Beyond Disney Princesses: Best Live Action Fairytale Films for the Family

All around the world, people have been telling fairytales for centuries – and even today, these stories have the power to draw in an audience with their classic plots and well-loved (or well-hated!) characters. Today, film-adaptations present these classic tales in a whole new light.

So if you are ready to revisit your childhood favorites with your own kiddos, curl up with some of these live action fairytales.

Ever After

PG-13, 1998

Tired of showing your daughters movies where princesses wait quietly for their prince to rescue them? Then check out Ever After, for a more liberated kind of heroine.

This delightful, romantic, and refreshing version of the classic Cinderella story offers up a revamped female lead for a modern-day audience. Don’t expect your traditional fairy tale princess: This Cinderella is a mouthy, tough tomboy who quotes Thomas Moore’s Utopia and throws a mean apple (right at the Prince)!

After many obstacles (especially the machinations of her evil stepmother, played brilliantly by Anjelica Houston), Cinderella finally reunites with her prince – but not after saving herself first. This movie balances Cinderella’s tough independence and emotional vulnerability in a way that many tweens and teens will relate to perfectly.

The Princess Bride

PG, 1987

Fairy tales are so powerful, that you will get drawn into their stories with full suspension of disbelief. This classic 1987 movie is all about feeling their inherent magic.

The movie begins with a little boy (an adorably young Fred Savage) who does not like fairy tales. As his grandfather reads to him from the novel, The Princess Bride, however, he becomes more and more caught up in the story of Princess Buttercup and her Westley, the humble shepherd boy with whom she falls in love. The two go on a fabulous adventure, complete with pirates, wild swamps, oversized rats, a gentle giant, and the grim six fingered man.

The movie alternates between the fictional readers and the tale itself: The fantasy sequences and dialogue are maximally corny, but it’s all part of the movie’s charm. Even minor characters, like a crazy healer played hysterically by Billy Crystal, are well worth watching.


PG, 2014

Sleeping Beauty’s story begins at her christening, where the Evil Fairy casts a sleeping curse which will happen on her 16th birthday. But if you’ve ever wanted to know the untold story that motivates the fairy world’s most iconic villainess, this dark and layered film – starring Angelina Jolie – is for you.

The young Maleficent, living in a magical realm called the Moors, befriends a human boy named Stefan who is poor but incredibly ambitious. This old friendship changes Maleficent’s life forever when King Henry, from the neighboring land, tries to conquer the Moors. He is fatally wounded by Maleficent and as he dies, he declares that whoever kills her will be king.

Ambition trumps friendship as Stefan abducts Maleficent and though he does not kill her, he cuts off her wings to prove her death. This betrayal turns Maleficent dark, and when she finds out that Stefan, now king, is celebrating the birth of his daughter, she crashes the party and casts her sleeping curse. As Sleeping Beauty grows up, however, Maleficent becomes fond of her, tries to undo the curse but cannot. However, when Sleeping Beauty does fall into her enchanted sleep, it is Maleficent’s kiss on her forehead and not the kiss of a prince that breaks the spell.

This movie’s retelling of Sleeping Beauty adds many layers of complexity to a well-loved story. Maleficent’s character is finely drawn and her relationship with Sleeping Beauty – and history with King Stefan – make this tale more complicated and adult than the original story. While it’s not the best choice for young children due to some intense scenes, older children and teens will be completely enthralled.

Alice in Wonderland

PG, 2010

If you could, would you enter another world to escape the life you are living in your own? From the ultra restrictive Victorian high society to the strange and deceptive world of Wonderland, Tim Burton’s distinctive style is evident as he explores this question.

A 19-year-old Alice, who is being pressured into a marriage she doesn’t want, chases a rabbit away from a high-class tea party and literally goes down the rabbit hole to Wonderland. All around her are the classic Carroll characters like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and the Dodo, who believe that it’s her destiny to slay the monster known as the Jabberwocky, depose the vicious Red Queen, and restore the White Queen to power. Eventually, Alice fulfills her destiny and returns to Victorian England to live her life there on her own terms. In the end, rather than getting married, she receives her own ship to begin searching for trade routes to China.

This is Wonderland as seen through the eyes of Tim Burton and its dark magic shines through every shot, highlighted by stunning visual effects and faultless but creepy performances by Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham-Carter as the Red Queen.

What live action fairy tales do your family enjoy?

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