LOS ANGELES — Hollywood is wishing on a fairy tale.
No, it isn’t happy endings to the debacles of Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson and Lindsay Lohan. Instead, movie producers are banking that, after audiences lapped up vampires, the next movie genre to be a hit will be fairy tales.
From last week’s premiere of “Beastly,” a “Beauty and the Beast” remake starring Disney starlet Vanessa Hudgens, to this weekend’s release of “Red Riding Hood” featuring Amanda Seyfried, and no less than three versions of “Snow White” currently in development, centuries-old source material is now the hottest commodity in Hollywood.
From a pop-cultural standpoint, it’s not hard to see why audiences may be in search of a little fantasy at the multiplex.
“We have gone through some hard times as a country and I think people want some escape. I think that these movies give them that,” says “Beastly” screenwriter-director Daniel Barnz, whose last project, the indie “Phoebe in Wonderland” starring Elle Fanning, borrowed from the classic “Alice in Wonderland.”
“It seems that, given the difficult economic times right now, Hollywood wants pure escape,” says Cheryl Giuliano, Ph.D., who teaches Transformation of Classic Stories at the Honors College of the University of California, Los Angeles.
On a more practical level, fairy tales are an easy sell because everyone knows the stories (and the movie rights are free).
“These are moral tales that appeal to some of our oldest childhood memories,” says actress Virginia Madsen, who plays Seyfried’s mother in “Red Riding Hood.” “It’s also a story about love, sex and romance, and who doesn’t love that?”
Adds Neil Patrick Harris, who co-stars in “Beastly”: “Fairy tales give everyone, regardless of age, an ability to see a happy ending and pull out any metaphors that they can, depending on the situation they are in. I think fairy tales, by definition, stand the test of time, so many interpretations of them are really valid.”
The projects are considered plum roles for Hollywood’s hottest young actresses, from Seyfried to Kristen Stewart, who signed on last week to play the title character in Universal’s “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
“Red Riding Hood” director Catherine Hardwicke, who rose in the Hollywood ranks after casting and directing Stewart and Robert Pattinson in “Twilight,” brings a similarly sexy spin to her latest project. “In ‘The Uses of Enchantment,’ Bruno Bettelheim writes about how fairy tales let you explore primal desires and fears in a poetic and symbolic way,” she says. “‘Red Riding Hood’ is the story of a girl getting in touch with her own sensuality and finding her own path. I thought this would be so fun visually and emotionally.”
Of her lead actress, she says: “Something about Amanda just looks like a fairy tale. Her eyes are so enormous and soulful and she has the capacity to be vulnerable and powerful.”
While the movies may be geared toward the “Twilight” crowd, they’re also going for gravitas in casting Oscar winners Charlize Theron and Julia Roberts, who are both slated to play the evil queen in dueling versions of the Snow White remake.
“Julia was our first and only choice to play the queen,” says Ryan Kavanaugh, chief executive officer of Relativity Media, the studio producing “The Brothers Grimm: Snow White.” “She is an icon, and we know that she will make this role her own in a way that no one else could.” The title character has yet to be cast, but Roberts’ star wattage should ensure box-office battle when the two movies hit theaters next year. Natalie Portman is rumored to be attached to a third version, from Disney, titled “Snow and the Seven.”
But it’s not all about the ladies. There are also juicy parts for leading men such as Viggo Mortensen and Jeremy Renner. The former plays The Huntsman opposite Stewart and the latter plays a grown-up Hansel in Paramount’s “Hansel and Gretel.” Neither picture sounds like G-rated fare. Stewart plays a young woman being trained by The Huntsman to murder the evil queen and Renner plays a bounty hunter.
“This movie reenvisions the title characters 20 years later and they’re hired to kill witches. I said, ‘Sounds good to me,’” Renner laughed when asked about the movie while walking this year’s Oscars red carpet as a best supporting actor nominee for “The Town.”
Teen star Hudgens, who came of age in front of the camera, says she is happy to be a part of the trend: “I think we all live a fairy tale, honestly. Hollywood itself is one big fairy tale.”