Today's cinematic Snow White doesn't just lie around in a glass coffin.
In two new movies, she is less damsel in distress than assertive young woman in search of a weapon and linchpin of a current fairy tale revival in entertainment.
Always evolving and never really out of style, fairy tales are especially prevalent in 2012. "Mirror Mirror," a family comedy that opened this weekend, stars Julia Roberts as the evil queen and Lily Collins as a princess who learns to fight in the forest.
In June, "Snow White and the Huntsman" judging by trailers, it's the far more foreboding Snow White film offers Charlize Theron as the evil queen and "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart as a Snow White so nontraditional she wears chain mail.
Also in June, Disney longtime pusher of the passive princess will arm the flame-haired young royal protagonist of the Pixar animated epic "Brave" with a bow and arrow.
Film and television writers, like oral storytellers and the Brothers Grimm before them, keep tweaking the tales to suit audiences of the day while keeping them familiar enough for viewers to immediately recognize characters. The result is lots of current entertainment involving curses and scary forests.
Bernie Goldman, producer of "Mirror Mirror," said fairy tales offer "good and bad, princes and princesses, evil queens it is a comfort food of storytelling."
Such cinematic comfort food is desired in tough economic times, Goldman said.
"When things are in a bit of upheaval, as they are now, it is nice to go back to those things that are comforting, that remind us of a more innocent time. We can delight in having some preconceptions in the story and finding out what's new."
The current fairy tale craze started on television last fall with ABC's "Once Upon a Time" and NBC's "Grimm," shows that offer full or partial shout-outs to the Brothers Grimm.
Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) is also a key figure in "Once." A teacher, she lives in a modern Maine town populated by other fairy tale characters and presided over by the evil queen/mayor.
This Snow White is not much of a warrior, but neither is she a dummy who would fall for a poison comb, then an apple.
"Grimm" is a buddy cop show in which one cop is a Grimm a born fairy tale monster slayer. Its similarities to "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" and "True Blood" outweigh its fairy tale connections, but the sentiment's there.
Fairy tales have not yet "been uniformly mined" in movies and on television, said Sean Phillips, who helps develop entertainment content for Yahoo! Movies as the site's executive producer. Fairy tales are the next form of fantastical entertainment aimed at today's escapism-hungry crowds.
"It was vampires for a long time, and that sort of ran its course, and now we are going back to something a little more tried and true," Phillips said.
The long-gestating projects all appear, coincidentally, in the bicentennial year of the publication of the Grimms' first collection of stories, in 1812. (Or maybe not so coincidental, if you believe in fate.)
Big-screen fairy tales "Mirror Mirror" and "Huntsman" follow the Grimm structure but challenge the idea of a fairy-tale heroine who mostly just waits, dead, captive or asleep, to be kissed. The approach seems like a smart one, since a strong young female protagonist just helped fuel a $155 million opening weekend for "The Hunger Games."
"It's not so icky for boys to have girls as heroes," Phillips said with a laugh, about the clearly wide appeal of "Hunger Games." "The characters and situations are relatable to all."
Nor are girls satisfied with heroines who wait to be rescued.
The purpose of fairy tales is to "help people understand their lives," said Connie Somers, an Advanced Placement literature teacher at Loomis' Del Oro High School. Somers places fairy tales under the larger umbrella of myths.
"And myths need to constantly change so they are not outdated. People need to recognize themselves. Young girls today are not passive, by any means."
Somers first noticed a more feminist mind-set in Disney films 20 years ago, when she took her own children to see "Beauty and the Beast," and observed, in heroine Belle, a more self-actualized heroine who preferred reading to pining.
Savvier princesses are not an exclusively modern phenomenon, said California State University, Sacramento, assistant professor Kim Zarins, who teaches a course in classic children's literature.
In one older version of "Little Red Riding Hood," Zarins said, Red gets herself out of a jam with the wolf by excusing herself to use the restroom.
"It depends on who is telling the story" as much as when the story is told, Zarins said of fairy tale interpretations. The Grimms' Snow White, for instance, is exceptionally naive. "She seems to have a real affection for pretty things," Zarins said with a laugh.
Goldman and his wife, "Mirror Mirror" co-screenwriter Melissa Wallack, sought out "pre-Grimm" Snow White tales in researching their film, including a version supposedly based on a real princess.
"The Grimm Brothers were kind of the Walt Disney of their time" in their distilled storytelling, Goldman said.
Revision has been integral to fairy tales' survival.
The Grimms collected folk tales and "kept changing the details and adding elements, shaping the tales," said Jack Zipes, a retired University of Minnesota German professor and author of the books "The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre," and "The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy-Tale Films."
For example, in the first edition of Grimms' fairy tales, the evil queen was Snow White's real mother, not stepmother. That version later was deemed too harsh, Zipes said.
Yet the Grimms' fairy tales maintained central issues from the folk tales of mother-daughter conflicts formed within patriarchal societies ("Snow White") or child abuse and abandonment ("Hansel and Gretel").
Those basic stories still strike chords, Zipes said.
Fairy tales "contained vital information about human issues and our dispositions that are so significant and so relevant to the survival of the human species that these fairy tales began to stick," Zipes said.
How authors and filmmakers fleshed out those basic morality tales became a source of controversy. For decades, Disney faced accusations its cartoons perpetuated sexism, racism and other stereotypes. The original tales have been criticized for their stereotypes.
Film and television producers have responded with characterizations reflecting greater sensitivity.
In "Mirror Mirror," the dwarves are played by a multicultural group of little people, and their ostracism by the townspeople for being different is clearly established as an injustice.
In "Once Upon a Time" and in "Mirror Mirror," even the evil queen gets context. On "Once," actress Lana Parrilla shows hints of a painful past fueling the queen's evil acts.
Roberts' queen provides most of the laughs in her film. But she also elicits sympathy, especially in viewers older than 40. Or rather, a combination of empathy and alarm, since the idea of the one-time "Pretty Woman" being old enough to play an aging, insecure woman is as upsetting to baby boomers as the cannibalistic witch is to Hansel and Gretel.
Zipes contends that because fairy tales speak to basic human issues, their anachronistic or potentially offensive aspects should be debated rather than the tales being dismissed or condemned.
"The best sort of classical fairy tales, even though we might have problems with them ideologically, serve as templates for discourse," he said. Pre-loaded with conflict and recognizable characters, they also serve as highly attractive templates for film and television scripts, even if, according to Zipes "80 to 90 percent of them tend to be mediocre, commercial types of adaptations."
He hasn't seen "Mirror Mirror," but finds "Once Upon a Time" badly acted and "dreadful" overall. He prefers "The Princess Bride," "Pan's Labyrinth" and other films that offer commentary on the fairy tale form or on larger issues such as politics.
Because fairy tales usually last only several pages, they also are versatile as sources of screen entertainment and that versatility has helped keep them fresh.
"You would think they have been done to death, but there is always room for more," Zarins said. "It is such a flexible tradition. They can be stressful, but you can also tell a funny story. It depends on the ingenuity and energy of the storyteller."