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“A classic twist on an old tale” — I’m sure that cliche has made its way around plenty of circles. It basically means the media in question is taking an old familiar story or character or characters, keeping some of the original thematics, and then warping the rest beyond belief in an attempt to make it seem incredibly new instead of a repackaged plotline.
One of pop culture’s ways to describe this is the recent movie phenomenon of revamping classic Grimm fairytale plots with overwhelming supernatural undertones. It’s the story of Little Red Riding Hood . . . but . . . the “wolf” is actually her werewolf lover! It’s Hansel and Gretel . . . but . . . the kids are witch hunters! It’s Snow White . . . but . . . our leading princess is actually a blank-faced, helpless zombie who is eternally escorted through dark, shady forests by a chivalrous pretty-boy aristocrat and a brooding man-beast . . . oh wait . . . why does this sound familiar?
Grimm isn’t the only classic plot well that has been dipped into. Shakespearean character or plot mimics have been in existence for years, and more recently, at the beginning of the 21st century, when all of his famous classics were getting re-translated into teeny-bopper look-alikes. “She’s the Man” equals “Twelfth Night.” “10 Things I Hate About You” equals “Taming of the Shrew.” My favorite Shakespearean redo was “Romeo + Juliet” in 1996, when it was executed word for original word with a warped setting of the modern world. Our own theater department used this technique when they performed “Romeo and Juliet” a couple years ago. The set and the majority of the younger characters were all dressed in modern attire, as if to transcend the timelessness of the story to the young and restless audience it was intended to reach. I prefer this version of a retelling twist, merely because I can appreciate the creative effort more. Not that I don’t enjoy the whimsical tale of girl using Elizabethan slapstick cross-dressing techniques to play soccer at a private academy, but there’s something to be said about sticking purely to an original text and still being able to mold your image around it without changing a punctuation mark.
Speaking of Grimm and Shakerspearean plot-twist knockoffs, Disney has more evident transgressions with this than all the money they continually make from it. Most of the twist runs are retelling of fairy tales THEY made famous, which were then given a live-action cast and an adolescent makeover. It’s “Beauty and the Beast” . . . but . . . it’s the high school story about seeing the world from the outside of the “in” crowd! It’s “Alice in Wonderland” . . . but . . . now Alice is a smoking babe swinging around a giant sword as her clothes get continuously smaller and smaller, plus Tim Burton got his hands on it. And once again . . . must I excessively stress the existence of Shakespeare?
I can only imagine what it was like to be in the first pitch meeting for “The Lion King” when that one guy stood up and announced, “OK! So it’s the plot of ‘Hamlet’ . . . but . . . but . . . wait for it . . . THEY’RE LIONS! Brilliant, right? Right! OK, so who’s gonna fund this?”
I can’t help but speculate what the future plot twists and character complexes from our era are going to be for future generations. For example, will the classic Romeo/Juliet archetypes be overthrown by the presence of an Edward/Bella/Jacob-type love triangle — the story of star-crossed lovers replaced by the recurring examples of angsty, supernaturally gifted males fighting to the death in their antithesis over a whiny, average girl, which leaves the audience supernaturally curious as to what her suitors see in her in the first place? Yeah . . . if that’s where this is heading . . . I think I’m going to stick to the classics.