Shelf Help: Fairy Tale Favorites

What is your favorite fairy tale film?

With this week’s release of Oz Perkin’s Gretel & Hansel, there seems to be something magical and mischievous in the air. This week our Shelfers take on this topic with their wings flapping and glitter glimmering.

What is your fairy tale favorite film?


The Red Shoes

If you ever have the chance to see The Red Shoes in a film projection in a theatre, take it. Catching Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 masterpiece at Ottawa’s By Towne Cinema was love at first sight. The Red Shoes is the ultimate chef’s kiss in Technicolor. It’s a gloriously eye-popping take on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale as ballerina Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) finds herself torn between two men and her love for the dance. At the centre of the film is the ballet of The Red Shoes itself: a hypnotic 15-minute feat of silent cinema, full of hallucinatory impressions Victoria’s passion hits a new high and life imitates art. The ballet perfectly translates the magic and fantastical elements of fairy tale lore through practical effects, music, and Shearer’s captivating performance. (Take that, CGI!) It’s one of the single best sequences of any film, period. –Pat Mullen




I tend to like films that offer an interesting twist on the traditional fairy tale narrative. This explains why I was instantly taken with Matthew Bright’s 1996 film Freeway. Offering a very dark take on the Little Red Riding Hood fable, Bright transplants the tale from the forest to the streets of America. The naïve young Red is replaced by the illiterate Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon), a teen with a lengthy criminal record and a troubled family. Through her journey she meets the seemingly friendly Bob (Kiefer Sutherland), a school counselor who also moonlights as the infamous “I-5 Killer.”

Known for abusing and killing young girls, Bob thinks he has found himself another easy mark. That is until Vanessa turns the tables on him and finds herself on trial for attempted murder. Using its dark comedic beats Bright’s film takes great pleasure in skewing the traditional fairy tale tropes. However, even in its most twisted moments, the film still manages to make poignant commentaries on the class divide in America and the country’s flawed criminal justice system. –Courtney Small




Although I’m not a huge fan of Disney’s Big-Eyes-Tiny-Waist animation style, I absolutely adore this movie. It’s got some of the catchiest, most winning songs of the entire Disney catalogue, a bright and colourful palate, and a truly unique take on the tale of Rapunzel. What seals this as my all-time favourite fairy tale adaptation is that unlike most other damsel-in-distress plots, the heroine in Tangled actually has agency; she takes it upon herself to escape her tower, and ultimately she saves not only herself but the hero too, giving him not only his life but a reason to live. –Jenny Bullough


Aladdin (1992)

In addition to the amazing performance by Robin Williams, Aladdin features some of the most catchy Disney songs. “Friend Like Me” is a personal favourite. As a kid I enjoyed the adventurous nature of the film. However, as an adult, I truly appreciate the tension created between Aladdin and the Genie as Aladdin seemingly reneges on his promise to set Genie free. The overall push for Aladdin to be himself with Jasmine also plays well for me in adulthood. –Daniel Grant 


The 10th Kingdom


Why pick one fairy tale when you can have them ALL? In 2000, NBC aired a 10-hour, five-part miniseries called The 10th Kingdom which took place in a hidden realm of nine magical kingdoms filled with every fairy tale character you could think of. As you might have guessed, an evil queen (Dianne Wiest!) wants to rule them all so naturally it’s up to a plucky young woman (Kimberley Williams) from the real world — get it? it’s the 10th kingdom! — and her oafish dad (John Larroquette) to travel to the realm through a secret magical mirror and put an end to her evil ways. Makes sense to me. Ann-Margret, Ed O’Neill, Warwick Davis and Rutger Hauer are all in this as various fairytale characters. Is this actually good? Probably not. But in 2000, I definitely bought the 3-tape VHS set from Columbia Video House. Might be time to dust those tapes off again. –Rachel West



There is such a kindness at the heart of Penelope. Though the story of romance and snouts is not based in any specific fairy tale, all of the elements are there. The generational curse. The evil witch. The lessons to be learned. And, of course, the voice-over to keep it all light enough to not be a downer. In the tale, due to a deserved curse against her family, Penelope was born with a pig snout for a nose. With her high station in society, her parents (Richard E. Grant and Catherine O’Hara) insist she marry a blue blooded young man, despite her face. Penelope rebels, the tabloids catch on, and she must work on finding herself out there in the big world. It might be a little hoaky and a little too cute for its own good, but when it comes to reframing the feeling of a fairy tale into a modern setting, you cannot do better than Penelope.Deirdre Crimmins

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