Friday, May 31, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | Faerie Tale Theatre (1982)

In the '80s, Shelley Duvall produced an awesome series of fairy tale adaptations for Showtime. It was shot on video and the sets weren't always lavish, so the look doesn't necessarily hold up as top tier, but Faerie Tale Theatre had top talent working on it, in front of the camera as well as behind.

The sets were often designed to imitate the work of famous illustrators, so "The Frog Prince" looks like Maxfield Parrish's work, "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" is inspired by Norman Rockwell, "Hansel and Gretel" has an Arthur Rackham vibe, and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is based on NC Wyeth. I understand that the "Beauty and the Beast" episode was designed to mimic Jean Cocteau's excellent 1946 adaptation of the tale.

Duvall also got great directors to work on the episodes. Eric Idle directed "The Frog Prince," Roger Vadim did "Beauty and the Beast," Nicholas Meyer did "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," Tim Burton did "Aladdin," and Francis Ford Coppola did "Rip Van Winkle."

And the actors are a Who's Who of '80s (and beyond) celebrities like Robin Williams, Teri Garr, Hervé Villechaize, Jeff Bridges, Mick Jagger, Mako, Edward James Olmos, Anjelica Huston, Mary Steenburgen, Malcolm McDowell, Ricky Schroder, Joan Collins, John Lithgow, Pee Wee Herman, Carrie Fisher, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Lee, Jeff Goldblum... As impressive as that list is, it's maybe a third of the top-name people who appeared in these stories.

I watched three episodes for this project and I bet you can guess which ones they were.

Elizabeth McGovern (She's Having a Baby, Downton Abbey) plays Snow White and she's certainly beautiful, but her performance isn't as inspired as the true stars of the show: Vanessa Redgrave (The first Mission: Impossible movie) as the Evil Queen and Vincent Price (oh, you know) as her Magic Mirror. Price is charming and droll as he rolls his eyes at the Queen's vanity, but Redgrave is next-level amazing with the way she prances and primps in front of the mirror. I'm pretty sure Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs learned everything he knows about preening from Redgrave's Queen. She's marvelous and tragic as a woman who deep down understands that Snow White has replaced her, but is fighting it with every ounce of will that she has.

Other cast members in this one are Tony Cox (Spaceballs, Bad Santa) as one of the dwarfs, and Rex Smith as the Prince. Smith's coolest other role has to be Daredevil in the Trial of the Incredible Hulk TV movie from 1989, but he also appeared opposite Linda Ronstadt in the '83 movie adaptation of The Pirates of Penzance. He puts those singing skills to good use in Faerie Tale Theatre.

"Cinderella" has Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, The Bride) in the title role, Jean Stapleton (All in the Family) as her fairy godmother, and Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) as the Prince. A highlight of this one is how much time it spends building a relationship between Cinderella and the Prince. It shows a lot of the ball and Beals and Broderick do a nice job convincing me that they're falling in love. That's especially good since the theme of the FTT version is that Cinderella is perfectly capable of winning the Prince over by herself. The Fairy Godmother just gets her in the door.

There's also a fun bit between the stepsisters and the prince at the ball, since one of them is played by Edie McClurg. She was also Ed Rooney's secretary in Ferris Bueller the following year, so we get to see Grace hit on Ferris. Another actor worth mentioning is James Noble as the King. If you're familiar with the sitcom Benson, Noble is basically still playing Governor Gatling in this.

"Sleeping Beauty" was easily my favorite of the three episodes, mostly because it has Bernadette Peters as the princess and Christopher Reeve as the prince. It also keeps Perrault's Don't Rush Into Love as a theme and presents it in a really fun way. Most of the story is told in flashback by a woodsman to the prince and his squire (Ron Rifkin from Alias), but we also get flashbacks to the prince's past. We see both the prince and the princess trying to find potential spouses, but failing because their parents throw them at awful people, who are also hilariously played by Peters and Reeve. Other actors in this one include Rene Auberjonois (Benson, Deep Space Nine) and Sally Kellerman (MASH, Back to School) as Peters' parents, Beverly D'Angelo (National Lampoon's Vacation) as the evil fairy who curses the princess, and Carol Kane (The Muppet Movie, Taxi) as the good fairy who modifies the curse.

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