Cult classics died with the 20th century. I mean real cult classics. Not like some people think Nacho Libre is funny. I’m talking like Laberynth or NeverEnding Story, the kind of bizarre anomalies that have no business in a critical discussion but will ever be our favorites.
It’s not that movies like these aren’t made anymore (or attempted at least, get to that later). It’s more that there isn’t any appreciation these days for the Story. That’s a capital “S” in case you missed it. The Story: the fantasy/fable that doesn’t need to make any sense, but somehow captivates our sense of childlike wonder with its raw imagination. It’s the Story that taught us about noble causes and making friends along the way. It’s the Story that made us believe that perhaps forces in the universe really were on our side.
We used to love the Story. Heck, it’s the reason Disney is Disney. I mean, their entire collection of “golden age” animated movies comes from classic fables and fairy tales. Have you ever read the Grimm Brothers’ collection? Those were Stories. Magic, witches, enchanted plants and animals and naively hopeful heroes. And even though you just had a burst of nostalgia remembering how great those were, think about it— would a non-comedy (and non-reboot, and also non-Disney animated) movie about fantastic places and anthropomorphized creatures and mystical beings granting true love wishes and heroes rising from poverty to fight for nobility— would a move like that actually work in today’s cinematic world? The answer is no, because there was a movie like that and it failed miserably. It was called Winter’s Tale.
Let me just say that I didn’t love Winter’s Tale either. It was just a bit off in its delivery and that’s actually my first point here: Hollywood doesn’t know how to make the Story anymore. As the book demonstrated, Winter’s Tale is really a great Story. Watching the movie, though, I became frustrated that I couldn’t point out anything specifically wrong with it. The casting was great, the writing was fine, and even the plot was manageable (you know, if you’re good with the whole angel horse mojo). With all the elements there, I realized that the problem was simply the tone. It was as if the movie couldn’t decide whether it was a drama or a religious piece or fantasy or even science fiction. Without the proper storytelling tone, a movie simply can’t bring the audience into the Story they’re trying to tell. Just like with Winter’s Tale, the themes miss their mark and the movie is nothing but uncomfortable and disappointing.
Hollywood’s modern inability to handle classic storytelling isn’t the only problem. The movie world is a two-way road, and the viewers have to take some responsibility. And to make my point that viewers no longer appreciate the Story, I’m going to tell you a story. Once upon a 2012, Working Title Pictures produced the movie adaptation of Les Miserables. Praise and promotion abounded. Then people watched it. Now, I know that in the end it won several Academy Awards, but you see I’m a man of the people. And from what I saw, the people weren’t impressed.
You might agree that the 2012 Les Mis wasn’t up to muster. Thing is, that’s kind of my point. When did we forget how to simply appreciate the Story? I even heard someone say, “I didn’t think it would all be singing.” When did we stop enjoying the escape into oddity and curiosity? I’m not trying to argue that Les Mis was good. I AM trying to make a case for chilling out a bit. All of us, I mean; at least with our movie-watching habits. Let’s just chill out and learn how to like things again. Learn how to appreciate others’ visions. Remember how to love the Story again. Then maybe our kids will have they’re own cult classics to treasure.