Unless you have been living under a rock, I’m sure you have noticed that fairy tales have been very popular lately on TV and in the movies. Three TV programs that deal with fairy tale characters are currently airing first run episodes: Grimm, Once Upon a Time and Beauty and the Beast.
A friend and I were discussing what would possibly make fairy tales so very popular. I think that the popularity of programming seems to run in cycles, but it also seems that there are trends in what is popular at any given time. This would explain why there are three programs with similar themes. After much discussion and thought, I came up with the reasons below as to why these shows are so popular.
A couple of years ago my son was taking a summer class. He was a film major in college, and the class dealt with genre films. I happened to read some of what he was studying, and made note of the fact that it seems audiences prefer the familiar over the totally new. This is not to say we never want anything different, just that the core story is more enjoyable to us if it is rooted in something familiar.
It is hard to get something more familiar than fairy tales, in my opinion! There is a commonality to these tales that we as a society share. Just about everyone, of every age, has heard of, read, watched or experienced fairy tales. Included in ways we experience them is TV, movies, books, ice skating shows, plays, and puppet shows to just name a few.
In fact, even TV shows that were not created with a fairy tale character theme will sometimes borrow story ideas from fairy tales. For instance, on Warehouse 13, among the artifacts collected are Cinderella’s Glass Knife, King Midas’ Scepter, Lewis Carroll’s Looking Glass, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Bookends and Rumplestiltskin.
It is true that youth is wasted on the young. We spend our youth wanting to be grown up, only to discover once we are grown that it is not all that it was cracked up to be. Then we become nostalgic for the good old days of youthful innocence when we had many fewer cares and responsibilities.
Fairy tales take us back to those simpler days, and away from our daily grind and worries. We can become kids again, if even for a short time. We can dream, wish upon a star, or imagine our prince or princess will come without being judged harshly by society’s behavioral expectations for adults.
It is also fun to watch these programs and make the connection to the tales we remember. As I watch Once Upon a Time, whenever a new character is introduced, the game of “who is this character?” begins. Making the connection between the “real world” characters in Storybrooke and the characters in the fairy tale world is a great exercise in deduction, much like figuring out who the criminal is in a mystery show. Similarly, when each episode of Grimm begins, it always starts with a quote from a story, and trying to figure out what fairy tale story the episode will involve enhances the episode for me.
Let’s face it, these are great stories! If they were not, they would not have had the staying power these tales enjoy. There is a reason why these fairy tales have been handed down from generation to generation.
Touching on enduring themes, they show the power of true love such as with Snow White and Prince Charming, who despite the best efforts of the evil queen still managed to find each other in the modified version presented in Once Upon a Time. They also show the importance and value of family, as many characters on both Grimm and Once Upon a Time struggle to protect and be reunited with their loved ones.
Familiar, but different – audiences still crave something new, so you start with the familiar, and then let your imagination run wild. And, boy, do these shows ever deliver! While Once Upon a Time started out in the first season sticking primarily to the Disney characters we all know and love, now that it is in the second season, they are definitely branching out. For instance, a recent episode featured Victor Frankenstein and his attempts to restore life to the dead which is not even technically a fairy tale.
And, the Beast in Beauty and the Beast is not under the influence of a spell, but rather the influence of a military genetic experiment gone wrong. The critical element, that they need each other for closure and redemption, is still present however.
Thankfully, there are lots and lots of fairy tales for our enjoyment. In fact, I will admit that I had not really known the full extent of the Grimm tales until I started watching Grimm the TV show. When the story lines seemed to diverge from the tales I knew, a little research revealed many Grimm tales that have not gotten the amount of play the most familiar ones have.
Did you know there are over 200 tales collected by the Brothers Grimm? This fact is providing ample venues for the writers of Grimm to branch out from the familiar and bring us programming that is not only exciting but also new and interesting to many of us.
So, what do you think of my reasons for fairy tales being so popular? Do you have any others I might have missed? Do you disagree with any of my reasons? Please let me know in the comment section below.