Last week, I wrote about the second season of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre when the episodes were most consistently great in my estimation. But that doesn’t mean I don’t consider any episodes from other seasons to be great. In this post, using the same format I used before, I’m going to writeup four I consider to be Season 2-worthy. Well, almost.
The Princess and the Pea
Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea is easily the shortest story Faerie Tale Theatre ever adapted. (Goldilocks and the Three Bears was the only one to rival it in brevity.) The original is a page-long satire of the pretensions of blue blood. (That’s the only interpretation that makes sense to me anyway.) This adaptation keeps the satire but adds human interest and character development, having Princess Alecia (Liza Minnelli), as it names the main character, arrive at the castle and develop a romance with Prince Richard (Tom Conti) long before she’s submitted to the pea-mattress test. It also develops two other princesses he could potentially marry, the quirky ditz, Princess Rebecca (Diane Stilwell) and the two-faced jerk, Princess Elizabeth (Nancy Allen.) I hesitated to rank this episode with my favorites because I feel the central romance is palpably flawed. It’s easy to see what the lively, witty, competent, helpful Alecia brings to the relationship but what exactly does she see in the slow, nebbish, whiny, (initially) entitled Richard? Even after he’s undergone some character development and stands up to his mother, the queen (Beatrice Straight), about wanting to marry Alecia, he sends his sidekick, the court fool (Tim Kazurinsky), to warn her about the test rather than go himself.
But the script by Mark Curtiss and Rod Ash is so witty that I felt I had to give this episode a shoutout.I could have listed it with the episodes I’m going to blog about next week, but I feel it’s more successful than any of them. The domineering, aristocratic queen is great. (“Don’t worry,” she says to her son, “I’ll tell you who you want to marry.”) So is the spacy, childlike king (Pat McCormick.) (“From this day forth,” he randomly announces, “I hereby decree that all young men in the kingdom known as Robert shall henceforth be known as Buddy.” His servant (Charlie Dell)’s blase reaction is hilarious.) While she may not have great taste in men, Alecia is definitely a fun and appealing character and while he may not be a great romantic lead, Richard is at least amusing. The choice to have the sets be entirely in black and white is an interesting one, the music by Robert Folk is lovely and the ending has a good idea for a twist on the end albeit one that could have been developed more.
Parental Advisory: When Richard tells the fool that Alecia will be sleeping in his (the fool’s) bedroom, he’s initially excited by the news and begins “freshening up (his) little love nest.” He’s disappointed to be told he’ll be staying in the stables.
Funniest Line: Princess Elizabeth: You are simply a rung on my ladder to success, an object to be stepped on.I’ve felt the same way about some of my professors in college.
The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers
This is the only Faerie Tale Theatre episode not adapted from an A-list fairy tale. The Grimms’ Tale of a Youth Who Set Forth to Learn What Fear WasWhich you may recall Jim Henson’s The Storyteller also adapted. might seem like an odd choice for the show but it actually makes great sense. After all, the story of the young thrill seeker perpetually unphased by every horror he finds is one of the few adapted by Faerie Tale Theatre that was always intended to be a comedy. (The Emperor’s New Clothes is another.) Peter MacNicol is perfectly cast as the unflappable Martin. “Boy, this feels so right,” he says about spending three nights in a haunted castle that no one has survived before. A wrinkle that this adaptation gives the story is that the king (Christopher Lee) who owns the castle actually hopes Martin will die in the attempt so that he can lay claim to any property he leaves behind. His reaction each night Martin survives is highly satisfying. Even better is the way the episode expands on the character of the princess (Dana Hill) whose hand in marriage Martin will win if he successfully exorcises the castle. An important but minor character in the original, her relationship with Martin is much more developed here and they make for one of the show’s most appealing couples.It’s a bit troubling though that she says she’s never tried to help any candidates besides Martin because “the other ones didn’t matter.” Does that mean she was fine … Continue reading She also plays a greater part in the plot as she’s the one who tells him he’s allowed to take three things with him to the castle, a piece of information her father would have withheld. Inexplicably though, the script doesn’t follow through on this by having Martin take items that help him out of scrapes as he does in the Grimm story. That weird, missed opportunity is one of the only things keeping this from being a Season 2-worthy episode.
Parental Advisory: Early in the episode, when Martin’s father (Jeff Corey) complains to the local deacon (Jack Riley) about his fearless son’s obsession with getting the shivers, he tells him, “It’s just a stage he’s going through. I remember when I was a boy all I wanted to do was think of naked Greek statues.” What makes this line frustrating for concerned parents is that it’s the only crude joke in what is otherwise a family friendly episode and unlike some other jokes about sex on the show, it’s not even that funny. Of course, particularly young and sensitive children might not enjoy this episode’s humorously spooky thrills anyway.
Worst Special Effect: The ghouls emerging from the fire in the fireplace are pretty obviously superimposed on the screen and the beams that shoot from the evil sorcerer (also Christopher Lee)’s hands are obviously animated. Generally, though, this episode’s practical effects hold up very well.
Funniest Line: Martin (after the princess has fainted upon seeing him nearly get sliced by a giant pendulum): Oh, see? You drank too fast.
I hesitated to rank this one among the best episodes because I find Jennifer Beals to be somewhat bland and forgettable in the title role and Matthew Broderick as the prince is worse than that. But there’s really nothing else holding it back. Mark Curtiss and Rod Ash’s script is one of the best they wrote for Faerie Tale Theatre. Maybe the best. There was some serious competition for funniest line this time and when it wishes to be so, the episode can be effectively dramatic too. There’s also nothing wrong with the cast apart from the leads. Eve Arden, Jane Alden and Edie McClurg are all great fun as Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters and so is Jean Stapleton as her fairy godmother.
Parental Advisory: When offering Cinderella refreshment at the ball, the prince says they’re out of fruit “except for some melon balls,” which I assume is a double entendre. When the royal messenger (Tim Thomerson) arrives at Cinderella’s house, one of the stepsisters flirtatiously offers him “some ham,” which I assume is also a double entendre though I don’t get it. When the prince later asks the same royal messenger why he wasn’t present to see which direction Cinderella ran, he gets rather embarrassed and whispers the answer in the prince’s ear. Kids watching may just assume he was using the restroom.
Funniest Line: Stepmother: Think of it as a good deed. You kiss up to us, we despise you and everybody is happy.
Cinderella: But I’m not happy.
Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp
This is another great episode marred by a dull lead performance. In this case, its Robert Carradine as the title character. He’s probably worse than Jennifer Beals was as Cinderella though not as bad as Matthew Broderick was as her prince. But Valerie Bertinelli is fun as the Princess Sabrina and so are Leonard Nimoy as the evil magician, Joseph Maher as the childlike sultan and James Earl Jones in a dual role as the quiet, demure Genie of the Ring and the bombastic and rebellious Genie of the Lamp and they’ve got another fun script by Curtiss and Ash. Apart from Francis Ford Coppola, who directed Rip Van Winkle, this is the Faerie Tale Theatre episode with the most famous director in Tim Burton. It doesn’t have what would come to be considered his signature look but it does some great production design. I especially love the surreal subterranean cavern where Aladdin finds the magical lamp. There are a lot of great little visual touches in this episode like the magic medallion shaped like a gold skull that tells the magician what’s happened to Aladdin or the sultan’s throne with the mechanical arms that give him a massage, an homage to the 1940 movie, The Thief of Baghdad. Aided and abetted by Michael Convertino and David Newman’s music, they make this easily one of the most magical Faerie Tale Theatre episodes.
Parental Advisory: Surprisingly, the episode actually passes up on a chance to include sex-related humor. In the original story, the sultan has his daughter married to the son of his grand vizier (played here by Ray Sharkey.) Aladdin has the genie separate them on their wedding night before anything can be consummated, leading to the marriage being annulled. Faerie Tale Theatre adapts the incident but places it long before any wedding or wedding night. The episode does have a scene of Aladdin on his own wedding night telling the genie to get back into his lamp before the bride enters the bedroom. The genie chuckles and assures him he has “no interest in the antics of mortals.” This should go right over kids’ heads.
Worst Special Effect: Anything with characters or objects flying through the sky.Those mainly familiar with Disney version of this story may be interested to learn that there’s no magical flying carpet in the original. There is one in another story from One Thousand and One … Continue reading
Funniest Line: Grand Vizier: Do not trust him, Sultan.
Sultan: I trust you, Aladdin, but if you fail to return, I shall send my entire army to hunt you down!
Aladdin: Thank you.
It should be noted that I still haven’t written about all the episodes of this show that I consider good. There are plenty of others. What I’ve done is written about all the ones I consider the best. Next week, I’ll wrap up this series by discussing the episodes I think are…well, not the worst.I’ve already written about one of those, Jack and the Beanstalk. The other one is the aforementioned Rip Van Winkle episode. That one does arguably have the most interesting visual style but … Continue reading But the episodes that I find most frustrating and intriguing to watch. Stay tuned.
|↑1||I could have listed it with the episodes I’m going to blog about next week, but I feel it’s more successful than any of them.|
|↑2||I’ve felt the same way about some of my professors in college.|
|↑3||Which you may recall Jim Henson’s The Storyteller also adapted.|
|↑4||It’s a bit troubling though that she says she’s never tried to help any candidates besides Martin because “the other ones didn’t matter.” Does that mean she was fine with them dying just because she didn’t want to marry them?|
|↑5||Those mainly familiar with Disney version of this story may be interested to learn that there’s no magical flying carpet in the original. There is one in another story from One Thousand and One Nights, Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Paribanou. I imagine both the people at Disney and Faerie Tale Theatre knew they would only be doing one Arabian Nights story and felt it would be a shame not to have a flying carpet in it.|
|↑6||I’ve already written about one of those, Jack and the Beanstalk. The other one is the aforementioned Rip Van Winkle episode. That one does arguably have the most interesting visual style but it’s not enough to make up for its boringness.|