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By Maria Ivanova — July 30, 2013

4 Reasons Folk Tales Attract Moviegoers

While most people look for novelty when they enter a movie theatre, film industry perseveres in offering the audiences a bite of the dusty past every so often. A good old folk tale seems to be one of the top sources for writers’ inspiration. Last year saw the release of not one, but two films on Snow White. Folklore-based The Lone Ranger, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Jack the Giant Slayer were some of the most publicized releases of 2013. King Arthur, Robin Hood, Hercules and the like consistently populate our TVs and cinema theatre screens. Some of the most iconic film characters are Brad Pitt’s Achilles (Troy, 2004) and Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas (300, 2006). We asked 15 film critics what was it about an ancient tale that drew the audience in, and they came up with 4 main reasons.

1. Folklore is marketable.

Perhaps the most popular reply of the film critics was folklore’s familiarity. “It’s easier to sell what’s familiar,” says Sean P. Means, The Salt Lake Tribune. Familiarity of the story “can evoke a strong sense of cultural identity, which adds to the power of viewing,” explains Dennis Schwartz, Ozus.

“Film audiences like to watch movies about familiar stories... Studios tend to see old stories as mere moneymakers: a marketing gimmick they can use to lure people into the cinema,” says Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall. “Most people grow up with folklore, with fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Obviously, if filmmakers can tap into people’s childhood fantasies, all the better to sell their movies,” thinks John J. Puccio, formerly of DVDTown, Movie Metropolis, and the Online Film Critics Society.

So is it all just about the money? Well, no, but there’s no denying the fact that folktales are in the public domain. Thus, no licensing fee required, emphasizes Chris Bumbray, JoBlo.com.

2. Folklore is time-tested.

Besides simply being familiar and marketable, a tale is also “certified fresh.”

“There is a reason certain things, stories, and themes become so popular in films that they become standard conventions - they work,” explains Michelle Alexandria, EclipseMagazine.com. “Certain things stand the test of time,” reckons Erik Childress, eFilmCritic.

“Ancient tales... address the fundamental truths of life,” notes Rob Vaux, Mania.com. “They touch on very primal human emotions,” adds MaryAnn Johanson, FlickFilosopher.com. “All we have added since then is changes of the details,” says Nell Minow, Beliefnet.

Folk stories become folk stories because of their power, reckons Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger. “They deal in archetypes - wise kings, evil stepmothers, rightful heirs wrongfully imprisoned - that still have resonance,” he explains.

3. Folklore is original.

Folklore is the mother of all stories - “every story told since stories began has its roots in [folklore],” states Minow. “It was in folklore that the great themes of good and evil, fear and courage, ignorance and understanding, love and selfishness, heroes and villains, were first explored,” she explains.

“The world may have changed in many ways... but we haven’t changed very much: we’re still afraid of the dark, we still seek love and friendship, we still fight for our families and communities,” reckons Johanson. “Tales... contain all the basic dramatic elements that have captivated audiences long before movies were even invented,” adds Peter Sobczynski, eFilmcritic.

4. Folklore looks good.

The most rarely outlined reason for the film industry to frequently adopt folk stories was visualisation opportunities such stories give. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, as, along with the actual plot, photography is the most vital part of any movie for me.

“There is an indescribable charm about how old-time fantasies are told in contemporary modern cinema where the wonderment is embellished visually beyond one’s limited imagination,” shares Frank Ochieng, Yahoo! Voices Movies. “Moviegoers like to see and experience historical visions in a way that only film can provide,” said Phil Villarreal, COEDMagazine.com.

Compare watching a spectacular movie with reading, say, a 40-volume collection of folk tales Eastern European Ukraine is currently filing for the UN to include in the world’s intangible heritage list. Opposite to written word, “simple down-to-earth stories... are delivered so handsomely in the world of expressive, robust filmmaking,” comments Ochieng.

All in all, cinematographic portrayal of a folk tale is no boring history book - the audience loves a good story, even if retold for the umpteenth time. Just like tales don’t seem to bore little kids who ask to retell them every night, folk plots keep the audiences in cinema theatres engaged. Provided the screen is bursting with impressive graphics and charismatic actors, of course.

Originally published by Northern Stars