In this age of cinema, sequels and franchises rule the box office. DreamWorks already has plans for a third installment of How To Train Your Dragon, and Marvel has a line of films booked up until 2020. Instead of being a beacon of originality, Disney has just announced it will make a sequel to 2013’s Frozen. But do not despair: Here are 10 European-based fairy tales that would make great live-action or animated films that would not contain the dreaded phrase “let it go.”
10The Three Princes And Their Beasts
Included in his The Violet Fairy Book, Andrew Lang writes about the Lithuanian fairy tale involving the children of a king, including three princes and their stepsister. After going hunting one day, the siblings came upon a great grey wolf with three cubs. When they went to kill it, the wolf spoke to them and begged them to spare her life. In return, they could have her young.
They took the young wolf and, after another similar experience in the woods involving a fox, hare, boar, and bear, the three brothers, their stepsister, and their band of animals came to a three-way crossroads. After a game of chance to decide who would get the stepsister, she and her older brother followed the path on the left while the other two siblings followed the remaining two paths. The siblings then had a multitude of adventures, including fighting robbers, saving a princess from a dragon, getting killed and coming back to life, and defeating a Medusa-like witch who turned people to stone.
One way Disney could spin this would be having the three princes searching for their kidnapped sister while gaining animal companions along the way (which would then later aid them in saving their sister). Not only would it then teach kids, especially young boys, the benefits of being kind, respectful, and caring, but it would also teach the importance of respecting animals and nature. Plus, it would totally change the original fate of the little sister. In the original, the stepsister is forced to betray her older brother by a robber. But, once free, the brother ties her up and forces her to fill an impossibly deep bowl with her tears before he’ll free her. Not the best lesson for impressionable children to learn.
This Italian tale begins with an arrogant prince and his friends traveling and coming upon a recently widowed old woman gardening with the last pot made by her husband. The prince and his friends decide to take the pot and end up destroying it in a game. Saddened at the loss of the treasured object, the woman curses the prince to fall in love with an ogress’s daughter.
Soon after the prince’s company leaves, he comes upon the beautiful, human daughter of an ogress named Filardoro and they fall in love. The girl’s monstrous mother appears, however, and decides to play with the prince, saying she’ll eat him unless he does several impossible tasks. But, with the aid of Filardoro’s blossoming magic, the couple completes the trials and manages to escape the ogress and get married.
Not wanting her daughter to be happy, the ogress curses the prince to forget Filardoro as soon as he is kissed by another. And, when the prince goes to tell his mother of his new love, his eager mother kisses him on the cheek and the curse comes true. Waiting for her love, Filardoro soon learns her prince not only forgot her, but he also agreed to be married to whomever the queen chose. Fearing the loss of her husband, Filardoro sneaks into the kitchen and bakes a magical pie that will release a white dove when cut by the prince. The dove then tells the tale of Filardoro and, when the girl throws herself at her husband, he remembers her, breaking the ogress’s curse. The queen approved their marriage.
Full of lessons about the power of love, being kind to others, and perseverance, Disney could spin this tale into a romantic adventure film. It fits right along with the storytelling famously done by Disney.
8The Well Of The World’s End
A tale that is not well known, this is the story of a young girl whose father remarried a wicked stepmother after his wife died. Finding the young girl prettier than herself, the stepmother sent the girl to go collect water from the Well of the World’s End in a sieve disguised as a cup. The girl left to find the well and went around asking along the way for its location, but no one knew where it was. Despairing, the girl was about to return when she met a little old woman. Not only does she tell her where the well is, but she also tells her what she must do to get there.
Following her advice, the young girl makes it to the well. Finding the water to be the purest and most beautiful she’s ever seen, the girl dipped her sieve in but discovered the truth that the cup was actually a sieve full of holes. She started bawling. A little green frog suddenly popped up onto the well and asked her what was wrong. After making her promise to follow his instructions all night long, he told her to fill the cup with mud to block the holes. The girl agreed to do this and, her task fulfilled, she went home with the frog. After getting her to fulfill certain (mostly G-rated) tasks for him, the frog is transformed into a prince at sunrise and the two go on to marry.
Disney could spin this into a coming-of-age tale of a shy young girl becoming strong and confident while saving a cursed prince. It could teach youth to persevere and keep promises. (The exception to this might be the final task the girl completed, in which she cut the frog’s head off an ax so he could become a prince again.)
7The Fairy Nurse
In this Irish fairy tale, a young farmer lives with his wife and three kids, and he is constantly nagging at his wife for not attending Mass or being a good Christian. One night, after getting angry with his wife for missing Mass to consult a fairy man, his children wake him to discover his wife has vanished from their bed. Instead of thinking she left him for his harping, he instead fears she was kidnapped and spends the next six weeks looking for her. During the last week, on his way to the field, he runs into a young neighbor woman who knows what happened to his wife.
The lady claims to have been taken to the home of the fairy king and queen on the previous night. After the servant touched her eyes, she could see the fairies and saw his wife being the nurse for the fairy royalty. But after rubbing her left eye, she saw that the grand castle they were in was actually a cave and that the beautiful fairies were monsters. Terrified, she acted as if all was normal before fleeing back home. She and the farmer rescue his wife before she could be taken alongside the fairies, using the power of prayer and God to banish the fairies from their sight.
As this story is very Christian-oriented, the best way for Disney to spin this story for diverse audiences is to make it a simple tale about not being deceived by beautiful things and the importance of keeping promises. These are things the neighbor woman learned too late as, having betrayed the fairies, the fairy servant tracked her down. He then tricked her into revealing her sight, and she was literally struck blind with a switch.
6The Buried Moon
Another obscure English fairy tale involves the Moon one night learning that, on the nights she doesn’t appear in the sky, monsters and evil creatures (including boogeymen) come out and terrorize the inhabitants of the Earth. Deciding to see if this is true, the Moon takes the form of a beautiful woman with a dark hood to cover her brilliant, golden hair. She comes down to Earth, landing in a tangled nest of vines in a bog. In the bog, she frees a sinking old man, but the evil creatures of the night capture her and bury her deep in the mud. They decide to put a large stone over her until they can figure out a way to dispose of her.
Days pass without the Moon’s light, and people begin to panic when the old man from the bog remembers where he saw the Moon. At once, the men of the town go to an old wise woman who discerns the location of the Moon. After traveling a great distance, they come to the bog. Upon seeing the stone matching the old man’s description, they move it. The men briefly see the face of the Moon before she rockets back into the heavens, banishing the evil once again.
As this story was more for entertainment than morality, Disney could create a wonderful action-adventure film for kids. It could teach children to face their fears and follow many other Disney films in showing that goodness will always overcome evil. And, as there isn’t any violence or gore in this story, Disney wouldn’t have to edit much while making it.
5The Red Shoes
Another Brothers Grimm story, this one tells the fable of Karen. Orphaned following her mother’s death, and with no father to be found, the only joy in Karen’s life was when she was given a pair of beautiful red shoes by the old shoemaker’s wife. After her mother’s funeral, the passing queen spied Karen and took her into her family. Years passed and Karen outgrew her beloved shoes, and she became old enough to be confirmed. But, still having a desire for red shoes, she used the queen’s growing blindness to obtain a new pair of red shoes, which she then wore on the day of her confirmation.
Weeks after the incident, Karen decided to put on her shoes to go to the ball after attending to the ailing queen. But as soon as she put on the shoes, they stuck to her feet and she couldn’t stop dancing. Terrified, she ran through the town and was met everywhere she went by an angel of God holding a sword, damning her for her pride and selfishness. Enduring this for the entire night, Karen finally met an executioner who then cut off her feet and watched her feet dance off into the woods. After a week of pain and despair, Karen went to the church now humbled and repentant and died surrounded by the people she loved and the angel of God.
Another very Christian-oriented story, Disney could make this an action-adventure film having Karen going on a quest to find a way to remove her dancing shoes with a possible romance along the way. It would also teach children the perils of pride and selfishness, how to become a better person, and how to be merciful to others. A ton of Disney magic will be needed on the ending, however, as very few parents want to leave a theater with a sobbing child due to a traumatic ending.
4The Master Maid
In this interesting Norwegian fairy tale, we have the youngest son of a king who goes looking to earn his keep and is hired by a giant. He is told he can work with him under the condition he never goes into any of the rooms besides his bedroom. Obviously, he breaks that rule. In one of the rooms, he finds a gorgeous girl who turns out to be the master maid. She helps him with his tasks in secret for several days. Each day, the prince denies he’s seen the girl until the giant brought him to the master maid on the fourth day and orders her to kill the boy and turn him into stew. But, having fallen for each other, they instead trick the giant and escape.
Before the couple can get to their happily ever after, the prince is told of the wedding of his older brother. The girl then makes the boy promise to send a coach for her so he doesn’t forget her. He says he won’t forget her, leaves for his brother’s wedding, and is given a cursed apple by the bride’s sister that makes him forget the master maid. After many trials, the master maid is able to save her prince and they live happily ever after.
Disney could spin this as a dual savior story, with both the boy and girl saving each other. It could also be about the power of true love and the triumph of good. The only major editing would be the ending, since the prince has the sister who poisoned him (and tried to marry him) tied to 24 horses and pulled to pieces. No number of love songs could cover that therapy session waiting to happen.
3Diamonds And Toads
Written by Charles Perrault, this is the story of two daughters of a widow. The elder was like the mother, arrogant and haughty in nature, while the younger took after their late father, gentle and kind. As both the mother and daughter couldn’t stand the niceness of the younger sister, they horribly mistreated her. This continued until one day, while drawing water from the well, an old woman came by. She begged the girl for some water. The girl immediately gave the woman the water she had, and to thank her, was blessed with precious stones and flowers falling out of her mouth with every word she spoke. When the girl came home and her mother asked what took her so long, flowers and pearls fell from her mouth when she answered.
Seeing this, the widow became greedy and sent her eldest daughter to go to the well to get the same reward. This backfired as the woman, angered at the eldest’s rudeness, cursed her: Vermin would fall from her mouth with each word.
Disney could spin this to make both sisters get some sort of gift (perhaps not as extreme as rats and diamonds) but struggle with them and believe them curses. That is until, through some unlikely adventure, they both learn their gifts are blessings and gain true love. This emphasizes the power of words, and it also would give the older sister a happy ending. In the original, the younger girl and a prince fell in love. But her older sister gets kicked out of her home and, as no one wants vermin in their homes, the girl ends up becoming the first cat lady and dies all alone in the woods.
2The 12 Dancing Princesses
Another beloved Brothers Grimm fable, this is the story of a king who calls for aid to solve a mystery. Every night, his 12 daughters were in a securely locked room, yet the next day the girls were exhausted and their dance shoes were dirty and worn. The king promised a reward for all who discovered their secret within three days and nights. After a string of princes failed to find the answer, a returning soldier answered the call.
Given an enchanted cloak by an old woman and advice to not eat or drink anything given to him by the princesses, the soldier discovered that every night the princesses went down a hidden passageway into a hidden world under the castle surrounded by a forest of silver trees. There, the princesses were compelled to dance with 12 princes. Taking a golden goblet and a silver branch as proof, he exposed the secret to the king and married the eldest princess. The 12 princes were cursed to dance for as long as they danced with the princesses.
With the success of the 2015 version of Cinderella and Frozen, Disney would have no problem bringing to life this story’s rich descriptions and scenery either in animation or live action. And what about developing the characters? Disney might look to the best-selling novel Entwined by Heather Dixon, a retelling of this fairy tale. Combining these two things plus the power of sibling love would make an exciting comedy-romance film with dashes of magic and action to please everyone.
1The Wild Swans
Written by Hans Christian Andersen, this tale is about another king who had 12 children. This king had 11 sons and one daughter named Eliza. After remarrying a wicked queen, the queen turned her stepsons into swans and then tricked her stepdaughter into bathing in potions that disfigured her appearance so the king would kick her out, keeping her from revealing her treachery. Alone and despairing, Eliza was comforted at night by her brothers, as only in the night could they regain their human form.
This continued for a year until a fairy told the young princess that to save her brothers she must knit 11 tunics out of stinging nettles. However, once she picked the first nettle, she could not utter any words until they were finished. Eliza went about her duties even after getting married, getting no sleep and being accused of witchcraft. She continued on. Right as she was about to be burned at the stake, Eliza threw her nearly finished shirts onto her brothers in swan form and returned them to their human form. Finished, she proclaimed her innocence before falling into her princes’ arms, exhausted and lifeless from her trials.
With the success of the last Hans Christian Andersen tale, Disney could instantly cash in big with this tale. Boys and girls would love Eliza with her determination, love, and courage. In addition to that, rumors have floated around since Frozen about plans by Disney to make a return to traditional animation next year with this fairy tale, which this story might be a good fit for.