LOS ANGELES — Everyone wants the happily-ever-after — that's why fairy tale movies are so popular. This week, we have "Mirror Mirror," a cheeky take on "Snow White" from the perspective of the evil Queen, played by Julia Roberts. So here's a look at five fabulous films that just might have you believing in magic:
"Pan's Labyrinth" (2006): A total original — very much in keeping with Guillermo del Toro's wondrously dark, strange aesthetic, and yet an unforgettable entity all its own. A little girl escapes the horrors of 1944 Fascist Spain by spending time in the ruins of an ancient labyrinth; there, the satyr Pan befriends her and assigns her a series of tasks to prove herself and return to her once-happy life. Del Toro moves seamlessly between fantasy and reality — each with its own vivid, nightmarish imagery — and has crafted a film that was very much deserving of its Academy Awards for cinematography, art direction and makeup. It's at once gorgeous and terrifying; it'll make you marvel at its imagination and cringe in fear.
"The Princess Bride" (1987): Yes, it was only a month ago that we discussed this in pondering Billy Crystal's best performances prior to the Oscars. Still, any opportunity to write about this film will do, and here's an excellent one. Rob Reiner found such a difficult balance in satirizing bedtime stories in general and fairy tales specifically: He came up with a film that was self-referential without being smug and sweet without being saccharine. It has such a great cast (Crystal, Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant and, of course, Robin Wright and Cary Elwes as the destined young lovers), so many memorable moments and so many classic lines that I still quote to this day. Because I'm a dork, and mentally I'm still in high school.
"Sleeping Beauty" (1959): We had to have an actual, traditional fairy tale on this list, right? I also included this recently among my movies-as-comfort-food selections. It was my favorite animated Disney film growing up, one that's uncharacteristically chickish of me, I realize in retrospect. But when you're a little girl, it does indeed seem magical. And Aurora's just so pretty, so graceful and tall, and she can sing in the forest with the furry, little woodland creatures and still effortlessly manage to charm a prince without missing a beat. Of course, the hand-inked animation is beautifully detailed, too, and the whole experience is enhanced by the sweeping score adapted from Tchaikovsky's ballet.
"The Red Shoes" (1948): Just a lush, passionate, overwhelmingly romantic experience, but — like any classic fairy tale — one that's filled with villainy and danger and the possibility of death. Adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen fable, this Technicolor extravaganza follows the doomed fate of an ambitious, up-and-coming ballerina (Moira Shearer) who makes the fatal mistake of falling in love with the composer of the ballet that made her a star. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's musical masterpiece had an obvious influence on many subsequent dance pictures, including "The Turning Point" and "Black Swan." It's about love and jealousy but, even more deeply, the driving need to create art.
"Enchanted" (2005): A lot of movies have knowingly, winkingly made fun of familiar fairy-tale conventions. (You will notice that nowhere on this list is the word "Shrek" included.) Disney was smart enough to goof on itself here — with obvious affection, impeccable craftsmanship and zero snark. Amy Adams is impossibly irresistible as the wide-eyed, would-be princess Giselle, who's banished by the wicked Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) from her idyllic cartoon playland to the harsh reality of Times Square before she can marry her one true love, Prince Edward (James Marsden). But she still maintains a sunny disposition and a song in her heart, which is infectious.