Fairy-Tale Adaptations: It's Ever After, All Right Two new network dramas — and a substantial slate of Hollywood movies — make it clear that there's something eternally enchanting about the folk tales we keep retelling.
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Fairy-Tale Adaptations: It's Ever After, All Right

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Fairy-Tale Adaptations: It's Ever After, All Right

Fairy-Tale Adaptations: It's Ever After, All Right

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: When it comes to Hollywood trends, this season fairy tales are in. The movie release schedule is filled with a fairy tale remakes. And not one, but two new TV series, starting within a week of each other, are based on fairy tales. ABC unveils "Once Upon A Time" on Sunday. And then next Friday, "Grimm" premieres on NBC.

NPR's Neda Ulaby took a look at both and she wondered why fairy tales are making such a comeback.

NEDA ULABY: Maybe because of "Harry Potter" and "Twilight." Just think about how much they'd have to pay Stephenie Meyer for a "Twilight" TV series. But fairy tales are free. "Grimm" is the show that starts next Friday. It's produced by Todd Milliner and David Greenwalt, who was selling the show to fans at San Diego's Comic Con last summer.

DAVID GREENWALT: Todd had an idea in the shower about six years ago. And his idea was what can we do that's in public domain.


ULABY: Fairy tales' cost effectiveness is great for financially fearful studios, premiering expensive dramas with high production values and special effects.

"Grimm" is named for the Brothers Grimm. They're not just writing down fairy tales in this show, they were the first criminal profilers with mystical abilities. When they looked for child molesters, they thought evil wolves and gingerbread-baking witches. The show is about one of their descendants, a police detective, who learns he's inherited their powers from his aunt.


KATE BURTON: (as Aunt Marie) We have the ability to see what no one else can. When they lose control, they can't hide and we see them for what they really are.

ULABY: Grimm is "Law and Order" meets "Little Red Riding hood."


DAVID GIUNTOLI: (as Detective Nick Burkhardt) What do we know?

RUSSELL HORNSBY: (as Hank Griffin) Little girl on way to her grandfather's house and this showed up.

ULABY: Now, if Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm magically had a television in 19th century Germany, they would have been completely baffled by this interpretation of their work, says Maria Tatar. She's a Harvard professor who studies fairy tales and legends.

MARIA TATAR: The Grimms, of course, would of course have been horrified. They were the two scholars, two philologists who were just trying to capture the voice of the people.

ULABY: And not like this.


GIUNTOLI: Hank, I got him.

ULABY: Tatar's taken note of the flood of fairy tale adaptations. From last spring's "Red Riding Hood" movie to upcoming competing adaptations of "Sleeping Beauty" and "Snow White." She believes this is partly because she sees her students sitting around in big groups texting.

TATAR: For that reason, I think we need the melodrama of stories. There's so little affect in our daily lives that we need the sensory overload, the emotional overload of fairy tales more than ever.


ULABY: Putting fairy tales onscreen goes back to cinema's earliest days. Tatar mentions an 1899 movie version of "Cinderella." You can see it on our website. And she says fairy tales have always been grown up entertainment in one form or another.

TATAR: Consider the "Cinderella" story, which appears in "Two Weeks Notice," "Pretty Woman." For example, when Julia Roberts goes shopping, she marches into a store with two evil stepsisters.


JULIA ROBERTS: (as Vivian Ward) Look, I got money to spend in here.

DEY YOUNG: (as Snobby Saleswoman) I don't think we have anything for you. You're obviously in the wrong place. Please leave.

ULABY: Stories like "Cinderella" and "Snow White" are the foundation of a new ABC show called "Once Upon a Time." It begins with a curse.


LANA PARRILLA: (as Evil Queen) Sorry I'm late.

ULABY: When an evil queen storms into a castle to disrupt the literally fairy tale wedding of Snow White and Prince Charming.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as Character) It's the queen. Run.

GINNIFER GOODWIN: (as Snow White) She's not a queen anymore. She's nothing more than an evil witch.

ULABY: Developing back stories and character arcs for, well, archetypes was the job of "Once Upon a Time" executive producer, Edward Kitsis.

EDWARD KITSIS: You know, the evil queen can't just be evil because she's evil. You know, she was made evil. In fact, she's much more tortured and sad than she is just pure evil.

ULABY: In the show, the curse brings the Evil Queen and Snow White to the real world as real people. They've forgotten their actual identities. Snow White is a lovely young school teacher who has no idea that's who she is, even though blue birds flock to her classroom window adoringly.


GOODWIN: (as Snow White) If you love them and they love you, they will always find you. We'll pick this up after recess. No running.

ULABY: Adapting fairy tales can be treacherous. They can come across as corny, campy or childish in a culture that loves its snark and shock. But Harvard professor, Maria Tatar, says you cannot argue with their primal symbolism. And all kinds of stories can be fairy tale-like.

TATAR: I always think of, for example, the Dominique Strauss-Kahn story. We couldn't stop talking about that because it gets to the issue of innocence versus seduction.

ULABY: Tatar says the next Hollywood fairy tale adaptation she's most looking forward to is "Hansel and Gretel." "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" is coming out next year.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.



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