Hansel & Gretel: When fairy tales grow up – and get even
After getting a taste for blood as children, Hansel and Gretel have become the ultimate vigilantes, hell bent on retribution. Now, unbeknownst to them, Hansel and Gretel have become the hunted, and must face an evil far greater than witches… their past.
Children around the world have long had their bones chilled by the classic fairy tale of Hansel & Gretel, the brother and sister lost in the woods, then ensnared by an icy-hearted witch who cooks and eats children. At the story’s end, the duo foil the witch’s cannibalistic clutches… but what happened to them next? That’s what writer / director Tommy Wirkola’s “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” dares to imagine, tackling the question in all its scary, funny and suspenseful potential. Joining their story as the adult siblings emerge as the most lethal witch hunters ever to stalk the woods, the film turns an ancient fable into a no-holds-barred epic of modern action and adventure.
Wirkola, who first came to renown with the eye-popping zombie comedy Dead Snow in his native Norway, has been waiting all his life to revisit a tale that first mortified him as a very young boy. He never could shake its impact, or the lingering image of hungry, hideous, horrifying witches lying in wait for human innocents. Then, one day he began to imagine a “where are they now” scenario for perhaps the most famous siblings in all of fabledom. A vision of Hansel & Gretel – all grown up and irreverently battle-toughened – as vigilantes of the supernatural kind came into his mind.
“The story of Hansel & Gretel has been part of me since I was a young kid,” Wirkola explains, “I have a strong memory from my childhood of just how dark and gruesome their tale was and I wondered what would have happened to the two of them when they grew up? They had this dark past and this intense hatred of witches. So as I thought about it, it made sense to me that of course they would be fated to become great witch hunters.”
Immediately, Wirkola saw the makings of a visually ferocious, humor-laced and action-packed experience for 21st Century audiences raised on the tale. As he began writing, he determined he would stay true to the spirit of the original German folk legend — first published back in 1812 by the famed unearthly tale-collectors, The Brothers Grimm — but put no limits on his imagination from there.
“I wanted the vibe of the original fairy tale but I also wanted to spice it with all the things I love most in movies — comedy, horror and graphic action.” he summarizes. “A gruesome aura was always there in the original tale, but I brought it to the forefront, while injecting humor. And the story is still about this really strong bond between brother and sister – the way Hansel & Gretel are driven to stick together, no matter what it takes, as they confront evil.”
When Wirkola pitched the idea to producers Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Kevin Messick and Chris Henchy, they were instantly magnetized. “His pitch was exactly what you’d imagine from the title,” recalls Messick. “Hansel & Gretel have come of age with a big beef against witches. Now, they’re bounty hunters. So if your town has a witch plague and the kids have gone missing, you call Hansel & Gretel.”
A fan of visually intense and boldly playful cinema, Wirkola also began crafting his own original vision of Hansel & Gretel’s grown up world — one that still has the timeless look and feel of a medieval fable but fused with the gritty, cutthroat action audiences have come to crave in our times. “We wanted it to feel like this could be happening 300 years ago but at the same time, there is a modern spin on all the action, characters and weaponry,” Wirkola explains. “It was a fun way to make a classical world feel fresh. We took things that you have seen in all kinds of fairy tales before — and then put a little bit of a new twist on each of them.”
Messick observes: “What’s great about the style of the movie is that you don’t think ‘I’m in 1850s or 1730s France.’ You think, ‘I am completely in a fairy tale universe.'”
That’s exactly what Wirkola was after: a fairy tale universe that has shape-shifted into something so fast and furious it grabs 21st Century filmgoers. “What I hope is that ‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters’ gives audiences something that is out of the ordinary, with a wild energy you don’t see in most action movies,” Wirkola concludes. “Most of all, I wanted it to be exciting and fun.”