What We Can Learn from Maleficent and other Fairy Tales

Reimagined “Once upon a time” flicks offer big time insight into our current lives

Maleficent, Disney’s twisty revisionist take on Sleeping Beauty starring Angelina Jolie as the titular wicked witch, flies into movie theaters this weekend. The much-promoted film is just Hollywood’s latest reimagining of a classic fairy tale. Stories that begin with “Once upon a time” often turn out to be reliably popular—and eternally relevant, even to adults. Thousands of screenwriters churn out scripts for TV and movies everyday, and yet each year the likes of Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Anderson and The Brothers Grimm pad their IMDB resumes via reinventions of their centuries-old works (both Perrault and the Grimms notch another credit with Maleficent).

Is the lesson that Hollywood is scared of originality and out of ideas, or that good stories never get old? Maybe it’s both. What’s definitely true is that fairy tales have managed to stay relevant through the ages. Here’s a list of notable fairy tale adaptations for screens big and small—and the life lessons each reimagining can teach us.

Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty

Once upon a time: 55 years ago—long before Jolie donned those disturbing horns (and before hubby Brad Pitt took a punch in the face while walking the red carpet at the Maleficent premiere this week), Disney released its original animated retelling of the famous fairy tale, a big budget, widescreen extravaganza.

The twist: Beauty turned out to be comatose at the box office. The movie’s initial performance was such a disappointment that it caused Walt Disney (the man, not the company) to swear off fairy tales forever. Uncle Walt’s decision brought a precipitous decline in the studio’s feature film quality. Disney’s animated output largely languished until 1989 when The Little Mermaid—its first fairy tale based film since Beauty—ushered in a new era of Disney dominance.

The ending: They lived happily ever after. Decades after its initial release, the enormous home video success of Sleeping Beauty firmly established the flick’s place among Disney’s classics.

The lesson: Success doesn’t often come easily—or quickly.

See also: What Movies Teach Us About Work-Life Balance


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