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Fantasy goes dark

As new franchises replace 'Harry Potter' and 'Twilight' a grimmer, more apocalyptic tone haunts the story line.

By Staff writer / January 12, 2012



Mirror, mirror on the wall, which is the fairest young adult franchise of them all?

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Up to this year, the answer has been as clear as Windex: "Harry Potter." The boy wizard's journey of self-discovery produced a franchise so successful that it seemed as if it had been charmed by the benevolent wand of a fairy godmother: seven books and eight films, the final installment released last July.

Now that Harry's story is told, Hollywood's major studios are set to release a flood of replacement teen franchises over the next two years that they hope will prove to be just as resilient. While the requisite sword fights, evil beasts, and wise father figures are certain to get screen time, the new slate of entertainment is inviting its audience into worlds that are darker, gorier, and apocalyptic. The hero journey in "Harry Potter" and forbidden love triangle in "Twilight" feel trite among the following:

•"Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters," which updates the story of gingerbread-munching waifs with a look at their adult years in which they become vengeful bounty hunters.

•"The Hunger Games," based on the wildly successful teen lit trilogy set in a postapocalyptic future where teens are forced to fight to the death for public entertainment.

•Two versions of Snow White's story: "Mirror, Mirror," a parody featuring Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen, and "Snow White and the Huntsman," a fantasy epic featuring "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart in the title role.

•"Ender's Game," a sci-fi thriller based on the Orson Scott Card series set in a dystopian world that follows a young boy recruited by the military to fight an alien invasion but who later realizes he's participating in genocide.

•"Oz: The Great and Powerful," a prequel to the classic 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" that pits the wizard (James Franco) against three devious witches.

Television is also plundering fairy tales and fantasy literature to deliver darker revisions of the originals. Besides "Grimm," an NBC cop drama featuring characters from the classic tales, viewers can also tune into "Once Upon a Time," a reworking of fairy tales set in the present day on ABC, and "Game of Thrones," an HBO series of medieval fantasy.

Fantasy fare is maturing to correspond with the "Harry Potter" audience, which is older and now hungry for entertainment that is more evolved with a realistic element of danger, says Brad Ricca, who teaches at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and whose book, "Super Boys," a history of Superman, is forthcoming from St. Martin's Press.

" 'Harry Potter' primed its audience for these new types of movies. [Studios are] trying to get at the now older 'Harry Potter' audience, which is looking to somewhere new to eat their popcorn," Mr. Ricca says.

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