Comforting Films Vol. 3: Fairy Tales Edition
Although it might be hard to spot between the raindrops, spring is finally here, and with it comes new beginnings, flowers in bloom, fresh starts… but also final exams, deadlines, and dreaded results. Spring can be a very stressful season for some of us, and thus a perfect time to dive into our favorite movies and shows for comfort. I almost always turn to fairy tale retellings, and if you're anything like me, these are six movies and two shows, from 1946 to today, to keep you entertained during study breaks and comforted through the long blue nights.
1. Jean Cocteau, La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast, 1946)
The first film on this list might also be its masterpiece. Beautiful and strange, this adaptation of the classic fairy tale influenced all of its other adaptations, including both Disney movies. The French poet and cineaste Jean Cocteau offers us his most mesmerizing film with La Belle et la Bête, infused with a sense of blurred eroticism. Bruno Bettelheim cites this movie as a reference in his classic The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, for good reasons: beyond the lines of a plot we all know so well, Cocteau instils deeper philosophical themes concerning the nature of identity and desire, our attraction to danger and monstrosity. The relationship between the Beauty and the Beast unfolds into a magical atmosphere enhanced by the beautiful black and white of the cinematography.
2. Billy Wilder, Sabrina (1954)
I'm afraid I'm only repeating Raquel's excellent recommendation here— Penelope, another movie she recommended, would also fit beautifully on this list — but Sabrina always feels like fairy-tale retelling to me. An "ugly duckling," Sabrina (played by Audrey Hepburn, which is about as credible a casting for the role of the plain little girl as Catherine Deneuve’s in Peau d’Âne), is madly in love with the son of the upper class family her father works for. It might take her some time, and a regretful incident involving champagne glasses, to realize that her true love might not be the one she thinks, but it makes the denouement all the more satisfying. Bonus: Fantastic shots of Paris where every window has a view of the Eiffel Tower! Dramatic makeovers! Beautiful ball gowns in empty tennis courts! Sabrina has it all and is almost guaranteed to cheer you up, should you need it.
3. Jacques Demy, Peau d'Âne (Donkey Skin, 1970)
Jacques Demy's Donkey Skin is a psychedelic adaptation of a Charles Perrault's fairy tale and a striking expression of 1970s sensibility. When his queen dies, the king of a far away land wants to wed again, to a woman as beautiful as his late wife, he chooses none other than his own daughter. The young princess will have to adopt a new identity, and dressed only with the skin of her father's favorite donkey, transforms into Peau d'Âne and flees the castle. What follows is an enchanting musical in bright colors, where the most disturbing aspects of the tale (needless to say, incest, the loss of one's identity and growth outside the family cocoon) are addressed in songs. I love that the movie exposes the psychological undertones of the fairy tale without sacrificing its entertaining aspects; Peau d'Âne remains the perfect movie to watch when the spring showers are falling outside.
4. Rob Reiner, Princess Bride (1987)
I saw Princess Bride at summer camp when I was eight years old, and spent the next decade trying to find it again with only a vague memory of its "as you wish" scene in my mind (it's not as well known in France as it is in the United States). When I finally stumbled upon it completely by chance, I was hesitant to watch it again: would it hold up to the expectations built by my eight-years old self? I’m happy to say that it really did. Princess Bride might be a classic you grew up with, but it is always worth re-discovering if you have a taste for everlasting love, swashbuckling duels, and defeating the most dreadful villains you will ever encounter. The movie is also full of layers that you only discover as you grow older, and I find the movie as funny today as I did when I first watched it.
5. Matthew Vaughn, Stardust (2007)
I have an irresistible attachment to Matthew Vaughn's Stardust, and twelve years after its release, I still find it to be a perfect comfort film. Adapted from Nail Gaiman's novel, Stardust follows the story of the young Tristan Thorne who, in a desperate attempt to win the heart of the beautiful Victoria, promises to bring her a shooting star — before realizing that the star in question has taken the form of Yvaine, a young woman. What follows is a masterful compilation of my favorite tropes of the genre: flying pirates, evil sorceress in search of eternal youth, ruthless princes, swashbuckling duels and the search for true love, served by a wonderful cast.
6. Disney, The Princess and the Frog (2009)
I had to include at least one Disney film on this list, and it seems like a perfect opportunity to include one of my favorites, and one that does not receive the love it deserves at that. Tiana is a hardworking waitress, giving everything she has to achieve the dream she shared with her father: opening the finest restaurant in 1920s New Orleans. Although I was already in high school when the movie came out, it resonated deeply with me: even though Tiana is ambitious, determined, and relentless, things don't always go her way. Accidents (such as momentarily turning into a frog) happen and her dream might take another path than the one she envisioned. It was the first time a Disney movie taught me a hard but true lesson: sometimes, work is not enough, and no matter how hard you try, you might not end up in the place you thought you would, but that doesn't mean that you won't be in a wonderful place all the same — and you will have met unique people along the way.
When it came out in 2009, this movie was a breath of fresh air among the CGI aesthetics of Pixar films. Disney's return to traditional animation was sadly short-lived, but I'm grateful that it has this sweet, poetic movie to show for it.
7. CBS, Beauty and the Beast (1987)
If, like me, you recognize the qualities of Game of Thrones but could do without its gratuitous violence and rampant misogyny, know that George R.R. Martin is behind this family-oriented, sweet-to-the-point-of-sappy adaptation of his favorite fairy tale. Set in 1987 New York, Catherine Chandler is accidentally captured by mobsters who horribly disfigure her before leaving her to die. She's thankfully found by the Beast of the story, Vincent (get it? because he's a sensitive misfit, like Van Gogh), who lives in a fantastical place just below Manhattan with other lovable outcasts. He nurses her back to health and seduces her by reading her Great Expectations, but the world inevitably comes between the star-crossed lovers. If you like your shows on the vintage side, know that the aesthetic of the series is almost aggressively eighties (is Vincent's mullet an expression of his monstrosity or just a fashion statement? I still have to make up my mind about that).
Ron Perlman gives a very touching performance as Vincent and must have loved the story so much that he more or less takes up a similar role in Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy (another very sweet story, if you're in the mood for a superhero movie).
8. Galavant (2015)
Galavant is a work of genius, and the best proof of that is that the show got cancelled after its second season. Way back in days of old, there was a legend told about a hero known as Galavant. He slew dragons left and right and shared the life of his one true love Magdalena — until she got captured by the evil King Richard at the beginning of the show. Thankfully, Galavant manages to singlehandedly take King Richard's castle and reclaim Magdalena at the altar. "I'm sorry,” Galavant declares to Richard, “but Magdalena does not care for fame, or fortune. She only cares for love." "Actually,” replies Magdalena, “I'm gonna go with the fame and fortune. Sorry!" Devastated, Galavant will have to spend the rest of the show figuring out what it means to be a hero — all of this through singing. With music and lyrics written by Glenn Slater and Alan Menken (best known for his scores for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, among other things) Galavant is the medieval extravaganza you don't know yet that you need in your life. Some of Downton Abbey's cast members found their way into this series for some reason, and if you've never seen Hugh Bonneville playing a pirate king, you're in for a treat.
With only eighteen episodes of twenty minutes, Galavant is the perfect show to watch during study breaks and is guaranteed to keep you sane during exam season.
Milena Le Fouillé is an art historian based in Paris, France, with a specialty in nineteenth and twentieth century art and a strong taste for mythology, fairy tales and legends. She's probably hiding in a museum's cafeteria right now, reading a novel when she really should be working.