011-17). But for pure panto escapism, can we recommend Dewi Humphreys's Peter Pan Goes Wrong (2016), a gleeful record of the Mischief Theatre's inspired stage show that sees David Suchet's narrator attempt to retain a modicum of order amidst the uproarious slapstick chaos.

A Tale As Old As Time

Despite its French origin, Georges Méliès never attempted theBeauty and the Beaststory that had been revised in 1756 by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont from an original manuscript by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. An unsigned 1899 Pathé adaptation was followed by interpretations by Percy Stow (1903), Alberto Capellani (1908) and Herbert M. Dawley (1924) before Friz Freleng added Beauty and the Beast (1934) to the Merrie Melodies catalogue.

Fittingly, however, it was a Frenchman who produced the most sublime account of a young woman's incarceration in the castle of a monster. Combining lyrical inspiration with intellectual depth, Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête (1946) was a surreal riposte to the bestial Nazi occupation of France that starred Josette Day and Jean Marais. Designed by Christian Bérard and Lucien Carré and atmospherically photographed by Henri Alekan, the action recalled the illustrations of Gustave Doré and the interiors of Jan Vermeer. Yet, while the Mélièsian special effects harked back to more innocent times, the dislocatory cutting and use of electronic music imparted the shock of the new. Unfortunately, postwar audiences were in no mood for allegorical reminders of their humiliation and Cocteau's masterpiece proved a critical and commercial disappointment, whose artistry only came to be appreciated over time.

A still fromBeauty and the Beast (1978)
A still from Beauty and the Beast (1978)

Regrettably, it's not possible to see Edward L. Cahn's Beauty and the Beast (1962), even though this Technicolor retelling starring Joyce Taylor and Mark Damon was the first English-language adaptation and boasted make-up designs by Jack Pierce, who had created Boris Karloff's look for James Whale's Frankenstein (1931). Teaming Rebecca De Mornay and John Savage, Eugene Marner's 1987 musicalisation for Cannon is also unavailable. But Cinema Paradiso users can rent Juraj Herz's disconcertingly grotesque Beauty and the Beast (1978), which casts a dark pall over the story of Julie (Zdena Studenková) and her bid to save her merchant father by sacrificing herself to the beast of the Haunted Wood (Vlastimil Harapes).

The tele-pairings of Trish Van Devere and George C. Scott (1976), Susan Sarandon and Klaus Kinski (1984), and Janine Turner and Jamey Sheridan (1998) might have faded into the memory. But it's still possible to revisit all three seasons of Ron Koslow's Beauty and the Beast (1987-90), in which Vincent Keller (Ron Perlman) emerges from a subterranean realm to help Assistant District Attorney Catherine Chandler (Linda Hamilton) bring justice to a New York that has lost touch with traditional values. Koslow's concept was revived for four more seasons in Beauty & the Beast (2012-16), as NYPD cop Catherine (Kristin Kreuk) has to help former soldier Vincent (Jay Ryan) discover who cursed him if she is to solve her own mother's murder.

A still fromBeauty and the Beast: A Dark Tale (2010)
A still from Beauty and the Beast: A Dark Tale (2010)

Further brooding variations appeared in the form of Robert Beaupage's horror reboot, Spike (2008), and Christophe Gans's Beauty and the Beast (2014), which saw Léa Seydoux thaw the heart of Vincent Cassel. The same year also saw Bella (Bianca Sudrez) fall under the spell of Prince Leon (Alessandro Preziosi), whose face has been disfigured by fire, in Fabrizio Costa'sBeauty and the Beast. Moreover, South African director David Lister is so taken with the story that he has reworked it twice. In Blood of Beasts (aka Blood of the Vikings, 2005), he delved into Norse mythology to pitch Freya (Jane March) against a warrior cursed by Odin (David Dukas). Action is also the name of the game in Beauty and the Beast: A Dark Tale (2009), which teams Belle (Estella Warren) and the Beast (Victor Parascos) as a crime-fighting duo in a kingdom blighted by an evil lord and a witch with a murderous goblin sidekick.

If this sounds more like Game of Thrones (2011-19) than a pantomime, let Gary Teasdale and Kirk Wise bring you back into the enchanted realm with Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991), which became the first animation to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Walt Disney had considered the story as his follow-up to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), but he had struggled to find a workable approach. When Richard Williams was offered the project, he turned it down to complete The Thief and the Cobbler (1993), to which he had already devoted almost three decades.

A still fromSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
A still from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Consequently, Linda Woolverton's screenplay was handed to first-timers Teasdale and Wise, who were blessed with the exceptional song score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken that earned the film its two Oscars. Much of the music was retained when Bill Condon made his live-action Beauty and the Beast (2017), which also found room for some of Menken and Tim Rice's songs from the 1994 Broadway stage version. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens took over from Paige O'Hara and Robby Benson, who had voiced the animated characters. But the most notable change saw Gaston (Luke Evans) become the first gay character in a Disney children's film.

Andrew Knight and Bob Kline directed the respective direct-to-video sequels, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997) and Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World (1998). Subsequently, two retools have brought the story into the modern world. Firstly, witch Mary-Kate Olsen punishes school lothario Alex Pettyfer with a ghastly new look and a crush on former classmate Vanessa Hudgens in Daniel Barnz's adaptation of Alex Flinn's novel, Beastly (2010). Then, social media influencer Leah Pipes hopes that a romance with bad boy Ryan Kelley will distract people from her damaged face in Dylan Vox's ABeauty and the BeastChristmas (2019).

Frisky Two Times

Neither of the latter-mentioned pictures comes close to matching the wit and invention of Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jensen's impish variation on theBeauty and the Beasttheme, Shrek (2001). Produced by DreamWorks from a book by William Steig, the story cleverly debunks fairytale tropes in showing how an ogre namedShrek (Mike Myers) wins the heart of Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), who has been cursed to turn into an ogress at sunset.

The first winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, this instant family favourite took $484.4 million at the global box office and spawned the sequels, Shrek2 (2004), Shrekthe Third (2007) and ShrekForever After (2010), as well as the holiday specials, Shrekthe Halls (2007) and Scared Shrekless (2010).

A still fromThe Princess Bride (1987) With Robin Wright
A still from The Princess Bride (1987) With Robin Wright

With the exception of the original outing, these splendidly innovative animations featured a feline character first mentioned in the 1550s by Giovanni Francesco Straparola. Antonio Banderas brought such Hispanic dash to the role that he was granted his own vehicle, Chris Miller's Oscar-nominated Puss in Boots (2010), as well as the spin-offs, Puss in Boots: The Three Diablos (2012), and the mini-series, The Adventures ofPuss in Boots (2018). Moreover, in addition to lampooning his starring turn in Martin Campbell's The Legend of Zorro (2005), Banderas's performance also evoked memories of another Spanish swordsman, Inigo Montoya, who was played with tongue-in-cheek derring-do by Mandy Patinkin in Rob Reiner's marvellous adaptation of William Goldman's The Princess Bride (1987).

A longtime pantomime stalwart, Puss has been filmed by Ferdinand Zecca and Lucien Nonguet (1903), Alberto Capellani (1908), Walt Disney (1922), Ub Iwerks (1934) and Lotte Reiniger, whosePuss in Boots (1954) can be found on the BFI's splendid collection, Lotte Reiniger: The Fairy Tale Films (2008), along with silhouetted versions ofAladdinand His Magic Lamp (1954) andJack and the Beanstalk (1955).

Fascinatingly, Christopher Walken headlined Eugene Marner's 1988 Cannon musical interpretation, which sees our four-pawed hero transformed into an elegant gentleman. More recently, Jérôme Deschamps, Pascal Herold and Macha Makeïeff revisited Charles Perrault's account for Puss N Boots (2009), a CGI animation that featured Deschamps as the fearless tabby and the always excellent Yolande Moreau as the Queen.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Over the years, the more intrepid theatre producers have sought to introduce a little novelty to pantomime season, with shows based on the stories of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Mother Goose, Robin Hood, Dick Whittington and His Cat, the Pied Piper, Sinbad the Sailor, Robinson Crusoe, St George and the Dragon, the Wizard of Oz, the Snow Queen, Rapunzel, Tom Thumb, Thumbelina, the Nutcracker, the Little Mermaid, the Princess and the Pea, Pinocchio and even Bluebeard. Try typing the names into the Cinema Paradiso searchline and see what comes up.

Clearly, Disney's animated fairytales have influenced the tastes of generations of young moviegoers and seasonal stage shows have reflected those trends. One story the studio has largely avoided, however, involves two young children being imperilled in the forest. Owing more to the Brothers Grimm than a 16th-century Norfolk ballad, Burt Gillett's Babes in the Woods (1934) can be rented from Cinema Paradiso on Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies (2001). But Tim Burton 1983 TV special, Hansel and Gretel, vanished into the vaults after its sole screening and Disney has not returned to the scenario since.

A still fromBabes in Toyland (1961)
A still from Babes in Toyland (1961)

Walt Disney did produce a musical variation on the theme with Jack Donohue's Babes in Toyland (1962), which pitted Mary Contrary (Annette Funicello) and Tom Piper (Tommy Sands) against the villainous Barnaby (Ray Bolger). The latter was voiced by Christopher Plummer in Toby Bluth and Charles Grosvenor's animatedBabes in Toyland (1987). But the most memorable display in the role came from Henry Brandon in Gus Meins and Charley Rogers's March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934), which reworked Victor Herbert's operetta of Babes in the Wood as a vehicle for Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, who abet the romance between Bo Beep (Charlotte Henry) and Tom-Tom (Felix Knight) in the guise of Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee.

Following Lotte Reiniger's 1954 silhouette rendition ofHansel and Gretel (which is also in the aforementioned Fairy Tale Films selection), special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen employed stop-motion techniques on his 1955 short, The Story ofHansel and Gretel. On the live-action front, West Germans Fritz Genschow and Walter Janssen celebrated family life in a Heimat setting in their 1954 feature, while the same brand of sentimentality informed Len Talan's Cannon musical, Hansel and Gretel (1987), in which the children (Hugh Pollard and Nicola Stapleton) who are disowned by their family during a famine are 'rescued' by Griselda the Witch (Cloris Leachman). In 2002, Gary J. Tunnicliffe dotted his Hansel and Gretel with guest turns by a clutch of celebrated comedians. But the standout performance in this period came from Joan Collins, as the malevolent stepmother in a 1982 episode of Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre. Cinema Paradiso users can find this gem on Volume One of this charmingly innovative series, which also contains Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin.

A still fromCriminal Lovers (1999)
A still from Criminal Lovers (1999)

Around this time, what had always been a children's staple started to inform some very grown-up movies, starting with Curtis Harrington's Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972). In 1994, Wes Craven borrowed elements of the story for Wes Craven's New Nightmare, in which Heather Lagenkamp and her fellow cast members are menaced by Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), while working on a new film about the stripy-jumpered boogeyman. François Ozon also erred on the dark side in Criminal Lovers (1999), as a mysterious old man (Miki Manojlovic) ensnares Alice (Natacha Régnier) and Luc (Jérémie Renier) after they get lost in the woods while burying the corpse of a supposedly rapacious classmate.

After the underrated Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam had slipped some urban myths into Grimm (2003), South Korean director Yim Pil-sung added a layer of social critique to his chiller, Hansel and Gretel (2007), which follows salesman Chun Jung-myung as he is lured into the House of Happy Children after surviving a car crash. Twins Booboo and Fivel Stewart also find themselves being confined against their will at Eric Roberts's coven-friendly boarding school in David DeCouteau's Hansel and Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft (2012).

Michael Welch and Molly Quinn are led astray by a drug named Black Forest in Duane Journey's Grimm Tales (2013), which also goes by the titles Hansel & Gretel Get Baked and Hansel & Gretel and the 420 Witch. The latter is played by Lara Flynn Boyle, who is obsessed with eternal youth and uses her stash to lure unsuspecting victims. Lilith (Dee Wallace) is similarly fixated in Anthony C. Ferrante's Hansel and Gretel (2013), although she disposes of the unwanted body parts in the pies she serves at The Gingerbread House, which is the favourite eaterie of Hansel (Brent Lydic) and Gretel Grimm (Stephanie Greco).

Produced by The Asylum, this mockbuster spawned a sequel, Ben Demaree's Hansel vs Gretel (2015), in which Lili Baross replaces Greco to take over the local bakery. Screenwriter Jose Prendes clearly nods in the direction of Norwegian Tommy Wirkola's Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters (2013), a cult success that had taken the story in a new 3-D direction by bringing a diabetic Jeremy Renner and sibling Gemma Arterton to the town of Augsburg in order to prevent the hissable Famke Janssen and her witchy sisters from sacrificing 12 children on the Blood Moon.

Even animations like Aleksei Tsitsilin's Secret Magic Control Agency (2021) have borrowed the witch slayer angle, as SMCA agentsHansel and Gretelare dispatched to quell an outbreak of black magic. However, Oz Perkins edged back towards the darkly fantastical in Gretel and Hansel (2020), in which a 16 year-old (Sophia Lillis) and her eight year-old brother (Sam Leakey) are offered sanctuary by Holda (Alice Krige) after their graspingly poor mother throws them out for failing to find work.

A still fromHansel and Gretel (2013)
A still from Hansel and Gretel (2013)
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