- Best: Willow (1988)
- Best: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)
- Worst: Red Riding Hood (2011)
- Best: Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)
- Worst: Mirror Mirror (2012)
- Best: Anastasia (1997)
- Worst: Beastly (2011)
- Best: Pinocchio (2019)
- Worst: Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
- Best: Hook (1991)
- Worst: Sydney White (2007)
- Best: Labyrinth (1986)
- Worst: Thumbelina (1994)
- Best: Shrek (2001)
- Worst: Snow White and the Huntsman
- Best: The Swan Princess (1994)
- Worst: The Brothers Grimm (2005)
- Best: Willow (1988)
- Worst: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
- Best: The Princess Bride (1987)
- Worst: Ella Enchanted (2004)
Best: Willow (1988)
Disney may dominate, but the evil villains, heroic characters and enchanted forests of modern fairy tale flicks and retold classics remain popular with studios and audiences alike. From unforgettable masterpieces to embarrassing bombs, here are some of the best and worst fairy tale films not made by Disney.
Best: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)
With an impressive 100% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes, this 2013 animated wonder is one of the most beloved and least known fairy tale films around. Directed by Isao Takahata, co-founder of the famed Japanese film company Studio Ghibli, the film features the voice talents of Chloë Grace Moretz (Princess Kaguya), as well as James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Lucy Liu, Darren Criss and James Marsden. The story of a tiny nymph who grows to become a powerful young woman who requires her suitors to complete challenging tasks was called a “ravishing, technically perfect product,” by the Evening Standard, and an anime epic “filled with tender, humorous details.”
Worst: Red Riding Hood (2011)
Critics called this 2011 adaptation of the classic fairy tale a laughable, botched copy of the Twilight saga, and Roger Ebert scoffed at the strange and distracting inclusion of a large metal elephant. Amanda Seyfried stars as Valerie, a young woman whose love for Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) is threatened by her parents’ plan to have her marry Henry (Max Irons). When her sister is killed by a werewolf, monster hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) arrives and causes Valerie to realize the werewolf might actually be someone she loves. If the film bears a resemblance to Twilight, it could be that those films and Red Riding Hood were helmed by the same director, Catherine Hardwicke.
Best: Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)
This 1998 romantic and entertaining take on the Cinderella story was directed by Andy Tennant. After the death of her father, Danielle (Drew Barrymore) is forced to serve her heartless stepmother (Anjelica Huston) and spoiled stepsisters (Megan Dodds and Melanie Lynskey). But a chance encounter with a charming prince (Dougray Scott) changes her fortunes. The movie was praised for its ability to stay true to the original story, while still giving the tale a modern and amusing feel, thanks to the portrayal of its charming main character.
Worst: Mirror Mirror (2012)
Director Tarsem Singh is known for his visually spectacular films, and this 2012 version of the classic Snow White tale is no different. Lily Collins stars as Snow White, the orphaned princess who seeks the help of a band of forest dwellers when an evil Queen (Julia Roberts) vows to seek revenge for being spurned by a handsome prince (Armie Hammer). Overall, critics found the film boring and uninspiring, with nothing much to justify yet another telling of a well-known story.
Best: Anastasia (1997)
This 1997 animated musical retells the Russian fable of young princess Anastasia (Meg Ryan) who disappears when an evil wizard (Christopher Lloyd) puts a hex on her family and takes over her palace. Years later, the Grand Duchess (Angela Lansbury) holds a contest in Paris to find an orphan who can act as Anastasia, not realizing that the real princess is in her midst. The quality of the story put this lesser-known animated tale on par with the big Disney blockbusters.
Worst: Beastly (2011)
While the idea of bringing the classic Beauty and the Beast tale into current times is an interesting one, this 2011 attempt starring Vanessa Hudgens as the beauty Lindy and Alex Pettyfer as the beastly Kyle isn’t up to the task. Written and directed by Daniel Barnz, the movie has been criticized for its “special brand of hogwash: a fairy tale that preaches inner beauty while refusing to obscure the looks of its doomed hero.” The result is both a boring and ineffective retelling.
Best: Pinocchio (2019)
Writer, director and producer Matteo Garrone’s 2019 retelling of the wooden puppet who desperately wanted to become a real boy was praised by critics for its commitment to the original folk tale, and its visual splendor. Starring Roberto Benigni as Geppetto and Federico Ielapi as Pinocchio, the film was more beloved by critics than viewers, but its “un-Disney-like” format and “mischievous sense of the macabre” is exactly what makes it memorable.
Worst: Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
Despite a competent cast and visual ingenuity, critics mostly found this 2013 effort from director Bryan Singer to be unoriginal and boring. Nicholas Hoult stars as farmhand Jack who accidentally reignites an ancient war when he opens a portal between his world and the kingdom of giants. Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci co-star, and do their best with what they’re given, but ultimately the film suffers from a bland script.
Best: Hook (1991)
Some critics have accused director Steven Spielberg of going overboard with this 1991 version of the classic Peter Pan tale, making it more flash than substance. However, BuzzFeed writer and film fan Allie Hayes disagrees. She called the family-friendly adventure starring Dustin Hoffman as the villainous Captain Hook and Robin Williams as the playful Peter Pan, “one of the most perfect films ever made,” citing Williams’ balanced performance as both a responsibility-laden adult and the boy who never wanted to grow up as the main reason for the movie’s appeal.
Worst: Sydney White (2007)
Amanda Bynes has a knack for shining on screen, and does so again as the title character in Sydney White, but there is not a lot of other praise to offer this 2007 update of the classic Snow White tale. Bynes stars as a college freshman who is banished to a dilapidated house with seven outcast male students after the sorority she hopes to pledge casts her out. While it’s a fun attempt, Reel Film critics minced no words when they summed up the movie as “an utterly worthless endeavour.”
Best: Labyrinth (1986)
Of course he’s legendary for his music, but not enough is said about how commanding David Bowie was on screen, especially while portraying Jareth the Goblin King in this fantastic 1986 cinematic tale. Directed by Jim Henson, the visually stunning and perfectly dreamlike movie co-stars Jennifer Connelly as teenage heroine Sarah, who must brave the dangers of a maze in order to rescue her kidnapped baby brother. It’s a modern myth that possesses all the greatness of classic fairy tales.
Worst: Thumbelina (1994)
This 1994 animated retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the tiny, misfortunate girl was produced and directed by Don Bluth. Featuring the voices of Jodi Benson as Thumbelina, Gary Imhoff as the Prince who loves her and Charo as the villainous Ms. Toad, the movie was almost universally panned by critics, who found the story boring and the characters, especially Thumbelina herself, to be insufferable.
Best: Shrek (2001)
Shrek is all at once an homage to the classic fairy tale and a send-up of all the things that can make them so stereotypical and moralistic. Funny and fresh, the 2001 movie, directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, stars Mike Myers as the voice of Shrek, a cranky ogre who has his solitude ruined when fairy tale characters take over his quiet swamp after being banished by evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). Shrek teams up with a boisterous donkey (Eddie Murphy) to rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and deliver her to Farquaad to get his peaceful swamp back. Considered not just a solid fairy tale movie, but a great movie in general, Shrek is beloved for its humour, soundtrack and original, lovable characters.
Worst: Snow White and the Huntsman
This stylish 2012 version of the classic tale directed by Rupert Sanders had the potential to be a great movie, but critics agreed it was a disappointment that “goes nowhere beautifully.” Charlize Theron stars as evil Queen Ravenna, who longs to become immortal by consuming the heart of her stepdaughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart). When Snow escapes, Ravenna hires a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to kill her, not expecting that he and Snow will join forces to take back the kingdom. Theron’s stunning costumes might be the most remarkable thing about the film.
Best: The Swan Princess (1994)
In this 1994 animated musical fairy tale, written and directed by Richard Rich, an evil sorcerer (Jack Palance) curses Princess Odette (Michelle Nicastro) to be a swan by day and woman by night, in an attempt to steal the throne. It’s left up to Prince Derek (Howard McGillin) to find the sorcerer and free his love from the spell. Critic Roger Ebert praised the film for creating the same kind of magic seen in so many of the Disney films of the time, and managing to put itself in the league of other bright and cheerful animated classics.
Worst: The Brothers Grimm (2005)
A lighthearted fictional film about the originators of some of the world’s greatest fairy tales sounds like a good idea, but in reality the movie is “a little exhausting.” Directed by the creative Terry Gilliam, the 2005 adventure film follows brothers Wilhelm (Matt Damon) and Jacob (Heath Ledger), who scam locals with their elaborate shows claiming to rid the world of demons and monsters. It’s visually inspired, but “rumbles from one farcical scenario to another,” too “pedestrian” to stand out as a classic.
Best: Willow (1988)
There is a magical nostalgia in this 1988 fantasy, directed by Ron Howard and co-written by George Lucas and Bob Dolman, that has made it a cult favourite. The fantastical story follows title hero Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis), a farmer who must embark on a perilous journey to protect a special baby from an evil queen (Jean Marsh). But while fans continue to love the film, critics at the time gave it mixed reviews, calling it “dull,” and “predictable,” even if it does have certain charms.
Worst: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola, this 2013 film is part fairy tale adventure, part horror comedy, with critics agreeing it doesn’t manage to succeed in any genre. Fifteen years after siblings Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) defeated the witch who planned to eat them, they now work as bounty hunters. The Telegraph critic David Gritten called out the film’s inability to be funny, despite trying hard to be comedic, and the Evening Standard called it “an appalling, insulting and cynical mess from start to finish.”
Best: The Princess Bride (1987)
With its delightful blend of romance, comedy and adventure and its unforgettable cast of characters, this 1987 movie, written by William Goldman and directed by Rob Reiner, is one of the greatest modern fairy tales ever made. When beautiful Buttercup (Robin Wright) is separated from her one true love Westley (Cary Elwes) and forced to marry the repugnant Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), Westley risks life and death with a band of rogues in order to find her and rescue her. Popular when it was first released, the film has only become more beloved over time.
Worst: Ella Enchanted (2004)
Based on the 1997 book by Gail Carson Levine, this 2004 film stars Anne Hathaway as title character Ella, who receives a magical “gift” from a fairy godmother named Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) that forces her to obey anything she’s told to do. Once she realizes what a curse this actually is, she and Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy) set off on a quest to find Lucinda and ask her to reverse the spell. Boston Globe writer Ty Burr called the movie, directed by Tommy O’Haver, “less than enchanting” and criticized it for failing to deliver the charm of the original book, even with a solid effort by a talented cast.