It’s too early to say whether the live-action “Beauty and the Beast,” which opens Friday, belongs on a list of great live-action fairy-tale movies. Disney has superbly adapted what may be its greatest animated film, staying faithful to the original story yet inventively updating it. With that understanding, here are my 10 favorites after a lifetime of watching, listed in reverse order.
10) “The Thief of Baghdad” (1940) – When the evil Jaffar casts the king out of Baghdad, a street thief named Abu helps him regain his throne. Yes, this is the loose inspiration for “Aladdin,” but shot in glorious early Technicolor. The cinematography, art direction and special effects all won Oscars.
9) “Enchanted” (2007) – Singing cockroaches! A young woman (Amy Adams at her best) preparing to marry gets whisked out of “Andalasia” and into modern New York City by her fiancee’s wicked stepmom. This proves you can celebrate and deconstruct fairy tales in the same story.
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8) “Into the Woods” (2014) – Stephen Sondheim’s moody musical conflation of many tales can seem too morbid or frivolously silly in the wrong hands. Director Rob Marshall knew how to mingle violent death, deep emotional needs, broad comedy and a wide range of songs.
7) “Peter Pan” (2003) – Jeremy Sumpter’s spunky yet lonely Peter, Jason Isaac’s debonairly cruel Hook (and sympathetic Mr. Darling) and Rachel Anne-Hurd’s Wendy – caught between girlhood and young womanhood – make this the most moving version of J.M. Barrie’s tale, live or animated.
6) “La Belle et la Bete” (1946) – Surrealist French painter-writer-director Jean Cocteau made this first great “Beauty and the Beast” a foray into the human subconscious, and it goes to psychological places none of its successors touch. The effects were, for the time, mind-blowing.
5) “The Red Shoes” (1948) – Hans Christian Andersen’s cautionary tale about sacrifices made for art became a hyperemotional movie by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Dancers Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann stand out in this story of a woman torn between love for a composer and ballet.
4) “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) – For all the usual reasons.
3) “The Tales of Hoffman” – Directors Powell and Pressburger again, this time with Offenbach’s opera about a poet who falls in love with a mechanical doll, a murderous courtesan, and a girl who will die if she sings in public. Just as weird as the stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann that inspired Offenbach.
2) “Cinderella” (2015) – Director Kenneth Branagh stays faithful to the essence of Charles Perrault’s story and inserts sly homages to Disney's animated version from 1950; screenwriter Chris Weitz layers the story with psychological depth and answers all our questions. Brilliantly traditional.
1) “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) – The daughter of a dying woman during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s enters a realm of horrors to try to save her. Visually dazzling, heart-wrenchingly touching, continually imaginative and terrifying – not least for the human wickedness – all at once.