Fairy tales are a popular sources for adaptations. Disney grew on the strength of Snow White and Cinderella. Of late, the trend has become remaking the tales in a darker, grittier version. TV series like Grimm and Once Upon a Time and movies like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland* have taken classic tales and explored the darker side. Even Supernatural has explored American mythology on its way to popularity.
Hansel & Gretel, Witch Hunters was meant to cash in on the trend. Released in 2013, though originally scheduled for early spring 2012, Hansel & Gretel continued the classic fairy tale of two children abandoned in a forest who find a cottage made of candy and must escape the witch who lives inside. Like most fairy tales, the original story of Hansel and Gretel warns children to be careful, to not succumb to desires, like eating too much candy, and to respect other people’s homes.
The movie tells the tale before the credits, using it as a mini-origins story. The credits were used to show Hansel and Gretel’s career of hunting witches using animation based on the artwork of the purported period. When the live action returns, Hansel, played by Jeremy Renner, and Gretel, played by Gemma Arterton, are grown up and have been brought in by the mayor of Augsburg to rid the town of witches and find the children taken by them. However, the head witch, Muriel, played by Famke Jannsen channeling her inner Morticia Addams, is using the upcoming blood moon to make sure that all dark witches will no longer burn on pyres. Along the way, the witch hunting siblings run into a fanboy who has a collection of their exploits and a poster of Gretel on his bedroom wall.
Hansel & Gretel, Witch Hunters is well aware of what sort of movie it is. It doesn’t take itself seriously, yet shows equal amounts of horror, action, comedy, and drama. The weapons the siblings use add to the over-the-top nature of the film; Gretel carries a double-barrelled, fully automatic crossbow. The movie becomes Strawberry Fields, from Casino Royale, and Hawkeye, from Marvel’s The Avengers fight the supernatural. Yet, it works.
The movie is a re-imagining of the fairy tale, continuing the story of Hansel and Gretel past their defeat of the witch of the candy cottage by using her own over agaisnt her. Hansel & Gretel, Witch Hunters expands the story and the setting, adding twists that both surprise and follow from the characters while still keeping a sense of fun in the mix. The writing showed an understanding of the fairy tale and an eye on how a pair of orphans could survive while adding little quirks, like the fanboy, that spoke to the desired audience.
Next week, Dredd.
* Yes, Alice isn’t a fairy tale, but does share some characterstics of such a story.