With the newly released live-action Beauty and the Beast trailer, starring Emma Watson’s inquisitive glance, Disney’s live- action revival train is full steam ahead. We already got a live-action Cinderella and we will be getting a live action Little Mermaid starring Kickass’s Chloe Grace Moretz. This is exciting for Disney nostalgia and fairy-tale connoisseurs, but these updates would do well to take a leaf from Penny Dreadful’s book.
The Cinderella film was visually appealing, but it took a story everyone is familiar with, and just regurgitated it. It didn’t even play around in the same vein as Into The Woods, it merely hit all the beats we already know: The evil stepmother, the charming prince Robb Stark (you might be trying to do other roles, Richard Madden, but The North Remembers) — the kooky fairy godmother. It was fun, but it was all very tame.
And sure, you could argue fairy tales are originally for children, and tameness is sort of the point — but that’s not true. The Brother’s Grimm collected dark and strange stories that were only diluted for children later down the line. The original Cinderella ends with gruesome eye-gouging, while the original Little Mermaid ends with a weird semi-suicide and the mermaid in question doesn’t quite get the prince. Fairy tales are batshit insane, and when they’re done well, they can create gorgeous and mature stories like Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak.
We all know fairy-tales tropes, characters, and plot meanderings; they’re highly traveled roads with well-worn groves. Though Disney has great casting instincts (Emma Watson as Belle was meant to be), it shouldn’t sanitize these tales the same way the cartoons did; regurgitating them onscreen in live action. It should mimic what Penny Dreadful does.
Penny Dreadful is a show that also takes stories and characters we’re all familiar with, and employs a mixture of expected beats and subversive steps. Van Helsing seems like he’ll be a big deal, then — spoiler alert — gets killed almost immediately. Frankenstein creates his monster, but he’s surprisingly gentle and docile. Until — spoiler alert — Frankenstein’s previous failed monster appears and kills the docile one (RIP Proteus). But we later learn that he, too, has more to him than meets the eye. The wolfman is a charming gunslinger.
To take a tale as old as time and re-tell it is always an exciting thing — but to make it truly fresh and vibrant, Disney should spin it in new and surprising ways.