Hollywood wizards: Fairy tales and the box office

The big studios are relying on remakes of classic fantasies to boost film audiences in 2010

Once upon a time, film producers in the land of make believe ran out of ideas. So they called on their computer wizards to turn old fairy tales into brand new films, as if by magic.

Hollywood may have just enjoyed its most successful year – 2009 saw box-office takings break the $10bn (£6.2bn) mark for the first time – but it is relying on a slew of remakes, sequels and especially children's fairy tales and fantasy stories to bring in the crowds in 2010.

Tim Burton's much anticipated Alice in Wonderland, in which he re-imagines Alice as a 19-year-old girl paying her second visit down the rabbit hole, will be released in March.

Robin Hood is given another run out in May, with Gladiator director Ridley Scott teaming up with that film's star, Russell Crowe, to look at the story of Maid Marion, Friar Tuck et al while plotting the outlaw's rise to notoriety. In July, Disney will use the famous dancing broomstick sequence from the groundbreaking 1940 cartoon Fantasia as a jumping-off point for a modern-day story of The Sorcerer's Apprentice starring Nicholas Cage. Four months later, the studio will release a CGI version of the traditional fairy tale Rapunzel.

Studios will also be hoping that audiences continue to be drawn by the renaissance in animation – original computer-animated films such as Up were among last year's biggest earners. The young Viking coming-of-age saga How to Train Your Dragon is released in March.

The first instalment of the final Harry Potter episode, The Deathly Hallows, will take the year of fantasy into November. Jack Black will round the year off with his updated version of Gullliver's Travels, which finds Lilliput somewhere in the West Indies.

The author Marina Warner, who is an expert on myth, said that the films were adding new layers to relatively modern fairy stories and were part of a resurgence in the use of myth in the past few years, particularly in video games

"Of course, because of CGI, they can now do it," she said. "But modern myths and fairy stories transcend cultures, geographical boundaries and language – and that's what studios need to do. It might sound cynical – and there is an argument that it flattens idiosyncrasies in cultures – but it can also speak across differences, and that can be good. We can use fantasy as a democratic window.

"Also, these stories appeal to both adults and children, and that is quite a new thing. They are able to look at the universal crises of human life such as growing up, death and sex, but in a way that children can grasp."

Robin Hood

As if there aren't enough versions of this legend about the man in green tights who's handy with a bow and arrow and likes to redistribute wealth. Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe think there's room for one more – hence this Gladiator of the Middle Ages. What began as a tale told from the Sheriff of Nottingham's point of view has turned into the first action hero's rise to notoriety, before he saved the forest and won Marion, played by Cate Blanchett.

Rapunzel

Disney is giving this classic fairy tale a CGI makeover, and bringing a whole new meaning to the term "bad hair day". It will be the 50th classic Disney animation, and follows the story of Rapunzel, a girl whose long hair helps her handsome prince climb to the top of the very tall tower to which she has been banished by an evil witch.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Hapless boy makes a mess of things while trying to learn magic. If you think you've heard that before, it's not just Harry Potter. The idea is as old as a dragon's tooth and this version is loosely based on Disney's ground-breaking 1940 Mickey Mouse film Fantasia. Set in modern-day New York, Nicholas Cage's wizard is battling evil while his apprentice is messing with broomsticks.

Gulliver's Travels

Jack Black's travel writer, Lemuel Gulliver, brings Jonathan Swift's satire up to date by finding an island of tiny people somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. Catherine Tate is the Queen of Lilliput, Billy Connolly is the King, and James Corden is in it somewhere, suggesting it might be played for laughs. Emily Blunt provides the glamour as a princess.

Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton brings his gothic touch to Lewis Carroll's 1865 story about a girl who goes down a rabbit hole. With Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and up-and-coming Australian actress Mia Wasikowska as Alice. Burton's re-imagining sees a grown-up Alice revisit her crazy friends and end up involved in a ruse to overthrow the Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter. "Tim Burton will do something very different with Alice," said the author Marina Warner. "The story is very much about a little girl in an adult world, but it's the adult world that doesn't make sense".

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