At first glance, 'Hanna' and 'Red Riding Hood' don't seem to have much in common other than a spring release date and young, blond stars. 'Hanna' is about a teen (Saoirse Ronan) raised in the forest by her father, a former CIA officer who drills her on fighting and hunting techniques and teaches her multiple languages, warning her to be ready for anything at any time, even when she's asleep. As it turns out, she's being groomed to become the ultimate assassin for a dangerous mission that will take her across Europe. 'Red Riding Hood' is a gothic period piece that takes that fairy-tale classic about the Big Bad Wolf and adds in a love triangle with Red (Amanda Seyfried) in the middle, as well as a dose of sexy paranoia thanks to a wolf-hunter/priest played by Gary Oldman.
Dig deeper, however, and both tap into a primal coming-of-age anxiety that is at the heart of so many fairy tales. 'Red' might be more obvious about its source, but there are many reasons why the trailer for 'Hanna' begins with that old saw, "Once upon a time ..." The unrestrained power of a teen girl can be terrifying, even if she's not trained to kill, and the search for one's true identity and whom to trust is at the heart of both 'Red' and 'Hanna.'
Other recent films that take a darker look at childhood tales include 'Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale' and even, to stretch it a bit, 'Black Swan.' With other upcoming Grimm-infused films like 'Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,' Tarsem's 'The Brothers Grimm: Snow White,' Snow White and the Huntsman and more coming up, it's clear that the not-so-new texts Hollywood is turning to for inspiration are the ones we used to hear at bedtime.
'Twilight' kicked off the frenzy to find the next teen-friendly series, and the excellent young adult trilogy 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins will definitely be the next to achieve that box office triple crown. However, the ongoing quest to find material that's already familiar to audiences is naturally turning back in time -- way back, to our childhood and beyond. The gory old tales from the Brothers Grimm and their ilk (like Heinrich Hoffmann's 'Struwwelpeter') are perfect for today's audience, who like a bit of an edge to their escapism.
Although Hollywood "continues to worship at the altar of the 18-to-25-year-old male and his penis," as Dame Helen Mirren so aptly put it, the industry is slowly coming to terms with the fact that not every comic book adaptation is a sure thing. At the same time, teenage girls (and their moms, aunts and grandmothers) have shown that they're just as loyal an audience as the comic book fans, with just as much money to spend -- not just at the movies but also on related media like books, CDs, DVDs, posters, shirts and other tchotchkes.
The reinvention of fairy tales for the movies is nothing new, but this current trend neatly dovetails with the desire to cater to a smart, young female audience with increasing financial clout, an audience that wants stories where our protagonists go into the dark and scary woods and come out the other side as women.