Guillermo del Toro loves fairy tales and children’s stories. He also loves making them into movies. A lot. He has overseen films like Puss in Boots and Rise of the Guardians, and is in various stages of making/producing a live-action adaptation of the Disney Ride The Haunted Mansion, a stop-motion Pinocchio film, a new version of Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson, an animated movie based on the Day of the Dead, and another called Alma about a girl drawn to a strange toy store. Earlier this week, it was announced that del Toro will team with Beasts of the Southern Wild screenwriter Lucy Alibar on Universal’s adaptation of The Secret Garden.
What distinguishes del Toro films — including his own fairy tale, Pan’s Labyrinth – is his belief that children’s stories should “actually try and create a sense of darkness” to help children come to terms with the complexities of life. Which is why he keeps on making movies that are tinged with that kind of darkness. Since the filmmaker is obviously not busy enough, we’ve come up with a list of popular children’s stories and fairly tales that we think he should take on and either faithfully adapt or inject with his unique vision. Add to it in the comments!
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day
THE STORY: A young boy wakes up, and from that point everything that could possibly go wrong does. Otherwise known to adults as a Monday.
WHAT DEL TORO SHOULD DO WITH IT: Aside from “stay away from monsters with eyes in their hands and also fascists,” we’re pretty sure the message of Pan’s Labyrinth is that life can kind of brutally suck. Which is pretty much the message in Alexander. Sure, the kid’s problems are pretty mundane — annoying siblings, lima bean dinners, cavities — but del Toro could give it all a supernatural upgrade with greater stakes. How about: Alexander discovers that foul invisible goblins are working behind the scenes to make everything in his life go wrong, and he has to discover who sent them and why his day is being sabotaged.
THE STORY: A recurring witch-like figure in Russian folklore, Baba Yaga, lives in the forest in a wooden hut standing on top of giant chicken legs and surrounded by a fence of human bones and skulls. Not content to be like other witches, she flies around in a mortar (using a pestle as her rudder, a broom to sweep away her tracks) and is not entirely good, nor evil, and is as prone to kidnapping children as she is to helping wandering souls.
WHAT DEL TORO SHOULD DO WITH IT: Baba Yaga’s living arrangements and mode of transportation alone are the kind of thing you wouldn’t be surprised to find in a del Toro movie. If he makes children the protagonists and keeps Yaga her morally ambiguous self (maybe less kidnapping, more tenuous team-up) this could be a good chance for him to make his own unique witch story and/or Hansel and Gretel reinvention. Because someone has to wipe Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters out of our minds.
THE STORY: A young girl named Sophie befriends the Big Friendly Giant, a jovial collector and distributor of good dreams, who is the only one of his kind who refuses to eat humans. Together they hatch a plan with the Queen of England to invade the giants’ homeland and ensure they stop being a threat to mankind.
WHAT DEL TORO SHOULD DO WITH IT: Del Toro has expressed admiration for Roald Dahl’s brand of dark children stories before, and even was purportedly attached to a stop-motion adaptation of The Witches a while back. The Witches would seem a natural fit for del Toro’s inquisitive darkness, but we think The BFG might be a better choice. The director would have the chance to both bring his creative vision to the terrifying human-eating giants and their world, while also displaying a slightly gentler and happier side with the touching relationship between Sophie and her vertically ambitious friend.
The Giving Tree
THE STORY: A small boy forms a life-long relationship with a tree that gives him whatever he asks.
WHAT DEL TORO SHOULD DO WITH IT: Some people interpret The Giving Tree as an inspirational lesson about the beauty of selfless giving and man’s relationship with nature. Some people think the kid is a selfish greedy brat. Some people think the tree is a self-sacrificing pushover. Changes could be made to keep a sense of the book’s message, while creating a more two-way relationship. Del Toro could make the tree an exiled member of a powerful race of supernatural trees (think: Ent). After years of doling out handouts, the Giving Tree calls upon his friend for help. His kind are being threatened and at risk of extinction, and he needs the boy to help save them. Their ensuing adventures could not only ensure the two have a more symbiotic relationship, but that the message of giving — just both ways — remains intact. Plus, you get an environmental allegory in there, and Gaia knows we kids could use more of those
Go the F**k to Sleep
THE STORY: A kid won’t fall asleep. Profanity ensues.
WHAT DEL TORO SHOULD DO WITH IT: Have you looked at the illustrations of this book? These kids are playing the bongos beneath apocalyptic red skies, taking naps with tigers, hanging out with lions, dancing a jig underneath the Aurora Borealis, and paragliding like it’s nobody’s business. It’s basically a better Baby’s Day Out. Let’s imagine del Toro takes extreme liberties. He can turn the simple bedtime story into an epic quest where some nefarious force has stolen children’s ability to sleep. Most kids think this is great. All night candy raves and Spongebob marathons. A select few see the potential dangers in perpetual insomnia. They join together and go on a journey full of magical danger to save the day, and make sure all children can once again go the fuck to sleep. Or not, so their parents can tell them to go the fuck to sleep.
Harold and the Purple Crayon
THE STORY: A 4-year-old boy somehow stumbles upon a magical purple crayon that makes anything he draws become real. Just in purple.
WHAT DEL TORO SHOULD DO WITH IT: Will Smith apparently has the movie rights, but del Toro should make the effort to get in the director’s chair. Because if a story about a boy with a crayon that can create anything he imagines isn’t something del Toro can turn into a dark, twist cautionary tale, we don’t know what it is. Hell, the kid could inadvertently open a portal that lets cosmic beings into the world (that he then has to save), and del Toro can finally make that H. P. Lovecraft movie he’s always wanted to.
THE STORY: Two kids find a magical board game that makes anything they experience in the game become real.
WHAT DEL TORO SHOULD DO WITH IT: Yes, we know Joe Johnston already took a crack at this. So did Jon Favreau with an alternate take on the core idea. We just can’t help but deliriously imagine the possibilities of del Toro making a Jumanji movie of his own – especially if it’s a spiritual sequel like Zathura. Because that way the director would be able to apply his creative powers to not only thinking up a unique, dark board game for the movie’s purposes, but then be able to imaginatively unleash twisted mayhem upon the characters’ worlds.
The Paper Bag Princess
THE STORY: Princess Elizabeth is all set to marry her Prince Ronald when a dragon ruins everything by burning her kingdom, her clothes, and kidnapping her husband-to-be. So naturally she straps on a paper bag and goes out to save the day.
WHAT DEL TORO SHOULD DO WITH IT: Throughout his work del Toro has shown a predilection towards tough, strong women. When it comes to strong females in children’s stories you can’t do better than The Paper Bag Princess. The core story and message of empowerment is already there, but del Toro could infuse the story with his creative flair to make Princess Elizabeth’s journey all the more perilous and give her even more chances to show off her cunning and badass-ness. Plus, don’t tell me you haven’t been dying to see what a del Toro imagined
Smaug dragon would look like.
The Red Shoes
THE STORY: A spoiled and proud little girl gets fancy red ballet shoes that she refuses to take off in inappropriate places. As punishment when she starts to dance she can’t stop. Her adoptive mother dies, she injures her legs, an angel sentences her to dance forever even after she’s dead, and she has her feet chopped off to no avail. But she finds religious humility in the end, and it all works out.
WHAT DEL TORO SHOULD DO WITH IT: It might seem intimidating to share film title and inspiration with a Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger movie. Like The Archers’, del Toro will also have to find a way to navigate away from the basic repetitive “girl can’t stop dancing, just like Kevin Bacon in that Footloose scene” nature of the story. The overt religious message (she’s basically punished for wearing gaudy shoes in church) might need to be tempered too – though one can’t help but imagine the Angel of Death from Hellboy 2 being the one visiting the girl.
The Wild Swans
THE STORY: A witch marries a widowed king and proceeds to turn her eleven stepsons into swans and gives them the boot. She tries to turn the sister into a swan too, but it doesn’t work because she’s too good, so she has to settle for banishment. Her brothers whisk her away where she meets a fairy queen who tells if she takes a vow of silence and knits nettles into shirts, they’ll help her siblings become human again. A king falls in love with her, she’s suspected by his archbishop of being a witch, she’s almost burned at the stake, but then manages to finish the shirts in time to save her brothers and herself.
WHAT DEL TORO SHOULD DO WITH IT: We’re not even sure del Toro would have to do much here since it’s already so clearly right up his alley. Give it a modern setting in the same way he fused fairy tale with Franco-era Spain in Pan’s Labyrinth, tinge the whole thing with a bit more darkness, and you practically have a kind of spiritual sequel to Pan’s.