The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 3: Don’t Want to Ruin Your Appetite

Lucy bursts out of the wardrobe, not noticing in her haste that it’s still raining outside and Peter, whom you’ll remember was “it” in hide and seek, can be heard finishing counting to one hundred. “It’s all right!” she calls as she runs down the halls. “I’m back!” To her surprise, Edmund pokes his head out from behind a tapestry and hisses, “Shut up! He’s coming!” Peter does indeed come around the corner and see both of them. (This probably could have been staged a little better since it looks like Edmund had a good couple of seconds to pull his head back in first.)

Peter: You know, I don’t think you two have quite got the idea of this game.
Lucy: Weren’t you all wondering where I was?
Edmund: That’s the point! That was why he was seeking you!
Susan (emerging from her hiding place): Does this mean I win?
Peter: I don’t think Lucy wants to play anymore.
Lucy: I’ve been gone for hours.

You guessed it. No time has passed while she was in Narnia.[1]I mean, you probably didn’t need to guess since this is a famous story. But let’s pretend it’s not.

After hearing her story (offscreen), they investigate the wardrobe but when they pull back the coats, there’s nothing but your average, everyday back of a wardrobe. Susan even knocks on it and so does Edmund from the other side. “Lucy, the only wood in here is the back of the wardrobe,” Susan says. “One game at a time, Lu,” says Peter affectionately, “we don’t all have your imagination.” Edmund just rolls his eyes in disgust. While the dialogue is different from that of the book, I love that the movie keeps each siblings having a different reaction to Lucy’s crazy story, Susan’s being more schoolmarmish, Peter’s more indulgent and Edmund’s simply rude. It’s a great way to demonstrate their individual personalities. They’re all about to walk out of the spare room when Lucy protests that she wasn’t imagining. “That’s enough,” says Susan sternly. Mature viewers can tell that her sternness comes from fear for her sister’s sanity, but Lucy thinks Susan is angry at her. “I wouldn’t lie about this,” she cries, aghast. “Well, I believe you,” says Edmund. “Didn’t I tell you about the football field in the bathroom cupboard?” Peter pulls him aside to tell him off.

Peter: Oh, would you just stop? You just have to make everything worse, don’t you?
Edmund: It was just a joke.
Peter: When are you going to learn to grow up?
Edmund: Shut up! You think you’re Dad but you’re not!

Edmund storms out of the room. “Well, that was nicely handled,” says Susan and stalks off herself. (I’m not really sure why she should be mad at Peter in this moment, but the movie wants the scene to be as sad as possible.) Peter turns to a rather small and pathetic looking Lucy. “But it really was there,” she says.[2]And somewhere out there Candace Flynn nods and sighs in sympathy. “Susan’s right, Lucy,” says Peter, “that’s enough.” The scene is a great tearjerker.

In the book, Peter and Edmund don’t actually have a big fight until after Lucy’s second trip to Narnia. I feel like that made more emotional sense since Edmund’s misbehavior had been building for longer but there’s definitely something to be said for making him as mad at Peter as possible right before the following scene.

We see Lucy lying awake at night, wondering about what happened. Finally, she gets up, pushes aside a pair of bedroom slippers with her feet and takes out a pair of boots from under the bed, a great wordless way of telling us her plans. She makes her way down the hall with a candle. Edmund emerges from the bathroom in time to see her[3]Trivia Time: Reports on early screenings made some fans worried that the audible toilet flush in this moment would be an example of bathroom humor but thankfully in context, it doesn’t come … Continue reading and, grinning, follows her on tiptoe. Because of the adaptation’s compressed timeframe, he hasn’t been mercilessly teasing Lucy about her story for as long as in the book and as a result doesn’t come across as unlikeable, especially since the movie starts off by giving him a sympathetic quality. (He misses his father.) Still, it’s not a completely whitewashed take on the character.

In the spare room, Lucy cautiously approaches the wardrobe and opens the door, scared she’ll find the same thing as last time. Suddenly, a gust of wind from within the wardrobe blows out her candle. The music rises ecstatically as Lucy’s face lights up and she clambers inside. This is fairly different from how the book portrays this scene, but I love it.

Edmund opens to the door to spare room just in time to see Lucy enter the wardrobe and close the door behind, leaving it open just a crack. He jumps inside, yelling “boo” but gets no response. “I hope you’re not afraid of the dark,” he taunts, closing the door all the way behind him. The book emphasizes the fact that Edmund closes the wardrobe door all the way, making it harder for him get out again, to show that he’s not as mentally superior to Lucy as he believes. Sure enough, he gets lost in all the fur coats and tumbles out on his keister into Narnia. “Lucy? I think I believe you now,” he calls as he wanders the woods. When I first saw the movie, I laughed at that line but also felt it made Edmund more of a caricature than he was in the book. On reflection though, I feel like it was necessary to convey that he dislikes admitting he’s wrong and only does so because he’s afraid of being alone in this strange place, something that might not have registered otherwise. And it is a really funny line.

Edmund wanders past the lamppost and hears the sound of sleighbells in the distance. Suddenly a sleigh drawn by white reindeer comes barreling out of the mist, nearly running him over. We can only see who’s seated inside for a brief second.

Not in this screencap but if you pause the movie at just the right second.

After the sleigh passes Edmund, it stops, and the driver gets out. It’s a dwarf (Kiran Shah) wearing a red cap with tassel but don’t get the idea he’s one of Santa’s elves. The first thing he does is chase after Edmund and pin him to the ground, presumably as punishment for getting in his way.

“What is it now, Ginarrbrik?” asks a beautiful but bored sounding voice from the sleigh. “Make him let me go!” cries Edmund. “I didn’t do anything wrong!” “How dare you address the queen of Narnia?” Ginarrbrik snarls. (This dwarf wasn’t given a name in the book by the way. When christening him for the movie, the filmmakers took inspiration from Nikabrik, the name of another evil dwarf from Prince Caspian.) “I didn’t know,” says Edmund. “You will know her better hereafter,” says Ginarrbrik, raising his knife. “Wait!” the voice suddenly cries urgently. The dwarf allows Edmund to sit up and see the inhumanly tall woman (Tilda Swinton) who has risen from the sleigh.

OK, I love most of the makeup work in this movie, but I’ve never loved the look of this White Witch. It doesn’t look as bad in this scene as in some others, but her skin doesn’t look so much white (“Not merely pale but white,” the book stresses, “like snow or paper or icing sugar”) as gray and the effect is less beautiful than grotesque. Her wig looks downright terrible and if they really couldn’t use the actress’s real hair, why not give her either dark hair to contrast with the white skin and polar bear fur coat or white hair to match them? Blonde hair just doesn’t go well with the rest of her color scheme. I can only assume they wanted her to have dreadlocks in the belief that they would suggest icicles. Her crown by the way is made of actual icicles.[4]In-universe, I mean. I assume Tilda Swinton did not wear actual icicles when filming this. That wouldn’t have been practical. This differs from her golden crown in the book but I see the symbolic appeal of her crown melting as her spell on Narnia break and spring returns. Whatever problems I have with the Witch’s appearance, Tilda Swinton delivers in spades, bringing a very powerful screen presence to the role. She’s not exactly the White Witch from the book, being chillier[5]Forgive me for the obvious and irresistible pun., more aloof and emotionally undemonstrative but she makes for a great villain in her own right. The Witch in the 1988 miniseries of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was performed in a very broad, pantomime villain way and in the 1979 cartoon, seemingly the only direction the voice actress received was to scream louder.[6]I regret to say that since director Bill Melendez did a lot of great work for the Peanuts and Garfield franchises. I prefer Swinton’s White Witch to those though if I were directing my own adaptation, I’d aim for a happy medium between the two takes on the character as that’s the impression I get from the book.

Witch: What is your name, Son of Adam?
Edmund: Edmund
Witch: And how, Edmund, did you come to enter my dominion?
Edmund: I’m not sure. I was just following my sister.
Witch: Your sister? How many of you are there?
Edmund: Four. Lucy’s the only one that’s been here. She said she met some faun called Tumnus. Peter and Susan didn’t believe her. I didn’t either.
Witch: Edmund, you look so cold. Come and sit with me.

In the book, Edmund only tells the Witch all the information about his siblings and Tumnus after he’s grown comfortable with her. I feel like that makes more sense than the way he just blurts everything out right away here. Actually, this whole scene is staged quite differently from the book though some of the initial dialogue is similar. There it was the Witch who ordered the dwarf to stop the sleigh and angrily interrogated Edmund. The movie avoids having her come across as obviously evil right off the bat though I suspect the fact that she employs such a violent chauffeur tips off many viewers. (I suspect they also wanted to add more action to the story by having the dwarf chase down Edmund and almost kill him.) I hesitate to say this improves on the book since I never feel like the scene needs improvement when I read it. But I never wish the movie had stuck closer to the text when I watch this scene. (Well, not that part of it anyway.) The Witch initially looks and sounds quite neutral when she questions Edmund. Then when she invites him to sit with her for warmth, she sounds downright friendly. But when she turns her face away, we briefly see how frightened she really is by Edmund’s appearance in her realm and what he’s told her.

The Witch wraps a nervous Edmund in her mantle and offers him something warm to drink. She produces a little silver bottle and lets a drop of it fall on the ground, magically creating a goblet of refreshment. According to the book, “Edmund saw the drop for a second in mid-air, shining like a diamond. But the moment it touched the snow there was a hissing sound and there stood a jeweled cup full of something that steamed.” This obviously brings to mind a stage effect with the cup appearing in a puff of smoke, which is unusual for C. S. Lewis who typically used the medium of literature for things that would have been impossible (in his day anyway) for television, movies and the stage. The adaptation arguably improves on the description by having the goblet slowly materialize before our eyes and fill up with liquid.

Ginarrbrik hands it to Edmund with grudging respect. The Witch tells him she can make anything he’d like. “Can you make me taller?” asks Edmund. That’s a great line original to the movie as it reinforces the character’s resentment of his older siblings. The Witch clarifies that she can make anything he’d like to eat, and Edmund asks for Turkish Delight. She creates a box of it which the dwarf hands to Edmund. Ginarrbrik then throws away the cup (even though it looks like Edmund barely drank any.) It turns into snow as soon as it hits a tree. This could imply that anything the Witch creates is an illusion and not real refreshment just like her false kindness. Or, given the story’s Christian themes, in its original form anyway, it could imply that only God has the power to create, and the forces of evil can only imitate His creation. Or it could be the filmmakers just thought it looked cool.

The Witch tells Edmund she’d love to meet his family. “Why? They’re nothing special,” Edmund grouses with his mouth full. “Oh, I’m sure they’re not nearly as delightful as you are,” says the Witch. Hilariously, as she says this, she takes Ginarrbrik’s cap from him and uses it to wipe Edmund’s sticky face, much to the dwarf’s dismay.

Witch: But you see, Edmund, I have no children of my own and you are exactly the sort of boy who I can see becoming prince of Narnia. Maybe even king.
Edmund: Really?
Witch: Of course, you’d have to bring your family.
Edmund (disappointed): Oh. Do you mean Peter would be king too?
Witch: No! No, no. But a king needs servants.
Edmund: I guess I could bring them.

In the book, the Witch says she’ll make Edmund’s brother and sisters lesser nobles under him. The movie makes her playing on his pride less subtle with the whole servant thing but I actually think making a movie version less subtle than a book is fine sometimes, even necessary. I don’t think as much while I watch as I do while I read so there’s something to be said for clearly spelling out some things. To Edmund’s disappointment, the Witch takes the box of Turkish Delight from him and gives it to Ginarrbrik who happily finishes off its content. Some fans of the book have objected to this, feeling it contradicts what Lewis wrote about the enchanted Turkish Delight, “that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves.” I don’t really see how it contradicts it though. Maybe enchanted snacks are also how the Witch keeps Ginarrbrik enslaved to her. While the movie, not having a narrator, never specifies that the Turkish Delight is enchanted/addictive, that still seems to be the implication because otherwise I’m really not sure what it’s purpose in the story could be. Later in the book, a character tells Peter, Susan and Lucy that Edmund has “the look of one who has been with the Witch and eaten her food.” If I were adapting the story and couldn’t use a narrator, I would likely include that line and then expand on it, having him explain just what that means. Interestingly, most other adaptations refrain from spelling out the Turkish Delight’s exact effect on eaters too, perhaps out of concern that it would give the impression that Edmund’s misdeeds were out of his control.

The Witch points out two hills to Edmund, telling him her house is between them. “You’d love it there,” she says as she gently pushes him out of the sleigh, “it has whole rooms simply stuffed with Turkish Delight.” In the book, she also tells him not to tell his siblings about her before he brings them to the house because “If your sister has met one of the Fauns, she may have heard strange stories about me — nasty stories that might make her afraid to come to me. Fauns will say anything, you know.” I wish this could have been kept as it makes the Witch smarter and, while it doesn’t exactly make Edmund smarter, it does show more how he’s able to delude himself into trusting her, helping us to-well, maybe not respect him but understand him. Edmund asks for some more Turkish Delight for the road. “No!” snaps the Witch before recovering her composure and telling him he doesn’t want to ruin his appetite. “Besides, you and I are going to be seeing each other again very soon, aren’t we?” she adds pointedly.[7]This moment of the Witch losing her cool (sorry about making another obvious ice/snow pun) and then backpedaling is something of a tradition in adaptations of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but … Continue reading “I hope so, Your Majesty,” says Edmund. “Until then, dear one,” says the Witch, “I’m going to miss you.” This whole scene is just as great in its own way as the scene with Lucy and Tumnus was in its. It does a brilliant job of making the Witch seem mysterious and ominous without making her too intimidating just yet. That’s going to come later.[8]In the book, I’d say the Witch is supposed to be intimidating at this point, but I enjoy what the movie does here in its own right. The music is also perfect. It’s not the sort of thing you’re going to want to listen to outside the context of watching the film, but it really adds to eerie feeling that something is off without yelling at viewers to run away in fear.

The Witch rides away in her sleigh, leaving Edmund staring after it. He hears a familiar voice calling him from behind. It’s Lucy, who runs up and hugs him, delighted to have someone else who’ll back up her story now. Edmund pries her fingers off. “Where have you been?” he grumbles, wiping sugar off his mouth. “With Mr. Tumnus,” explains Lucy. “He’s fine. The White Witch hasn’t found out anything about him meeting me.” Edmund looks wary at this. “She calls herself the queen of Narnia,” Lucy says, “but she really isn’t.” We actually haven’t heard Tumnus mention that little fact about the Witch to Lucy in this movie, unlike in the book, so I guess we can just assume it just came up sometime during her second visit. Lucy also told Edmund a lot more about the Witch at this point in the text and got into more reasons why she was evil, which I think would have made more storytelling sense. I guess her tone though when she says the Witch isn’t really the queen is enough to convey the idea that she’s really bad. Edmund certainly seems to get the idea, judging by his facial expression.

“Are you all right? You do look awful,” says Lucy. “Well, what do you expect?” Edmund snaps. “I mean, it’s freezing! How do we get out of here?” Lucy leads him away. We then cut to her jumping on Peter in his bed in the middle of the night with Edmund and Susan right behind her. (I mean, they’re entering Peter’s bedroom behind her. They’re not following her lead with the jumping thing.)

Lucy: Peter, Peter, wake up! Peter, wake up, it’s there, it’s really there!
Peter: Lucy, what are you talking about?
Lucy: Narnia! It’s all in the wardrobe like I told you!
Susan: Oh, you’ve just been dreaming, Lucy.
Lucy: But I haven’t! I saw Mr. Tumnus again and this time Edmund went too!

At once, everyone’s eyes are on Ed. “You saw the faun?” asks Peter skeptically. Looking like the proverbial deer in the headlights, Edmund shakes his head. “Well, he didn’t actually go there with me,” begins Lucy, “He…” Her voice trails off. “What were you doing, Edmund?” In the book’s words, Edmund “decided all at once to do the meanest and most spiteful thing he could think of. He decided to let Lucy down.”

“I was just playing along,” Edmund says. “I’m sorry for Lucy. I shouldn’t have encouraged her but you know what little children are like these days. They just don’t know when to stop pretending.”

Betrayed, Lucy runs out of the room, crying. Susan and Peter run after her. As he passes Edmund, Peter roughly shoves him onto a bed, which I’m sure everyone watching enjoys.

Lucy runs down the hall and right into…the professor!

Next Week: Lucy Has a Surprising Ally but Can She Convince Peter and Susan of her Honesty?

References

References
1 I mean, you probably didn’t need to guess since this is a famous story. But let’s pretend it’s not.
2 And somewhere out there Candace Flynn nods and sighs in sympathy.
3 Trivia Time: Reports on early screenings made some fans worried that the audible toilet flush in this moment would be an example of bathroom humor but thankfully in context, it doesn’t come across as humorous, just something to show why Edmund is up late. There probably wasn’t music during the early screenings, making the sudden flushing noise more potentially funny.
4 In-universe, I mean. I assume Tilda Swinton did not wear actual icicles when filming this. That wouldn’t have been practical.
5 Forgive me for the obvious and irresistible pun.
6 I regret to say that since director Bill Melendez did a lot of great work for the Peanuts and Garfield franchises.
7 This moment of the Witch losing her cool (sorry about making another obvious ice/snow pun) and then backpedaling is something of a tradition in adaptations of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but it doesn’t actually have a basis in the text. Lewis describes her as speaking “with a laugh” at this point.
8 In the book, I’d say the Witch is supposed to be intimidating at this point, but I enjoy what the movie does here in its own right.
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 2: An Awfully Big Wardrobe

When we last left our heroes, they were eagerly anticipating exploring the grounds of their temporary home the next day. We cut from that to Lucy staring out the window at the thickly falling rain. Ironic changes of scene aren’t a very original idea, but the book practically giftwrapped that one for the filmmakers. Meanwhile Susan is quizzing her brothers from a huge dictionary while Peter slumps in a chair, bored, and Edmund slumps under a chair, bored.

Susan: Gastrovascular. (Pause) Come on, Peter! Gastrovascular.
Peter: Is it Latin?
Edmund: Is it Latin for worst game ever invented?

In my last post, I described the movie in a somewhat finger-wagging tone as not using much of the book’s dialogue, so it’s only fair to say that I think that conversation works better than the one between Edmund and Susan at this point in the text as it allows the viewers to infer what’s happening for themselves (Edmund is bored and Susan is unsuccessfully trying to help him entertain himself) instead of just spelling it out for them.

Anyway, Susan slams the dictionary shut with a frustrated sigh. Lucy suggests they play hide and seek. Judging by everybody’s reactions, that’s a game that she likes but no one else in her family does. “But we’re already having so much fun,” says Peter sarcastically. “Come on, Peter! Please! Pretty please!” says Lucy, giving him the puppy dog eyes. I feel like William Mosley and Georgie Henley kind of overplay their lines in that exchange. Peter’s line in particular would benefit from a dryer, less elaborately sarcastic reading. Anna Popplewell and Skandar Keynes have better comic timing. Nevertheless, all four actors are great in this movie.[1]And, incidentally, I have to praise the movie for getting right that some of the Pevensies have dark hair and some golden hair even though it’s supposed to be Lucy with the latter, not Peter.

Despite Lucy being in the minority, the kids play hide and seek with Peter being “It.” This is a change from the book where they explore the house at this point and play hide and seek later (with Susan being “It” by the way.) Part of me regrets that alteration as exploring a huge house like the professor’s was my dream as a kid, but I understand the reasoning behind it. Having Lucy search for a hiding place gives her a more understandable reason for going inside a wardrobe than if she was just exploring.[2]Though you could also argue that it’s thematically significant that Lucy is the only one of her siblings who thinks it worth looking in something so seemingly plain and ordinary. And, hey, we still get a nice little montage of the house. The set design works great even if it doesn’t use many details from the book at this point.

Susan hides in a window box. Lucy races toward a curtain but Edmund pushes his way in front of her and then claims that he got there first, further establishing himself as a jerk and one who’s less mature than he claims to be. Lucy runs down a hallway and tries two doors unsuccessfully before finding one that opens. In a later scene in the book of circumstances forcing the children to take refuge in the fateful wardrobe, C. S. Lewis describes it as if “some magic in the house had come to life and was chasing them into Narnia.” The other doors being locked here and even Edmund hogging a hiding place have a similar effect though I’m a bit confused about the layout of the house.

How can there be those windows on the left if this room is in the middle of a hall?

This hide and seek montage is accompanied by “Oh, Johnnie,” a song from the 1940s by the Andrews Sisters,[3]Longtime readers of this blog may have already heard of them. adding to the period feel. As Lucy enters the nearly empty spare room, the song fades away, appropriately as we are now leaving the “period” portion of the story and moving into the fantasy portion. The scene, which has been fast paced thus far, slows down as Lucy walks over to the object at the end of the room and removes the dustcloth, revealing a big wooden wardrobe. It’s obvious that something momentous is going to happen and you could argue that it would be better if the movie were a little more nonchalant about the whole thing and we related more to Lucy’s shock when something magical happens in a minute. But I won’t argue that. As someone who knows what’s going to happen and what a big deal it is, I love this scene as it is. The music is really spinetingling. Uncharacteristically but in keeping with the scene’s slow pace, the movie treats fans to a couple of minor details from the book they wouldn’t expect to be included. There’s a half dead bluebottle on the room’s windowsill and when Lucy opens the wardrobe door, a couple of mothballs roll out. Of course, the bluebottle was entirely dead in the book, and it was only two mothballs, not three, but who’s counting?

Less true to the book is the design of the wardrobe itself. C. S. Lewis described it as “the sort that has a looking glass in the door.” The movie’s wardrobe instead has ornate woodcarvings on the door. In another nod to the fandom, those woodcarvings are images from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe‘s prequel, The Magician’s Nephew. You could argue that having the wardrobe look plainer would be more thematically appropriate, giving the message that It’s What Inside That Counts. But, as a fan for whom The Magician’s Nephew is the best Narnia book[4]Well, actually, it’s tied with The Horse and his Boy in my personal ranking., I adore this design. (And to be pedantic, Lewis wrote that the wardrobe was “the sort that has a looking glass in the door,” not that it did have one.)

Lucy steps into the wardrobe, which is full of fur coats, leaving the door open a crack.[5]She also leaves the dustcloth outside, which means Peter could easily guess someone’s hiding in the wardrobe. Rookie mistake, Lu. She feels for the back of the wardrobe-only to prick her hand with a pine branch! She turns around and finds herself in a snowy forest. In the book, it’s also nighttime. I wish that could have been maintained since there are few things that look as magical to me as snow in the moonlight. But the movie’s version of the scene is quite a magical scene as it is.[6]And it’ll turn out there’s a storytelling reason behind the time change. A lot of the credit for that goes to Georgie Henley.[7]For this part, the director had her blindfolded on the set until the actual filming so that her character’s reaction to seeing everything for the first time would be as close to the real thing … Continue reading As Lucy, she has to carry many of the movie’s big emotional moments during the first third and at least a couple of big ones during the final third and she pulls them off wonderfully, especially considering how young she was at the time. Of course, credit for the scene’s beauty also belongs to the set design, the cinematography and the music. This is one of the best parts of the film’s soundtrack.

After looking back to make sure she can return to the wardrobe and the professor’s house, Lucy ventures into a clearing where she finds a flickering lamppost of all things. As she looks at it, the silence of the scene grows ominous. And then it’s not so silent as Lucy can hear strange footsteps coming. The scariness of the music gains a slightly over-the-top quality at this point though, which I think clues viewers in that this is the buildup to a funny moment.

Check out the base of the lamppost. There’s a subtle design element that’s a nod to The Magician’s Nephew.

Sure enough, around a corner comes a faun (James McAvoy) carrying some parcels and an umbrella.[8]If you don’t know what a faun is, I’m afraid you’ll have to google it. These posts are slow paced enough without me defining every mythical creature. Both Lucy and the faun scream at the sight of each other and dive for cover. Then they cautiously emerge and approach each other. Well, Lucy does anyway. This faun is one of the most iconic characters, if not really one of the most developed, in Narnia and the movie’s depiction stays pretty true to the book’s description. Goat legs. Curly hair and short pointed beard. Horns on the forehead. Red woolen muffler. Umbrella. Brown paper parcels. The movie also has him carry a couple of bottles, possibly of some kind of ale, which isn’t from the book but fits very well with its description. It also gives the character goatlike ears which I find goofy but thankfully not too distracting. C. S. Lewis also gave his fauns long tails, something not characteristic of traditional depictions of them. The movie ignores this, going for the more typical goat tail. It’s also worth noting that the Narnia books describe fauns as having reddish skin and roughly the height of children. Few adaptations of them keep this and neither do the movies.[9]The 1979 made-for-TV cartoon of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the only one I can think of that tries to replicate that part of the books’ descriptions. Of course, it also gives the … Continue reading But none of those little nitpicks really bother me when I watch this adaptation, only when I really stop to think about it. On the whole, the movie’s version of this character looks and feels quintessentially Narnian. And the computer-generated faun legs are one of the special effects team’s greatest achievements in that it never occurs to me that they’re CG while I’m watching.

It helps that James McAvoy and Georgie Henley develop a nice friendly chemistry in the ensuing scene which is one of the most well written in the film, especially when it comes to humor.

Lucy: If you don’t mind my asking, what are you?
Faun: Well, I’m-I’m a faun. (defensively) And what are you? You must be some sort of beardless dwarf?
Lucy (indignantly): I’m not a dwarf! I’m a girl! And actually I’m the tallest in my class.
Faun: Do you mean to say that you are a daughter of Eve?
Lucy: My mum’s name is Helen.

Lucy’s failure to pick up on the faun’s awe and fear on learning her species/gender is great. After clarifying that she’s human, he breathlessly asks what she’s doing there. “Well, I was hiding in the wardrobe in the spare room,” Lucy begins. “Spare Oom?” interjects the faun. “Is that in Narnia?” I know I just praised this scene’s humor, but I’ve got to say that little misunderstanding was funnier in the book. (“If only I had worked harder at geography when I was a little Faun, I should no doubt know all about those strange countries.”) Lucy asks what Narnia is and the faun explains that it’s where the country where they’re standing, “everything from the lamppost all the way to the castle Cair Paravel on the eastern ocean.” Amusingly, as Lucy takes in the landscape, she murmurs, “this is an awfully big wardrobe.” (Lucy says a similar line in the book but that’s before she sees Narnia.)

The faun introduces himself as Tumnus. Lucy tells him her name and holds out her hand for him to shake but he doesn’t know what to do with it. When she tries to explain, she has to admit she really doesn’t understand the custom either and they both laugh. Your guess is as good as mine why Narnians would have so many things in common with English culture but not handshaking. This is still a cute moment. “Well, Lucy Pevensie from the shining city of War Drobe and the wondrous land of Spare Oom, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?” Lucy is charmed but hesitates, remembering her siblings back home who have no idea of her whereabouts. However, Tumnus-or Mr. Tumnus as Lucy politely calls him-convinces her with promises of toast and tea and sardines. “It’s not every day I get to make a new friend,” he says. That line is a bit overly cute for my taste but oh well.[10]On reflection, given what we soon learn about the land of Narnia, it could be an indication of how sadly isolated it is from the rest of the world. As in the book, the two of them walk off together arm in arm, going from a woody area and to a more mountainous one and Tumnus leads Lucy to his door which is directly in a mountain. Once she’s inside, he looks around the area warily before going in himself and locking the door.

Props to production designer Roger Ford. Tumnus’s cave is charming and looks just like the book describes. When Lucy scans the bookshelf, I was pleased to even see some of the titles C. S. Lewis mentioned.

While Tumnus prepares the tea things, he notices Lucy looking at a painting of an old faun whom he explains was his father. “He looks a lot like you,” says Lucy. “I’m not very much like him at all really,” Tumnus says sadly. When Lucy mentions her father’s fighting in the war, he tells her his also went to war, a detail that’s not from the book but which fits in with what the book implies about Tumnus’s father. “That was a long, long time ago,” he says, “before this dreadful winter.” I like that in this version of the story Lucy counters that winter has its good points like ice-skating, snowball fighting and Christmas. Tumnus sadly tells her that for a century Narnia has been in a state of winter without Christmas, much like North Dakota in April. “But you would have loved Narnia in the summer,” he says as they sit down by the fire and he pours her refreshment. “We fauns danced with the dryads all night and, you know, we never got tired. And the music! Ah, such music! Would you like hear some now?” In the book, Tumnus’s stories about Narnia in the summer are implied to be a lot longer and more detailed than that but I can understand the pacing reasons they had to be trimmed for the film. Anyway, Tumnus takes out a panpipe and plays a lullaby.

According to C. S. Lewis, “the tune he played made Lucy want to cry and laugh and dance and go to sleep all at the same time.” It’s doubtful any music could live up to that specific description but what composer Harry Gregson-Williams does is pretty awesome in its own way. The tune Tumnus plays sounds soothing enough that you can easily understand it working as a lullaby, granting that Lucy probably wouldn’t realistically nod off as soon as she does if there weren’t magic involved, but it also a sinister undertone that intensifies as the scene proceeds and the viewers become more aware of Tumnus’s malign intent. The movie tries to compensate for cutting the faun’s more specific descriptions of Narnian life from the book by having him (apparently) conjure up images of them in the fire. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t read the source material will understand what they’re supposed to be but it’s still pretty cool.

“He told…about long hunting parties after the milk-white stag who could give you wishes if you caught him…”
“Sometimes…the whole forest would give itself up to jollification for weeks on end.”

As Lucy falls asleep, Tumnus glances at the flames and suddenly the whole fire takes the shape of a lion’s head that roars angrily at him. Then every fire and therefore every source of light within the cave is extinguished. The movie never gives any explanation for what just happened though we can make educated guesses once we actually meet a lion later in the story. It’s a great moment in any case.

Lucy wakes up to see that it’s dark outside the window. “Oh, I should go,” she says. “Too late for that now,” says a voice. Lucy turns, startled, to see Tumnus curled up in a ball. Apparently, he’s been weeping for some time. In the book, he cries for a comically long time “so that presently Lucy was standing in a damp patch.” I actually think what the movie does works better, feeling creepier and less ridiculous.

Tumnus: I’m such a terrible faun!
Lucy: Oh no, you’re the nicest faun I’ve ever met!
Tumnus: Then I’m afraid you’ve had a very poor sampling.
Lucy (handing him a handkerchief): You can’t have done anything that bad.
Tumnus: It’s not something I have done, Lucy Pevensie. It’s something I am doing.
Lucy (doesn’t like the sound of that): What are you doing?
Tumnus: I’m kidnapping you. It was the White Witch! She’s the one who makes it always winter, always cold. She gave orders if any of us find a human wandering in the woods, we’re supposed to turn it over to her.
Lucy: Mr. Tumnus, you wouldn’t.

Mr. Tumnus’s guilty silence says apparently he would.

I love the contrast between the chilly colors in this part of the scene and the warmer, more inviting colors we saw moments ago in the same location.

“I thought you were my friend,” says Lucy. I feel like she’s a little too cute in that moment. Actually, if I have a criticism with this generally great part of the movie/adaptation, it’s that it feels more like we’re supposed to be looking down at Lucy and going, “aww, how cute,” whereas in the book, we see things from her perspective and regard her as an equal during this scene anyway. That may be an inevitable side effect of the visual medium. Since I’m an adult now and even when the movie was released, I was older than Lucy, there’s no way I’m not going to notice the age gap between us as I watch. In the book, it’s easier to forget about things like that while reading. It’s also probably because Georgie Henley was the only one of the actors playing the Pevensies who was around the same age as her character in the book, the others being all teenagers at the time, so her youth stands out more.

Anyway, Tumnus looks at Lucy, then looks down at her handkerchief, then makes a decision. He takes Lucy by the arm and runs with her back to the lamppost. “The woods are full of her spies,” he warns her, “even some of the trees are on her side!” They reach the lamppost. “Can you find your way back from here?” he asks. “I think so,” says Lucy, “will you be all right?” Tumnus bursts out crying again, and Lucy again tries to comfort him. This is a bit of a change from the book where he goes into some detail about how the White Witch will punish him if she finds out about his disobedience. The book explains all of the Witch’s most terrible powers as soon as she’s introduced[11]Though not her role of executioner which will be very important towards the end of the story. whereas the movie chooses to slowly build them up. Embarrassed, Tumnus hands Lucy back her crumpled-up handkerchief. “Keep it,” she says, “you need it more than I do.” Tumnus assures Lucy that no matter what happens to him, he’s glad he met her, saying, “you’ve made me feel warmer than I’ve felt in a hundred years.” This clarifies something the book doesn’t, that Tumnus was actually alive before the White Witch’s winter. In the text, it’s possible that the stories he tells Lucy about Narnia before then were passed down through the generations but it’s also possible Tumnus, despite his apparently youthful appearance, was really over a hundred years old.[12]C. S. Lewis didn’t actually specify that the winter lasted that long until the book’s sequel, Prince Caspian, so it’s possible he didn’t originally intend it when writing The … Continue reading After a final goodbye, Lucy runs off into the thicket from whence she came.

Next Week: Edmund Also Goes to Narnia and Receives Some Refreshment.

References

References
1 And, incidentally, I have to praise the movie for getting right that some of the Pevensies have dark hair and some golden hair even though it’s supposed to be Lucy with the latter, not Peter.
2 Though you could also argue that it’s thematically significant that Lucy is the only one of her siblings who thinks it worth looking in something so seemingly plain and ordinary.
3 Longtime readers of this blog may have already heard of them.
4 Well, actually, it’s tied with The Horse and his Boy in my personal ranking.
5 She also leaves the dustcloth outside, which means Peter could easily guess someone’s hiding in the wardrobe. Rookie mistake, Lu.
6 And it’ll turn out there’s a storytelling reason behind the time change.
7 For this part, the director had her blindfolded on the set until the actual filming so that her character’s reaction to seeing everything for the first time would be as close to the real thing as possible. It paid off.
8 If you don’t know what a faun is, I’m afraid you’ll have to google it. These posts are slow paced enough without me defining every mythical creature.
9 The 1979 made-for-TV cartoon of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the only one I can think of that tries to replicate that part of the books’ descriptions. Of course, it also gives the fauns green hair so points off for that.
10 On reflection, given what we soon learn about the land of Narnia, it could be an indication of how sadly isolated it is from the rest of the world.
11 Though not her role of executioner which will be very important towards the end of the story.
12 C. S. Lewis didn’t actually specify that the winter lasted that long until the book’s sequel, Prince Caspian, so it’s possible he didn’t originally intend it when writing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. On the other hand, The Last Battle mentions that Narnian centaurs and, to a lesser extent, unicorns live a long time so it’s reasonable to imagine that fauns do too.
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 1: We Have to Stick Together Now

This is going to be my longest, most ambitious series on this blog yet. For the first time since I tackled the 2009 A Christmas Carol, I am going to be analyzing a particular movie adaptation scene by scene and in this case, it will be three movies and I’ll be going into much greater detail. I’m not doing this because I love The Chronicles of Narnia book series by C. S. Lewis, or three movies adapted from them by Walden Media in the 2000s more than other books and movies I’ve covered in less detail. I do love the books but not necessarily more than, say, many of Charles Dickens’s novels. But those novels are so long that even having read them multiple times, I can’t remember every little detail when comparing them with their adaptations. The Narnia books, on the other hand, are all fairly thin and tell simple stories but simultaneously have a mythology behind them and enough intriguing details and depth that I can write entire blog posts comparing ten minutes of footage from an adaptation to the relevant sections of the source material and make them interesting (he said hopefully.) The Narnia movie series also strikes me as having an interesting evolution despite only lasting for three installments. Suffice to say, it started out very promisingly and ended up…well, we’ll get to that in time.

I’m now going to do something I’m really not supposed to do at the beginning of a series: Give away my overall opinion on my subject, the 2005 film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. If you don’t want it spoiled, just skip down to the image of the movie’s opening logo. The reason I’m throwing away any sense of suspense is that I’m scared if I didn’t, I’d give casual readers the wrong impression. Some of these posts are going to make the movie sound like one of my all-time favorites. In others, I will sound completely dismissive of it. That’s because this isn’t one of those adaptations that every fan of the original loves. Really, there are no adaptations like that but there are adaptations that the majority of their original’s fanbase loves. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), on the other hand, captures some aspects of the book beautifully while not even attempting to capture others. Whether you, as a fan of the Narnia books, love it or hate it, is going to depend on which elements of them you regard as the most important, how tolerant you are of certain changes and whether you’re receptive to this style of filmmaking. Me, I love the movie-or at least I love large sections of it. But there are legitimate reasons some fans regard it as a poor adaptation and to accurately analyze it, I have to get into those too.

Let’s begin.

I kind of miss this old logo for live action Disney movies. It makes for a smoother transition to dark opening scenes than their current happy, shiny one.

We open in a misty night sky as ominous music plays.

Then we get an even more ominous sight: German aircraft bombers circa 1940 cutting through the mist.

They drop bombs on the city of London below. We get our first look at one of our four main characters, a young boy called Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes.)

His terrified mother (Judy McIntosh) pulls him away from the window and calls to her oldest child, Peter (William Moseley), that they all have to get to the bomb shelter outside their house. The youngest child, Lucy (George Henley), is hiding under her bed covers and crying for her mother. Susan (Anna Popplewell), the second oldest sibling, runs into the room, looking for essentials to save. When she notices Lucy, she angrily grabs her and drags her out.

Eventually these characters will be dubbed Susan the Gentle and Lucy the Valiant, so I like to imagine the director, Andrew Adamson, wanted to introduce them when they’re behaving, respectively, ungently and unvaliantly[1]Not that I blame either girl under the circumstances. as a demonstration of how far they have to go. But maybe that’s reading too much into this. Anyway, the Pevensies race outside to the shelter as bombs rain down on their neighborhood. Suddenly, Edmund says, “wait! Dad!” and runs back into the house to his mother’s consternation. To her further consternation, Peter goes after him. You may think Edmund’s actions seem pretty reasonable if someone has been left behind in the house, but it turns out it’s not their actual father Edmund is going after but a photo of a man in an RAF uniform, possibly the only thing this family will have to left to remember their patriarch before long.

Peter pulls Edmund to the floor just in time to protect him from a bomb landing across the street.

The picture frame is shattered but Edmund is able to grab the picture itself before Peter drags him to the shelter, throws him on the floor and royally chews him out for his recklessness. We’ll soon see that Edmund is normally quite argumentative and snarky, but in this scene he’s too devastated to respond. “Why can’t you just do as your told?” Peter concludes before slamming the door and ending the scene.

I know that as a fan of the book, I’m supposed to dislike this opening since air raids are only mentioned in one sentence there, though they do set the plot in motion. It’s easy to be cynical and say the filmmakers only created this scene because they wanted there to be more action in the story and the first third or so of the book is particularly lacking in that. But when I actually watch the movie, I can’t care. It’s a gripping beginning that gets me invested in these characters right off the bat.

The next scene, which is much calmer, shows Paddington Station full of young evacuees about to be sent from London, bidding farewell to their parents. Among them, of course, are the four Pevensies.

Edmund resents having to leave and is sulking, even going so far as to tell his mother, “Dad wouldn’t make us go.”[2]The 1988 miniseries of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe also portrayed Edmund as being annoyed over having to leave London and, in another similarity, also portrayed Lucy as reluctant to leave … Continue reading “You will listen to your brother, won’t you?” she says. Edmund doesn’t answer but his frown tells us everything we need to know. This establishes Edmund’s main flaw, his resistance to authority. He’s so resentful about this he even resists his poor mother’s attempt to kiss him goodbye.

She gives each of her children a last hug. When it’s Peter’s turn, she says to him, “promise me you’ll look after the others.” “I will, Mum,” he replies tearfully. I know as a fan of the book I should disapprove of all this. On paper, I find the scene pretentious, serving mainly to show off how much research the filmmakers did on the time period, and needlessly sappy. The circumstances of the children’s evacuation don’t really connect to the main plot, and we never learn in this movie what happens to their parents, so it doesn’t really go anywhere.[3]By the way, it’s unlikely their father was a soldier in the book. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which apparently takes place a matter of years after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, … Continue reading But in practice, I love it. The musical score by Harry Gregson-Williams beautifully sells the emotion and all five actors give great performances. I especially love how Anna Popplewell’s Susan quickly hides her sadness behind a forced smile when her mother addresses her.

Judy McIntosh may only have two scenes in this movie, but does she ever make the most of them, helped no doubt by the makeup artists who make her look like she’s been crying regularly.

As the children get prepare to get on the train, Edmund again establishes his main flaw by angrily telling Susan (I think) that he doesn’t need her help and Peter comforts Lucy as she briefly breaks down crying, telling her, “We have to stick together now,” stating the theme of the adaptation. Clearly, subtlety is not going to be a major strength of this movie, but the unsubtlety works here. At the point when Peter is supposed to hand their tickets to the ticket taker, he is distracted by the sight of a young soldier, likely imagining what it must be like to be him. The more practical Susan has to snap him out of his reverie and grab the tickets from him. Interestingly, there was apparently no mention of the soldier in the screenplay where Peter simply fumbled with the papers like an incompetent and Susan rolled her eyes when she took them. Kudos to director Adamson for coming up with a way to make both characters more sympathetic than they were going to be.

As the train departs, children lean out the window to wave goodbye to their mothers, including our principals of course. At first, it looks like Edmund is the only one not doing so, further establishing him as the family’s black sheep. But then we see he actually is waving or at least looking back, but that he was tragically blocked from his mother’s view, indicating he’s not quite as bad as he might be and that the movie is capable of being subtle once in a while.

We then get a beautiful opening credits montage. The contrasts between the grays of the London station and the lush greens of the countryside through which the trains travels foreshadow the transformation from winter to spring that we will see the land of Narnia undergo.

This montage also establishes suspense as the Pevensies witness two other young evacuees get picked up at a trains station by a rather grim unfriendly looking woman.[4]Cassie Cook who plays the girl is actually the daughter of Sophie Cook who played Susan in the aforementioned miniseries.

Our heroes are dropped off at a country station. (According to the book, the house where they’ll be staying is “ten miles from the nearest railway station and two miles from
the nearest post office.”) They hear an automobile coming and scramble to meet it but it honks its horn and drives past them. For a moment, they worry they’ve been sent to the wrong place but then a stern looking middle aged woman (Elizabeth Hawthorne) drives up in a horse and buggy. “Mrs. Macready?” asks Peter. “I’m afraid so,” she says.

Here’s something I love about the movie. Every actor is great or at least good in their role including the very minor ones. Elizabeth Hawthorne only has a handful of scenes as Mrs. Macready the housekeeper of the children’s host, maybe less, but she packs so much personality into her every line that she’s a joy to watch.

Another thing I love about is the movie’s production design by Roger Ford and its general art direction. The house of Prof. Kirke, which the book describes in some detail, looks exactly the way it should.

The few things we learn about Mrs. Macready from the book are that she wasn’t fond of children, she loved giving tours of this fancy house and when the Pevensies first arrived, she gave them a long list of instructions.[5]The book also offhandedly mentions that there also three maids, Ivy, Margaret and Betty, working for the professor. As a fan, I would have loved to have seen them get cameos, but I understand why … Continue reading The movie doesn’t fit in the part about tours, but it does include the instructions. Her outraged response to Susan almost touching one of the professor’s “historical artifacts” is hilarious. It’s not quite hammy, which is good since it wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the acting in the film if it were, but it’s in that neighborhood.

Both the book and the movie build intrigue about the character of the professor at this point but in different ways. In the book, he greets the children and has supper with them, but this is not depicted in detail, and he’s described as “so odd looking that Lucy…was a little afraid of him and Edmund…wanted to laugh and had to keep on pretending he was blowing his nose to hide it.” In the movie, we don’t see the professor at all, and Mrs. Macready ominously instructs the Pevensies that “there will be no disturbing” of him, but Lucy hears his footsteps from behind a door and sees the shadows of his legs. She quickly hightails it out of there.

That night, Peter stares sadly out Lucy’s bedroom window while listening to a news report about air raids.[6]The radio announcer, by the way, is voiced by Douglas Gresham, one of the film’s producers and the head of C. S. Lewis’s literary estate. Susan walks briskly over and turns off the radio. Then the two oldest siblings turn their attention to the Lucy who is clearly upset over what she’s heard, though she claims the only things bothering her are scratchy bedsheets.

Then we get this dialogue.

Susan: Wars don’t last forever, Lucy. We’ll be home soon.
Edmund: Yeah, if home’s still there.
Susan: Isn’t it time you were in bed?
Edmund: Yes, Mum.
Peter: Ed! (to Lucy) You saw outside. This place is huge! We can do whatever we want here. Tomorrow’s going to be great. I promise.

Now in the book, Peter and the others are genuinely excited about exploring the professor’s vast country estate.[7]Though Lucy was portrayed as being creeped out by the big house and Edmund “was tired and pretending not to be tired and that always made him bad-tempered. Here they seem mainly scared about losing their home and their parents and unsure of themselves in a new environment. Presumably, the screenwriters, Ann Peacock, Christopher Marckus, Stephen McFeely and Andrew Adamson, felt this was more believable.[8]For what its worth, Peter’s first line in the book is “we’ve fallen on our feet,” which implies the characters were worried about falling on their butts before they met the … Continue reading Since C. S. Lewis was actually alive during World War II and actually had young evacuees staying in his house during the air raids, I’m inclined to think he would know better, however unbelievable his depiction of the Pevensies may seem to modern adult readers. That being said, it’s true that C. S. Lewis was not actually a kid during World War II and it’s likely the kids boarding with him had things going on in their heads about which he had no idea.

There’s a larger point to be noted here since it’s at this point that movie catches up with the book, the conversation between the Pevensies on the night they arrive being the first fully described scene there. While it takes liberties with the details, the movie stays quite true to the overarching plot of the book[9]It’s the only Narnia movie to retain its source’s structure. I kind of hate that that’s an accomplishment. and, for the most part, it stays true to the characters’ personalities too. However, it uses very little of the book’s dialogue.[10]Though Susan telling Edmund to go to bed and him accusing her of playing mother is from the source material. The film was right to keep that since it establishes their characters very well. In this way, it makes for an interesting foil to the 2003 Peter Pan movie directed by P. J. Hogan, another family action movie from the 2000s adapted from a classic children’s fantasy by a British author.[11]Though those who haven’t read either should know that there are also big differences between Peter Pan and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The former is much more morally ambiguous than … Continue reading That adaptation made far crazier changes to the plot and characters than this one and arguably put more of its own spin on the message.[12]Well, you could argue the 2005 Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe highjacks to story to deliver its own message too to an extent, but it’s less noticeable. But it also included plenty of dialogue from the source material and even when it was doing its own thing, you could tell the screenwriters were trying to channel the spirit of J. M. Barrie. The screenwriters for the first Narnia movie seem to have really liked the original book’s story but had no particular respect for or interest in C. S. Lewis’s writing style.

This makes me hesitate to recommend the movie as an introduction to the book, but it doesn’t ruin it for me, mainly because there had been two radio dramas, a miniseries, and a made-for-television animated movie adapted from the material prior to this, and they all tried to use the original dialogue. By 2005, I was interested to see a different version. It made for an interesting experiment to see how the story held up without Lewis’s amazing writing. Actually, I have to rephrase that. While I love the writing in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the book, it’s more because of the descriptions than the dialogue, at least when it comes to the protagonists. (When I get to the characters of the beavers and Aslan, I’m going to take more issues with the script adaptation.) I’d still say the conversations in the literary version were better written than the ones in the cinematic one, but I don’t think changing them destroys the whole appeal of the original.

There’s something else I should admit here. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is not my favorite Narnia book. I love it just as I love all the Narnia books, but in a personal ranking, I’d rank it with Prince Caspian, which many people consider the weakest of the lot. I’m probably a little more openminded about aspects of this adaptation than someone for whom The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the best or the only good Narnia book. Had the series gotten around to adapting my personal favorites, The Horse and his Boy and The Magician’s Nephew, I’d likely be a lot harder on them.

Next Week: Lucy Looks Into a Wardrobe

References

References
1 Not that I blame either girl under the circumstances.
2 The 1988 miniseries of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe also portrayed Edmund as being annoyed over having to leave London and, in another similarity, also portrayed Lucy as reluctant to leave her mother behind.
3 By the way, it’s unlikely their father was a soldier in the book. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which apparently takes place a matter of years after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we’re told he goes on a lecturing tour in America.
4 Cassie Cook who plays the girl is actually the daughter of Sophie Cook who played Susan in the aforementioned miniseries.
5 The book also offhandedly mentions that there also three maids, Ivy, Margaret and Betty, working for the professor. As a fan, I would have loved to have seen them get cameos, but I understand why they didn’t.
6 The radio announcer, by the way, is voiced by Douglas Gresham, one of the film’s producers and the head of C. S. Lewis’s literary estate.
7 Though Lucy was portrayed as being creeped out by the big house and Edmund “was tired and pretending not to be tired and that always made him bad-tempered.
8 For what its worth, Peter’s first line in the book is “we’ve fallen on our feet,” which implies the characters were worried about falling on their butts before they met the professor and saw his house.
9 It’s the only Narnia movie to retain its source’s structure. I kind of hate that that’s an accomplishment.
10 Though Susan telling Edmund to go to bed and him accusing her of playing mother is from the source material. The film was right to keep that since it establishes their characters very well.
11 Though those who haven’t read either should know that there are also big differences between Peter Pan and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The former is much more morally ambiguous than the latter and contains strong elements of affectionate parody.
12 Well, you could argue the 2005 Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe highjacks to story to deliver its own message too to an extent, but it’s less noticeable.
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A Scrooge Girl in a Scrooge World

A nice thing about my blog not being widely read and me being fairly anonymous is that I feel comfortable making certain embarrassing confessions on here.

When I was a boy, I would secretly watch Barbie movies.

I had (and have) no interest in dolls, but fantasies and fairy tales did (and do) interest me much more than stereotypical “guy” genres like superhero stories and other forms of science-fiction, so when I noticed that a young female acquaintance of mine owned a number of computer animated movies that reimagined various fantasy-fairy tale-type stories with Barbie as the lead, I borrowed them on the sly.[1]No, that doesn’t mean I borrowed them without asking. And you know what? I enjoyed them. Mind you, I wouldn’t recommend any adults rush out and watch them. They were aimed pretty much at kids and not even kids of both genders. But considering that, I thought they were quite well done. The one I considered the best was Barbie as Rapunzel, the music for which is honestly beautiful. Part of me is actually upset that it was “thrown away” on a movie that only young Barbie fans and their parents/babysitters would watch. But another part of me admires the movie and its soundtrack’s composer, Arnie Roth, for not skimping on the music just because they were making something for a small audience that would soon outgrow it. That shows real care for kids or, at the least, professional pride.

I haven’t seen every Barbie movie since then but one of the ones I did seek out was Barbie in a Christmas Carol, partly because I’m a big Dickens fan and partly because the idea sounded interestingly weird. Looking at the lists of Barbie movies, most of them adapt stories about heroic, or at least innocent, young women and even the ones originally about male protagonists, like The Prince and the Pauper or The Three Musketeers, were still about young, sympathetic leads. Whose idea was it to have the part of Ebeneezer Scrooge, a shriveled, icy old businessman, be played by a perky smooth skinned young woman for whom math is hard? (No shame, Barbie. It was never my favorite subject either.) Chalk it up to the evergreen popularity of the story, I guess. Let’s hope it makes for a fun blog post.

The movie begins on Christmas Eve with Barbie (voiced by Kelly Sheridan) looking for her little sister, Kelly (Amelia Thripura Henderson) whom she finds sulking in her overwhelmingly pink room because the family is going to a charity Christmas ball instead of doing their usual Christmas Eve traditions at home. When Barbie points out that helping to raise money for a hospital is a good way to spend Christmas, Kelly bursts out that she hates the holiday. If I were Barbie, I would probably say, “Tough beans, Sister! Mom says you’re going so you’re going.” Instead, Barbie gives her a snow globe that’s been in the family for generations and tells her a story about its origin.

In a not very historically accurate version of Victorian England, Eden Starling (Morwenna Banks) is the most popular singing star in London. (Melissa Lyons provides the character’s singing voice.) She’s also one of its biggest divas, resenting Christmas because of the “insipid little carols” she has to perform instead of the classical opera for which she’s trained. It’s never stated as such but in addition to being a star, Eden seems to own the Gad’s Hill Theater[2]Gad’s Hill Place is the name of a house in Kent that captured Charles Dickens’s fancy when he was a kid and which he eventually bought when he was a wealthy adult. This is not the only … Continue reading since she has to power to refuse to give its troupe the day off for Christmas. Not even Catherine Beadnell (Kandyse McClure), Eden’s longtime costume designer and closest equivalent to a friend, can change her mind. “You know what should be important to you?” she snaps. “Me!”

Eden’s nastiness has the virtue of giving her the most distinctive and therefore most entertaining facial expressions of anyone in this movie.

Eden learned this selfish mindset from her Auntie Marie (Pam Hyatt.) But on Christmas Eve, her aunt’s ghost visits Eden and warns her to change her ways before it’s too late. Like the ghost of Jacob Marley in Dickens, this one is wrapped in chains but where his chains were made up of moneyboxes, Marie’s are made up of hand mirrors. She also tells Eden to listen to the spirits of Christmas Past (Tabitha St. Germain), Present (Kathleen Barr) and Future (Gwynyth Walsh) who are coming to haunt her.

The worst part of this movie is its visual style. The characters either look plastic or look just not plastic enough to make their general plasticity feel wrong. Their movements are distractingly stiff and robotic. The backgrounds are all bland with every building, inside and out, looking like a playset. But really, what else were you expecting?

The best thing about the movie is probably its script by Elise Allen. Not that it’s a brilliant example of writing, mind you. I described it as the best thing about this movie, not the best screenplay ever or anything. But, considering it’s not really trying please adults or even kids of both genders, I found the writing to be fairly engaging and sharp in its modest, unambitious way. I’d consider it better written than Barbie as Rapunzel which I’ve gone on record as considering the peak of this franchise. It’s also surprisingly true to its source material compared to other Barbie movies. Don’t get me wrong. It’s obviously a far cry from A Christmas Carol in Prose by Charles Dickens but, unlike most Barbie adaptations, it sticks to the original’s surefire dramatic structure, hits most of its important beats and and conveys many of its themes, such as actions having consequences and the importance of charity and loving relationships. It doesn’t add any action scenes to the story, something I wish we could say of every animated Christmas Carol. Neither does it try to be a love story even though there was an opportunity to do so with Scrooge’s lost love in the original book. (There is a subplot about a member of the Gad’s Hill Theater troupe working up the courage to ask another out on a date.[3]Yes, they use the phrase, “ask her out on a date.” As stated before, historical accuracy is not one of the movie’s goals. It’s dull but it doesn’t take up enough time to get really tiresome.) The dialogue includes the book’s most famous quotes, “Bah! Humbug!” and “God bless us everyone!” in ways that suggest Elise Allen had no idea what they meant in their original context.[4]The term, humbug, isn’t just supposed to a general expression of grumpiness. It refers to something phony or dishonest. As an interjection, it’s akin to saying, “B.S.” But the movie also surprised me with a number of in-jokes about other Dickens books, which couldn’t have meant anything for the target audience. (Pay attention to the names of animals and minor characters.)

Barbie in a Christmas Carol certainly doesn’t get anywhere near as dark as the book or its more faithful adaptations, but it doesn’t completely sanitize the material either. Most notably, its leading lady starts out as a genuinely unpleasant, if amusing, antiheroine, unlike any role had Barbie had been cast in before.[5]I’m not quite sure if Eden Starling is actually supposed to be played by Barbie since she’s not voiced by Kelly Sheridan. But she doesn’t look that different from Barbie and … Continue reading She doesn’t say that the poor should die and “decrease the surplus population” but her cynical mantra of “in a selfish world, the selfish succeed” could have easily been written for such misanthropic Dickens characters as Ralph Nickleby or Sir John Chester. “You usually tell me stories about nice girls who are good to everyone,” a shocked Kelly interjects at one point. “Eden’s someone who is making a lot of mistakes,” says Barbie sagely, “but sometimes we can learn from people who make mistakes.” From what I remember, this whole framing device with Kelly is typical of the Barbie movies but in every other instance, the lesson for her was that she should be more confident. This just might be the only Barbie movie with the cautionary message of “if you don’t want people to treat you as a means to an end, be sure you don’t treat them that way.”

The Barbie aesthetic is a poor fit for portraying Dickensian poverty and the movie makes only a few stabs in that direction, but those stabs do turn out to be vital to the plot.

Eden never encounters the grotesque personifications of Ignorance and Want and none of the ghosts here are as scary or as interesting as those in the book. Still, compared to the jovial ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present, the one for Christmas Yet to Come is relatively ominous and intimidating.

I said, “relatively.”

The thing your average Dickens fan probably will object to the most is that Eden’s visions of her future don’t include her unmourned death. Instead, they show…you know what? I respect this movie enough that I’m not going to give that away. I will say that, on the one hand, mortality is definitely a theme in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and the lack of it in the Barbie version means it can’t really be said to perfectly capture the spirit of the book.[6]To be fair, there is sort of an implication that the movie’s Tiny Tim character has died though they don’t say as much. On the other hand, some adaptations, while generally more faithful than this one, have made too much of the theme of mortality. As I’ve written before, “a careful reading of the text shows that what Scrooge really fears is not death itself (after all, he’s going to die eventually whether or not he persists in his miserly ways) but, like Marley, never being able to turn his life or public perception of him around.” Sometimes this point can be lost. By eliminating any mention of death, Barbie in a Christmas Carol allows it to shine through. In that one way, it’s a great introduction to the story.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year, everybody!

References

References
1 No, that doesn’t mean I borrowed them without asking.
2 Gad’s Hill Place is the name of a house in Kent that captured Charles Dickens’s fancy when he was a kid and which he eventually bought when he was a wealthy adult. This is not the only in-joke for Dickens fans in this movie.
3 Yes, they use the phrase, “ask her out on a date.” As stated before, historical accuracy is not one of the movie’s goals.
4 The term, humbug, isn’t just supposed to a general expression of grumpiness. It refers to something phony or dishonest. As an interjection, it’s akin to saying, “B.S.”
5 I’m not quite sure if Eden Starling is actually supposed to be played by Barbie since she’s not voiced by Kelly Sheridan. But she doesn’t look that different from Barbie and I’m not sure what the film’s title of Barbie in a Christmas Carol is supposed to mean if it’s not her.
6 To be fair, there is sort of an implication that the movie’s Tiny Tim character has died though they don’t say as much.
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An Unusually Unfaithful Christmas Carol

Last year, I blogged about some unusual, animated adaptations of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in Prose. This year, I’m going to do the same.

You know, considering how frequently it’s been adapted, it’s amazing how faithful most versions of A Christmas Carol are to the text. Oh, most of them will omit a scene here and add a scene there, but they won’t stray far from the plot, dialogue, characters or themes. A rare exception to this is the dark, revisionist 2019 miniseries written by Stephen Knight, which sounds so stupid that I’m probably never going to watch it. Another exception and a less obvious one is the 2001 animated movie adaptation that goes by the title of A Christmas Carol: The Movie. Not a very helpful title considering how many movie versions of this story exist but oh well. Since the main reason I’m writing about it is the artistic license it takes with the material, take warning that this post is going to be loaded with spoilers.

The movie has a live action framing device of Charles Dickens (Simon Callow who also voices Scrooge) giving a public reading of A Christmas Carol in Boston in 1867.[1]For reasons beyond me, the live action scenes that bookend the movie were cut from the DVD version and included as a bonus feature. A really bad CGI mouse scurries through the audience, frightening a woman (Tracey O’ Flaherty.) This inspires Dickens to add two mice to his story.

These two mice don’t talk or wear clothes or anything but they’re somewhat anthropomorphized and mainly serve the purpose of trying in vain to direct Scrooge’s attention to a letter left for him at the office. You see, in this adaptation, Scrooge has just foreclosed on a hospital for the poor and thrown its kindly head physician, Dr. Lambert (voiced by Arthur Cox) into debtors’ prison. Scrooge’s old flame, Belle (Kate Winslet), is, unbeknownst to him, a nurse at the hospital and has written to him, pleading for leniency. To the movie’s credit, if they had to take liberties with the original story, this is a pretty good ticking clock element to add.

I’m not a fan though of how this movie portrays Scrooge’s nephew, Fred (Iain Jones), as pathetic and pleading rather than robust and jolly. He’s also kind of dumb, having a bunch of Christmas carolers, which includes Tiny Tim (whose voice actor isn’t specified in the credits for some reason), stand outside his uncle’s place of business and serenade him after Scrooge has made it clear he doesn’t care for the holiday. Scrooge establishes himself as worse than other versions of the character by dumping a bucket of water on them in the freezing cold. On the other hand, he’s bewilderingly tolerant of, even affectionate towards the two mice.

The first change this adaptation makes that really bugs me is having the ghost of Jacob Marley (a somewhat miscast Nicolas Cage) appear to Scrooge when he’s alone in his office rather than at home in his bedroom. It’s not a badly done scene on the whole but I really don’t see the point of the location change. In this version, the ghostly encounter actually precedes Scrooge’s conversation with the charity collectors (also uncredited.) This adds an interesting subtext to Scrooge’s line, “Marley is long dead, sir. Marley died seven years ago on this very night,” making it seem as if he’s trying to convince himself. But it makes no sense from a pacing/storytelling perspective. Why would we care about random charity collectors after we’ve just established that ghosts exist in this universe and three of them coming to haunt the main character? Displaying Scrooge’s heartlessness to the poor first and then having the haunting feel like a punishment makes so much more sense.

Scrooge still sees Marley’s face in his doorknocker when he comes home which seems anticlimactic to me when he’s already seen his entirely ghostly body. I guess it’s to show that he can’t quite dismiss what he’s seen as a dream, however much he’d like to do so.

Not only does this adaptation include Belle at Fezziwig (Colin McFarlane)’s Christmas party in the Christmas Past section, as some other adaptations do, but it establishes her even earlier than that, making her the close friend of Scrooge’s beloved sister, Fan (Beth Winslet.)

Charles Dickens implied that Scrooge’s cruel father (uncredited) underwent a miraculous character transformation similar to the one his son would one day undergo. This adaptation has him remain cold to the end[2]So does the 1984 movie starring George C. Scott., disinheriting Fan for marrying a poor man. I don’t hate this change, but I feel the movie missed an opportunity by having Belle break with Scrooge for the same reasons as in the book rather than because of disgust at him not helping his sister in her plight.

In this version, when Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come if there’s anyone who feels anything over his death, the ghost shows him that while Dr. Lambert is-or rather will be-rejoicing over his creditor’s demise, Belle is decidedly not.

You might expect from Belle’s beefed-up role that in the end, she and Scrooge will get married[3]In the book and some of its adaptations, Belle ends up marrying someone else and having several children with him but not so here., adding to the happy resolution, especially as Scrooge is portrayed as younger than usual. Well, not exactly. After the last ghost has gone, Scrooge finally reads Belle’s letter and is determined to set things right. But it’s too late. His agents have already repossessed everything in the hospital and sold it. Then we get a scene of Belle crying and a sad pop song that doesn’t mesh with the rest of the soundtrack[4]The movie’s score, by the way, was composed by Julian Nott who did most of the music for Wallace and Gromit., in which she speculates that if she hadn’t broken up with Scrooge, he might not have fallen so far. Later that night, she berates him for the damage he’s done, telling him it’s out of his power to undo it.

So… yeah. While the message of the book was arguably that it’s never too late to change, this movie’s message is that you’d better change quick before it’s too late.[5]The ridiculous aforementioned 2019 A Christmas Carol apparently takes a similar tack. I don’t believe that’s a bad message. In fact, I’d even call it a good message. But it’s really not what I want from a movie adaptation of A Christmas Carol, especially one that goes so far as to call itself A Christmas Carol: The Movie. To be fair, the movie doesn’t quite end on that note. We see that Dr. Lambert is released from prison the next day and that Scrooge raises Bob Cratchit (Rhys Ifans)’s salary. An epilogue shows that Scrooge would go on to help the hospital with his money and that Tiny Tim wouldn’t die. But, in part because they’re either from the book or what you would expect from it, these scenes lack the emotional punch of the one preceding them.

“That, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of A Christmas Carol,” concludes Dickens in the framing device, “not quite the same one I wrote in the book, I admit. I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless.”

Well, I didn’t hate it.

The movie has a great idea for the Ghost of Christmas Present (Michael Gambon, probably the voice cast’s biggest asset), having him pour incense on a group of offkey carolers, making them sound like a polished choir. (“It’s not what you hear with your ears,” he tells Scrooge, “It’s what reaches your heart.”) The dreamlike aerial tour the spirit gives Scrooge of Christmas all over the world is also the most visually (and musically) impressive part of a movie whose visuals seldom rise above serviceable. Director Jimmy T. Murakami also worked on the classic 1982 animated short, The Snowman, and in that scene, you can kind of tell.

Also visually impressive is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

The movie adds some interesting lines to the scene where Scrooge meets the personifications of Ignorance and Want.

“Ignorance is bliss until you look it in the face…Want can be helped even with very simple means for a while but Ignorance, Ignorance can only help itself. It has to change from the inside out.”

This effectively freaky visual is to show what happens when Ignorance doesn’t change from within.

And I honestly kind of like that sad out-of-place pop song.

But most of this Christmas Carol is simply workmanlike. The main things that render it a curiosity are its departures from the source material and they’re more interesting than good. Next week, I’m going to write about another weird, animated take on A Christmas Carol, one that at first glance, seems inferior to this one but on a second glance…well, you’ll have to make up your own mind.

Stay Tuned

References

References
1 For reasons beyond me, the live action scenes that bookend the movie were cut from the DVD version and included as a bonus feature.
2 So does the 1984 movie starring George C. Scott.
3 In the book and some of its adaptations, Belle ends up marrying someone else and having several children with him but not so here.
4 The movie’s score, by the way, was composed by Julian Nott who did most of the music for Wallace and Gromit.
5 The ridiculous aforementioned 2019 A Christmas Carol apparently takes a similar tack.
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Faerie Tale Theatre’s Most…Interesting Episodes

My last two posts were about what I consider the best episodes of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre. This post is about ones that maybe could have been the best, or at least among the most interesting, but are held back by one thing or another. These are naturally the most fascinating and frustrating episodes to watch.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

This episode’s music, courtesy of Peter Davison, is some of the loveliest ever composed for Faerie Tale Theatre. Maybe the loveliest period. It also has some of the most beautiful miniatures and, once the story reaches the forest anyway, some of the best sets. I love the forest’s mistiness. Yeah, I know it comes from a fog machine, but it still feels magical. Vanessa Redgrave and Vincent Price make for great cold hams as the evil queen and her magic mirror. The episode is arguably at its most entertaining when they’re playing off each other. Elizabeth McGovern is also pretty good as Snow White. She’s not the most charismatic lead on this show by a long shot but she’s not the most boring by one either. The script by Robert C. Jones palpably struggles to make her an interesting character. Sometimes it succeeds. The scene of her saying her prayers as the queen’s huntsman (Michael Preston) is about to kill her is quite moving, not so much because of her saintliness in asking God to forgive her murderer but because of her very human bewilderment over her situation. (“I can’t remember any sins, God, and I can’t think of any reason why I should die. It might be easier if I understood the reason, if I knew why, but I don’t.”)

What really lets this episode down, if you ask me, is the dwarfs, Bubba (Tony Cox), Barnaby (Billy Curtis), Boniface (Daniel Frishman), Bruno (Peter Risch), Baldwin (Kevin Thompson), Bertram (Lou Carry) and Bernard (Phil Fondacaro.) Their characters just aren’t that funny or endearing. I wouldn’t say they’re horribly unfunny either, but it doesn’t take long for their scenes to start dragging and they have a lot of scenes. Like some other adaptations of the fairy tale, this one introduces the prince (Rex Smith) much earlier than the Grimm brothers do. But, unlike basically all of them, it doesn’t use this to develop his romance with Snow White more. Instead, he seems to spend all his time hanging out in the woods, strumming his guitar and singing about how he wants to meet a beautiful maiden sometime. This doesn’t make for a very inspiring romantic lead. Of course, in a show like this, funny should sometimes outrank romantic but it does feel like this is meant to be one of those Faerie Tale Theatre episodes where we’re invested in the story on some level and not just laughing at it. We’re a long way from Bernadette Peters and Christopher Reeve as Sleeping Beauty and her prince. Still, it does make for an interesting subplot where the dwarfs know the prince and Snow White would love each other but refrain from introducing them because they don’t want her taken away from them, a choice they come to regret, and a really funny scene where the queen tries to flirt with the prince, forgetting she’s in her ugly old lady disguise.

Funniest Line: Prince: I cannot imagine life without you! Snow White, will you be my wife?
Snow White: Yes.
Prince: I realize you must have some time to think it over-
Snow White: Yes.
Prince: Yes?

Beauty and the Beast

This episode is just as much based on Jean Cocteau’s 1946 movie, La Belle et la Bette, as it is on the fairy tale by Jeanne Marie Leprince de Beaumont. In fact, I’ve decided to file this post under “remakes” solely because of that. Steal from the best, I suppose. The Cocteau movie is generally regarded by critics as the greatest adaptation of this story, but this remake unfortunately brings out its storytelling problems, mainly that we’re told that the Beast (Klaus Kinski) is kind to Beauty (Susan Sarandon) much more than we’re shown it. There’s only one scene where the two actually seem to be enjoying each other’s company, a scene which was longer in the Cocteau film and had the benefit of not directly following a scene of the Beast refusing to let Beauty visit her father (Stephen Elliot). (He relents eventually of course. That’s how the story goes.) When the Beast laments that Beauty doesn’t love him but only pities him, it’s hard not to feel that that’s the appropriate response on her part. At his best, this Beast seems pitiable. At his worst, he’s just weird and creepy. As a result, this version of the legendary couple has no chemistry between them. There is a nice bit where the Beast bows his head in anguish and Beauty’s compassion makes her stroke it but that’s about it.

What makes this really frustrating is that Susan Sarandon is really bringing her A-game to the role of Beauty. She gives probably the most compelling dramatic performance ever to grace Faerie Tale Theatre and it’s a pain seeing this admirable heroine throw herself away on, well, a beast. She’s not the only good thing here. Nancy Lenehan and Anjelica Huston are entertaining as Beauty’s wicked sisters and there’s a good original twist as to why Beauty delays returning to the Beast. Notably, this twist doesn’t come from Cocteau. Watching this episode, it’s hard not to think wistfully of how Disney would not that much later create what is generally considered by critics the second greatest adaptation of Beauty and the Beast by largely ignoring the 1946 movie.[1]You could argue its villain, Gaston, was inspired by the character of Avenant from the Cocteau version but the similarities between the two might be coincidental and even if not, they’re … Continue reading Not that I’d have wanted Faerie Tale Theatre to be just like that version either. I’d prefer to see them do their own thing with this classic tale.

Parental Advisory: No sexual innuendo that I can remember but many may legitimately be creeped out by the Beast’s obsession with Beauty. There’s also a bit of profanity.

Funniest Line: For once, I can’t think of anything.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

This is a rare episode to feature a framing device, one that takes it cue from the history of Robert Browning’s poem. Browning (Eric Idle who doubles as the Piper) tells it as a bedtime story to his friends’ son, Willy (Keram Malicki-Sanchez), to explain the meaning of the phrase, “pay the piper.” Not only the narration but the dialogue is all written in rhyme, using, more or less, the same meter as the original poem. This is even true of Shelley Duvall’s introduction for the episode. Apart from the rare occasional joke (“That wasn’t a promise, that was politics!”), the whole thing feels like a sincere attempt to capture the spirit of the source material. I usually admire it when Faerie Tale Theatre does that, but I admit I’m not sure if the story is strong enough for that to work. Parts of it drag and I sometimes miss the show’s typical self-conscious humor. That being said, if they had to play the adaptation this straight, they don’t do so terribly. At times, the episode is creepy, not in a funny parody-type way like The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers, but genuinely eerie. The opening and end credits show a house at night surrounded by woods and as the music by James Horner plays, I can’t help expecting something scary to emerge from those woods. The story’s tragic ending is also played for maximum melancholy. An episode to be admired more than enjoyed perhaps.

Funniest Line: Mayor (Tony Van Bridge): Now whose idea was that fool report? Ah, I see! No one with a prompt retort.
Alderman (Kenneth Wickes): No one wants to say, that’s true, but only because ‘twas mainly you.

The Princess Who Had Never Laughed

This is the only Faerie Tale Theatre episode not to be based on a specific fairy tale. The title is close to The Princess Who Never Smiled by Alexander Afanasyev, but the plot is only passingly similar. Really, this is an original variation of a recurring motif in such tales as The Golden Goose and Lazy Jack of a young woman, typically a princess, who never laughs and of a huge reward, typically her hand in marriage, offered to the man who can make her do so. It also uses the common fairy tale motif of the hero being a misfit youngest son though with a twist in that “Weinerhead Waldo” (Howie Mandell) is the youngest son of his family, having an unsupportive older brother, Lionel (Michael Tucci), but has a supportive younger sister, Gwendolyn (Sofia Coppola.) You can tell this is Faerie Tale Theatre‘s only original story, more or less, because of the emphasis on psychologically healing the relationship between the titular Princess Henrietta (Ellen Barkin) and her father, “His Seriousness” the king (Howard Hesseman.)

The episode’s beginning depicting the joyless regimen of study to which Henrietta is subjected by her stodgy old tutor (Barrie Ingham) and sour governess (Mary Woronov) is funny and the scene where she finally snaps and goes crazy, tearing up her schoolroom and demanding her father bring her someone to make her laugh, is one of the funniest in Faerie Tale Theatre. (“Those books are the world’s knowledge,” her tutor laments as she tosses her textbooks out the window. “Good,” she says, “let’s return them to the world.”) The king holds “the royal laugh-off” with Maurice LaMarche, David McCharen and Jackie Vernon as contestants. Then a funny thing happens. Or, more accurately, doesn’t happen. Much of the comedic schtick in this episode just isn’t that funny. You could argue that’s appropriate for the princess’s failed suitors, but it’s even true of Waldo. The script by David Felton deliberately has him win the contest in a way that’s more interesting than amusing[2]If you want the ending spoiled, here it is. Basically, he makes her laugh by pointing out the absurdity of her demanding someone to make her laugh when her whole household is so ridiculous. but even when his jokes are supposed to be good, they fall flat for me anyway. For a show that was all about comedic takes on fairy tales, this seems like a bizarre, wasted opportunity. Still, there’s enough good stuff in the first twenty minutes or so to make this worth a look.

Funniest Line: Henrietta: I’m having fun!
Governess: Fun? Fun?
Henrietta: Yeah, look it up; it’s in the dictionary.
Governess: I should never have given you that dictionary.

The Little Mermaid

In case you didn’t know, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid is a dark, depressing tale about the pain of unrequited love. The Faerie Tale Theatre adaptation doesn’t lean away from any of that as some children’s adaptations do.[3]Well, except from refraining from physically cutting the mermaid’s tongue out. But it doesn’t really dive into the tearjerking drama either. Instead, it keeps, initially anyway, a light, humorous tone typical of the series though not as funny as it could be at its best. It’s a little bit hard to know what mood the episode wants us to be in to watch it. I would have preferred this to be one of the more dramatic episodes. Still, some of the sad moments are quite effective and you could argue that Andersen’s story likewise started out bright and sparkling, only becoming darker as it proceeded, so they’re not being that untrue to it.

Some of the changes made to the story don’t work that well though. The little mermaid (Pam Dawber)’s rival for the prince (Treat Williams)’s hand, here named the Princess Emilia (Helen Mirren), is a larger presence here than in the original. While she’s not a disguised villain like her Disney counterpart, she largely comes across as catty and hard to like.[4]If you’re not familiar with the original story, bail out now. I’m going to give away the ending. This also makes it hard to respect the prince’s choice of her over Pearl, as the mermaid is called, which also makes it harder to understand what she sees in him. And it’s really hard to see why we’re supposed to be happy when the narrator (Brian Dennehy who also plays the sea king) tells us in the end that the prince and princess lived long and happy lives together. In Andersen, if a mortal man marries a mermaid, she has a share in his immortal soul. While the mermaid never marries, she is rewarded for her virtue in the end by getting to become a “daughter of the air” who can earn an immortal soul for herself. Some readers find this conclusion tacked on and unsatisfying. Imagine how much worse that is in this episode where it’s never established that gaining immortality is part of Pearl’s goal and we’re only told about her becoming a “spirit of the air” in the last minute. On the plus side, the casting for this episode is quite good. Karen Black has a fun turn as the sea witch. And, as you’d hope for from an episode about mermaids, the music by Stephen Barber and the vocals, which might be Pam Dawber’s own since no singer is credited, are hauntingly beautiful.

Parental Advisory: His ship’s first mate (Geoff Hoyle) teases the prince that he has to go back to the palace and be bored by “sitting in the lap of luxury while gorgeous naked women pop pealed grapes into your mouth.” This is the only really vulgar part of the episode but it’s pretty extreme.

Worst Special Effect: Anything with the mermaids swimming under water is laughably bad, especially the effects for their hair.

Funniest Line: Prince: Don’t tell me an old sea dog like you is afraid of the water?
First Mate: Oh, no, water’s all very well in its place. A little hot water in a teapot for instance.

Special Bonus Episode!

I’d like to end this series about Faerie Tale Theatre on a more positive note, so I’m going to cheat by writing about an episode that is actually one of my favorites though I’m sure that’s not a popular opinion. This is or used to be a lost episode, but it was rediscovered and put on the most recent DVD set as a special feature. You see…it’s a clip show. I know, I know. People hate clip shows and usually I do too. But I think this one has a really fun premise and a good selection of clips.[5]Phineas and Ferb also had the rare gift of creating fun clip shows. It begins with Shelley Duvall getting dressed for a costume party celebrating three years of Faerie Tale Theatre. This was evidently a real thing as we get real footage from it and brief interviews with the actors mixed in with the scripted stuff. But before Duvall can leave, she gets knocked out and imagines she’s put on trial by the brothers Grimm (Richard Libertini and Ed Beagley Jr.) for tampering with classic literature and retelling fairy tales with a medium for which they were never intended. Duvall defends her use of artistic license by showing clips from the show. First, she quickly recaps three episodes, The Tale of the Frog Prince, Pinocchio and Cinderella, to show she’s stayed to true to the original tales. Ironically, Cinderella is the only one of those three to be particular close to the source material[6]Like most adaptations of Pinocchio, the Faerie Tale Theatre episode owes more to the 1940 Disney movie as it does to Carlo Collodi’s book. Actually, it combines elements of the two even when … Continue reading and Duvall wrongly attributes it to Grimm rather than Charles Perrault. (The brothers Grimm did do a version of Cinderella but the Faerie Tale Theatre one is obviously based on Perrault’s. It’s confusing, I know.) We then proceed to the shows’ funniest moments, scariest moments, most magical moments and most romantic moments. Many of these would really be considered Faerie Tale Theatre‘s cheesiest moments but that’s part of the fun of this episode and this show in general. In my opinion, this clip show works as both a fun lookback for fans and a good sampler for newcomers to see whether or not it’s for them. I’d also say it underlines the real appreciation and affection Faerie Tale Theatre has for fairy tales while still taking a creative approach to them. For all that the show hangs lampshades on the ridiculous aspects of them (cf. my choice for the funniest line from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), it’s not a deconstruction along the lines of Sondheim’s Into the Woods or even something like Dreamworks’s Shrek. It pokes fun at these stories the way you poke fun at something you really like and that’s part of why fans like it in turn.

References

References
1 You could argue its villain, Gaston, was inspired by the character of Avenant from the Cocteau version but the similarities between the two might be coincidental and even if not, they’re handled differently.
2 If you want the ending spoiled, here it is. Basically, he makes her laugh by pointing out the absurdity of her demanding someone to make her laugh when her whole household is so ridiculous.
3 Well, except from refraining from physically cutting the mermaid’s tongue out.
4 If you’re not familiar with the original story, bail out now. I’m going to give away the ending.
5 Phineas and Ferb also had the rare gift of creating fun clip shows.
6 Like most adaptations of Pinocchio, the Faerie Tale Theatre episode owes more to the 1940 Disney movie as it does to Carlo Collodi’s book. Actually, it combines elements of the two even when they’re not compatible since in Collodi, all marionettes seem to be alive somehow and in Disney, only Pinocchio is granted that gift.
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Other Great Episodes of Faerie Tale Theatre

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.[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. 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.[2]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 Was[3]Which 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.[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 … 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.

Cinderella

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.
Stepmother: Splendid!

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 boast 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.[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 … 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.[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 … Continue reading But the episodes that I find most frustrating and intriguing to watch. Stay tuned.

References

References
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.
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My Favorite Season of Faerie Tale Theatre

As some of you may know, probably more of you than knew about Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre was an anthology show that ran from 1982 to 1987. Each episode was a retelling of a classic fairy tale, using a loose definition of that genre, with an all-star cast. Many of the episodes were affectionate parodies of their source material. As we’ll see though, some of them played it straight. Not only did the show have big name actors but it usually had sharp writing. The visuals, on the other hand, were terrible at a first glance. Nothing looks good filmed on Video and the show’s use of greenscreen was laughable. But even visually Faerie Tale Theatre could impress. True, the sets and costumes were very obviously fake, but they weren’t trying to look like anything else and, largely thanks to production designer Michael Erler, they could still be lovely. (This show has the word, theatre, in its title, remember? Thinking of it as a filmed stage play should put you in the right frame of mind to appreciate it.) And Faerie Tale Theatre‘s secret weapon was its music, much of which, courtesy of composer Stephen Barber, was legitimately beautiful. The show’s quality wasn’t as consistent as that of The Storyteller, though to be sure it went on for longer and had more opportunities to disappoint. For me, it peaked in consistent high quality with the second season in which every episode was great except for Jack and the Beanstalk, which was actually one of the show’s lamest. Anyway, here’s a rundown of Season 2.

While Faerie Tale Theatre was marketed toward family audiences, its humor tended to be aimed at mature viewers and was sometimes downright raunchy. (What can I say? It was the 80s, a different time.) But there were also episodes that were quite family friendly, which can make it frustrating for parents figuring out whether to watch it with their kids. With that in mind, I’m going to do something I don’t normally do on this blog: include a content warning for each episode, so my readers who are parents of young children can decide which ones to share or avoid sharing with them. My readers who don’t like risqué humor at all may also find these helpful. Those who enjoy it, on the other hand, will be mad at me for ruining the jokes. Sorry, guys.

Rapunzel

This was the show’s third episode and the first of the second season. If you ask me, this is where they really found their groove. While neither was without its charms, the pilot episode, The Tale of the Frog Prince, written and directed by Monty Python alum Eric Idle, was largely a parody heavy on humor that was inappropriate for kids, and the second episode, Rumpelstiltskin, was a simple straightforward retelling of the story with little or nothing specifically for adult viewers. This episode found a good middle path. It has a fun, lighthearted tone. For one thing, Rapunzel’s mother, Marie (Shelley Duvall who doubles as Rapunzel herself) ultimately convinces her husband, Claude (Jeff Bridges who doubles as the prince) to steal from a dangerous witch (Gena Rowlands)’s garden by saying that her mother was right about him. Yet it sticks close to Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm’s story and even delves into some of its darker themes. A surprising decision it makes is to portray the witch as young and glamorous rather than old and cronelike.[1]Well, glamorous in a 1980s kind of way. It also portrays her as a tragic villainess as much as it can while maintaining that light tone. Her motives for wishing to keep the longhaired heroine from men are strongly implied to be because of traumatic experiences of her own with them. At one point, a rebellious Rapunzel snaps at the witch for never giving her a father. The witch automatically strikes her and then briefly looks horrified by her own actions. There’s also something poignant about how even as Rapunzel is willing to defy the woman who raised her and run off with a near stranger, she can’t bring herself to break the witch’s prohibition against cutting her hair.

Parental Advisory: When Marie initially wakes up craving a radish, Claude suggestively asks if she wouldn’t prefer “a nice cucumber.” When Rapunzel first meets the prince, she curiously asks him if he’s a man. He looks down at himself and says, “I certainly hope so.” He seems eager when he hears that Rapunzel has never met a man before. Once he climbs up to her prison and she gets a really good look at him, she describes herself as feeling “warm and tingly all over and kind of scary too” but “a good kind of scary.” After their first kiss, she asks if it gets any better. He grins and nods. This adaptation retains the twins to which Rapunzel gives birth in the desert though the narrator (Roddy McDowall) explains this for innocent viewers by saying that she and her prince “considered themselves husband and wife” and that their children “were born of love.”[2]In the first edition of the Grimm story, Rapunzel’s pregnancy was what tipped the witch off to her secret relationship. Apparently, they deemed this too immoral for children and had Rapunzel … Continue reading

Worst Special Effect: The animated blood that pours from the prince’s injured eyes and Rapunzel’s magical tear that heals them are laughably bad and sadly ruin what should be dramatic moments.

Funniest Line: Witch: When I find him, I’m going to gouge his eyes out. I’m going to make his brains into soup.
Rapunzel: Mother!
Witch: Now, Rapunzel, don’t be hasty to judge it until you’ve tried it.

The Nightingale

This is one of the episodes that tries the hardest to capture the style of its source rather than playing it for laughs. Of course, since Hans Christian Andersen’s story about a plain bird (here voiced by Shelley Duvall) whose beautiful voice makes it a hit at the semi-tyrannical emperor of China (Mick Jaggers)’s court until the courtiers grow to prefer an easily controlled and shinier clockwork bird, already had laughs. But those reflected Andersen’s sense of humor, not necessarily Faerie Tale Theatre‘s sense of humor. The script by Joan Micklin Silver stays very close to the style and content of the source material. The biggest addition being the expanded role of the kitchen maid (Barbara Hershey giving one of the most dramatic performances seen on Faerie Tale Theatre) who leads the court to the nightingale. This version gives her a vital relationship with the emperor. The production design, inspired by the art of Edmund Dulac, are beautiful and so is the soundtrack by Stephen Barber. The climax where the embodiment of death itself (Bobby Porter) comes for the ailing emperor is one of the most legitimately creepy things to appear on this show. Kudos to director Ivan Passer for this episode! If only the series’ take on The Snow Queen had done as much to capture to feel of Andersen’s writing.

Parental Advisory: No sexual innuendo that I can remember. Particularly young or sensitive children may not care for that creepy climax though.

Worst Special Effect: Nothing. Well, all of the effects are dated but none of them jars me out of the viewing experience as much as stuff on Rapunzel.

Funniest Line: Imperial Chef (Charlie Dell): For Your Imperial Majesty’s most royal gratification, a gently roasted suckling pig raised exclusively on lambkins and glazed with the honey of rare Himalayan bees.
Emperor: Haven’t I tasted this before? Some years ago? In the springtime?
Imperial Chef: Oh no, Your Majesty! That suckling pig was glazed with the honey of rare cashmere bees.

Sleeping Beauty

This episode officially credits Charles Perrault for its source material but like most retellings of this story, it’s really a combo of the Grimm and Perrault versions. The costumes and names however set the events in Russia rather than Germany or France, a nod to the Tchaikovsky ballet from which this episode draws its soundtrack. (Lennie Niehaus adapted the score.) One thing both Perrault and Grimm have is an old man who informs the wandering prince (here played by Christopher Reeve) of the enchanted castle’s history. In this version, the prince also tells the woodsman (George Dzundza) about his failed attempt at romance with an exotic princess. Bernadette Peters plays both said princess and the Sleeping Beauty who is the prince’s true love. And in her backstory, Christopher Reeves also plays an unwanted suitor of hers. This double casting allows Reeves and Peters to show off their range and they make the most of it. Next week, I intend to write about how I feel this show often suffers from bland lead performances. Happily, that’s far from the case here.

The script by Jeffrey Alan Fiskin is full of comedy in the vein of Faerie Tale Theatre, much of it cynical and very, very funny. I love the characters of Henbane (Beverly D’ Angelo), the fairy who curses Sleeping Beauty, probably one of the show’s most fun villains, and the younger, more benevolent fairy (Carol Kane) who saves the princess. (“Between you and me,” she confides in her, “let’s just hope there’s a prince out there with more courage than brains.”) But Reeves is unwaveringly earnest as the noble hero, playing the role with only the slightest hint of irony and delivering his big romantic speech at the end with all the conviction of a Shakespearean soliloquy. Peters also gives a highly dramatic performance as the equally noble heroine, one without even a slight hint of irony. The scene where she has to pretend to be fine with marrying a stranger for the sake of her royal father (Rene Auberjonois) manages to be a real tearjerker. This episode is both highly snarky and highly sincere. Theoretically, those two sides of it should clash but they end up balancing each other out, making for both an entertaining parody and something genuinely romantic and moving.

Parental Advisory: This is definitely one of the most risqué episodes. When we first meet the king and queen (Sally Kellerman), it looks like they’re about to have sex, only to reveal that the queen is going to read her husband a bedtime story as she does every night. When she expresses a desire for a child, a fairy spirit (uncredited) appears and (inaudibly) explains to the couple how to make one. In another scene, the chaste prince’s aforementioned anti-love interest tries to seduce him by promising to donate all of the pearls that line her top to the poor if he plucks them all off while she’s wearing it. The prince is embarrassed to relate this, but the woodsman is eager to hear every detail and is disappointed to hear that nothing ultimately happens between the two. There are some other naughty jokes in the episode but if you don’t have a problem showing it to kids yet, I doubt anything else will convince you.

Worst Special Effect: Not only does the prince have to get through a forest of briars in this version, they come to life and attack him. They’re very obviously puppets. Then, taking a page from the Disney movie, Henbane, the evil fairy, turns herself into a giant reptilian monster and he has to fight his way through her. This awkward fight scene is staged with a projected image of a battle between an army and a dragon in the background, which shatters when the prince hits Henbane with a weapon. This all looks ridiculous, of course, but to the credit of Reeves and the episode, they actually manage to kind of sell me on the scene.

Funniest Line: Yellow Fairy (Carol Smith): It is my honor to bestow upon the princess surpassing beauty.
Green Fairy (Gene Varrone): That old chestnut! You’d think after three hundred years, she’d be able to come up with something original!

Jack and the Beanstalk

Right after that sterling episode, we get the one clunker of the season, arguably the clunker of the whole show. Most of the actors’ performances, including those of Dennis Christopher as Jack and Elliot Gould as the giant, are very cartoony, which would normally be what would you’d want, given the farcical writing, but there’s good over-the-top and bad over-the-top and after a while, everyone becomes off-putting and vaguely grotesque. While it’s typical for Faerie Tale Theatre‘s sets to be obviously fake, they’re hardly ever as drab and unimaginative as the ones in this episode. Even the music by Frank Serafine, not a regular composer for the show, is boring and if you’ll remember, I described the music of this series as its secret weapon.

Some versions of this fairy tale, such as Andrew Lang’s, have Jack meet a fairy at the top of the giant beanstalk who explains to him that the giant (or ogre) is the one who killed his father and stole his treasures, justifying Jack’s thievery. Often this fairy is connected to the old man who gave Jack the magic beans. Faerie Tale Theatre does this too, having them be the same person but rather than having the fairy disguise herself as the old man, it has the old man (Mark Blankfield) disguise himself as the fairy! Theoretically, this is funny but in practice, it just comes across as awkward. (Basically, this episode in a nutshell.) Blankfield is annoying in both roles. He also narrates and he’s even disastrous at that, sounding like he has a stuffed nose the whole time. And yet…I still enjoy this episode. I’ll even say I enjoy it more than the series’ Rip Van Winkle episode, which is probably superior technically. The script by Mark Curtiss and Rod Ash, frequently collaborators for Faerie Tale Theatre and Duvall’s follow-up show, Tall Tales and Legends, is reasonably amusing. (“You know what?” the giant glumly tells his wife, the giantess (Jean Stapleton.) “I figured out today that when you die, you’re dead.”) It’s mostly the execution that’s bad. As Jack himself says to his mother (Katherine Helmond) early on, “we haven’t hit rock bottom. We’re just not exactly on the top.”

Worst Special Effect: The whole affair is so visually unappealing, why bother to choose?

Funniest Line: Jack (when the giantess tries to hide him in her oven): You know this is not Hansel and Gretel, don’t you?
Giantess: I’m an ogress, not a witch
.

Little Red Riding Hood

This episode’s script by J. David Wyles, who also wrote the one for Rapunzel, and Mark Curtiss and Rod Ash, is one of the series’ funniest and most quotable. (When the wolf (Malcolm McDowell) tries on Granny (Frances Bay)’s nightgown for a disguise, he laments that “the woman hasn’t bought anything new in twenty years!”) Everyone in the cast relishes their two-note performances. Watching them, you think, “this is what Jack and the Beanstalk was supposed to be like!” The episode’s story may certainly be padded, mostly with material involving Little Red Riding Hood’s overly strict father (John Vernon), her perky, cleanliness obsessed mother (Diane Ladd) and her bashful wooer, young woodcutting apprentice Christopher (Darrell Larson), but it’s all such fun padding that who cares?

Parental Advisory: This isn’t so much a sexual joke as it is sexual subtext but this episode, like the Charles Perrault version of the story, has the wolf, disguised as Granny, ask Little Red Riding Hood to get into bed with him, ostensibly to warm him up, prior to eating her. This will probably go over children’s heads. There’s some fleeting profanity in the dialogue and the very young may be disturbed by the scenes where it’s implied the wolf eats Granny and Little Red.[3]Don’t worry. The episode follows Grimm in having them be rescued from its belly. Others will just laugh at the campiness of it all.

Funniest Line: Mother: Now one more problem. Which of your very special friends would you like to invite to the party?
Little Red Riding Hood: Well, Mother, that’s just what I wanted to talk to you about. I never go out; I don’t have any friends.
Mother: Splendid! Now, you see, whenever we put our heads together, we can solve any problem.

Hansel and Gretel

After that delightfully tongue-in-cheek episode, we get one of the show’s most dramatic and least played for laughs. As with The Nightingale, this episode earnestly tries to capture the style and tone of its source, in this case, the story immortalized by the Brothers Grimm.[4]Though it also ends up owing something to Humperdinck’s opera version. For one thing, the script by Patricia Resnick contains an unusually high number of references to God. This is the only Faerie Tale Theatre episode to use actual child actors (Ricky Schroder and Bridgette Anderson) for its young leads. While some of their line readings aren’t as polished as those of more experienced thespians would have been,[5]In their defense, the dialogue isn’t trying to sound like real people talking and can be rather complex. they make it up for it with real vulnerability. This is also one of the only episodes to use real locations and they work far better to convey that Hansel and Gretel are hopelessly lost in the wilderness than even the scariest of painted backdrops.

If there’s anything about this episode that does feel tongue-in-cheek, it’s Joan Collins’s over-the-top performance as the ravenous, child-eating witch. (She doubles as the stepmother and does a great job differentiating the two villains.) I don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism; it’s great to watch her chew up the scenery like its bubblegum.[6]Actually, Hansel and Gretel also chew the scenery when they arrive at her gingerbread house. Get it? Chew the scenery? (“Since I have no other virtues, there is no reason for me to have patience,” she says at one point.) If I do take any issue with this adaptation, it’s that it omits Hansel and Gretel finding gold and jewels in the witch’s house, leaving it an open question how their impoverished father (Paul Dooley) will be able to provide for them once they’re reunited. Maybe Resnick felt he needed to redeem himself by taking them back without anything to gain by it? Anyway, this still stands as one of Faerie Tale Theatre‘s best attempts to explore the serious themes of its source material and a worthy close to its most consistently great season.

Parental Advisory: This is less of a joke than a plot point. The stepmother tells her husband that after they abandon Hansel and Gretel, once the famine in the land is over, they can always have more children. “We can start now if you like,” she says flirtatiously, “having more children.” When he urges her to be quiet lest they wake Hansel and Gretel, she says, “tomorrow (when they’re gone) we can start to make noise again.” Other than that, this is probably the most kid-appropriate episode of Faerie Tale Theatre, though the very young may be scared of the witch.

Funniest Line: Witch: I’m about to teach you something very useful. How to turn a child’s heart into gingerbread.
Gretel: I’d rather learn to read.

I know I just praised Hansel and Gretel for delving into its source material’s serious themes but what struck me rewatching the show recently was how each of these episodes, even the ones played most strictly for laughs, has something going on in its head. Sleeping Beauty preaches the virtue of patience.[7]The same moral, incidentally, that Charles Perrault attached to the story though he joked that expecting his feminine readers to wait a hundred years for a good husband was too much. Jack and the Beanstalk, by contrast, preaches the importance of taking initiative. Rapunzel explores possessive, paranoid parenting. Hansel and Gretel, on the other hand, explores child abandonment and the importance of familial solidarity. Little Red Riding Hood reminds us of the sad necessity of learning by experience. The Nightingale is a satire of the nature of celebrity and contrasts flashy, faddish, soulless art with modest yet timeless art that has heart. Faerie Tale Theatre may be too dated to be described as timeless but it’s happily closer to the latter than the former.

Next week I’m going to look at great episodes from other seasons of Faerie Tale Theatre, episodes nearly as great as the majority of Season 2 and all of them better than the Jack and the Beanstalk episode.

References

References
1 Well, glamorous in a 1980s kind of way.
2 In the first edition of the Grimm story, Rapunzel’s pregnancy was what tipped the witch off to her secret relationship. Apparently, they deemed this too immoral for children and had Rapunzel make a stupid slip of the tongue instead in their second edition. Yet they still mentioned the twins in the end so there was still the implication that the prince and Rapunzel had sex out of wedlock, only without it serving any plot function. Sometimes the Grimms’ thought processes were hard to follow.
3 Don’t worry. The episode follows Grimm in having them be rescued from its belly.
4 Though it also ends up owing something to Humperdinck’s opera version.
5 In their defense, the dialogue isn’t trying to sound like real people talking and can be rather complex.
6 Actually, Hansel and Gretel also chew the scenery when they arrive at her gingerbread house. Get it? Chew the scenery?
7 The same moral, incidentally, that Charles Perrault attached to the story though he joked that expecting his feminine readers to wait a hundred years for a good husband was too much.
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Giving De Vil Her Due Part 2 (Hey, That Rhymed!)

Better the Devil You Know: 102 Dalmatians (2000)

Since I specifically mentioned the opening credits sequences for the first two Dalmatians movies, I should note this one has a surreal visual one much like the original animated film. It’s not nearly as fun or creative as that opening credits scene but an improvement on the one from this sequel’s immediate predecessor. And I have to credit (no pun intended) the accompanying song’s lyrics (“Don’t be believing/Looks are deceiving”) for relating to the movie’s theme of outward behavior and appearances vs. inner worth.

Writers Kristen Buckley and Brian Regan had a hoop through which to jump. The 1996 101 Dalmatians, unlike the 1961 movie or the original book by Dodie Smith, ended with Cruella De Vil being arrested and a sequel without her would be unthinkable.[1]Dodie Smith actually wrote a literary sequel to The Hundred and One Dalmatians called The Starlight Barking which barely featured Cruella. It was about Sirius, the astral guardian of dogs, putting … Continue reading There are a number of ways this could have been handled. Cruella could break out of prison. She could make bail. She could get time off for good behavior. She could have simply served her time and been released in due course. (It’s not like her crime would have earned her a life sentence.) But, no, instead the writers go with her being apparently cured of her lust for fur through electroshock therapy.

Seriously.

I don’t know who would have thought of combining 101 Dalmatians with A Clockwork Orange but that’s what this sequel does. Through “a humane cocktail of electric shock treatment, aversion therapy, hypnosis, drugs and plenty of green vegetables,” Cruella’s mindset has been replaced with that of a sweet natured dog lover with a strong antifur stance.[2]In the aforementioned Starlight Barking, it’s implied Cruella has been able to replace her fur fetish with one for metallic raincoats. I couldn’t make this stuff up, people. In one of the movie’s cleverer touches, we get a version of the classic song, Cruella De Vil, with new lyrics reflecting her new personality.

To demonstrate that she’s changed, Cruella becomes the patroness of Second Chance, a financially strapped dog shelter run by an idealistic man named Kevin Sheperd (Ioan Gruffudd.) Her dog loving probation officer, Chloe Simon (Alice Evans), refuses to believe in Cruella’s change of heart and is sure that her being involved with a dog shelter will lead to disaster, but Kevin persists in taking her at her word. Of course, Chloe proves right since there wouldn’t be a story otherwise and I don’t think any real fans of the character want Cruella De Vil to reform. It turns out that the sound of Big Ben’s chimes restores the brain waves of recipients of this new therapy to normal and, wouldn’t you know it, Chloe’s office is right across from the famous clock.

Glenn Close plays this transformation like Cruella’s new personality is terrified and desperately trying to rein in her evil side, lending an out of place aura of tragedy to the whole thing.

Of course, once she’s back to her old self, the smart thing for Cruella to do would be to secretly enjoy the old furs she has stashed away and not risk anything by trying to get any more. But she’s evil, not prudent, and she sets out to finally get that dalmatian fur coat, this time adding a hood to justify the title 102 Dalmatians.[3]I’m actually impressed that the sequel has her say this means she’ll need three more puppies, not just one, remember that the final two dalmatians of the last movie were the parents, not … Continue reading

So, the implied moral of this story would seem to be don’t give people the benefit of the doubt; they don’t really change and will just take advantage of you. That’s a… bizarrely harsh and cynical message for a movie aimed solely at little kids who want to see pratfalls and cute puppies.[4]Maybe it’s trying to say that true redemption has to come from within, not just changing outward behavior but nobody explicitly says anything like that and in a movie like this, if the … Continue reading I mean, it’s not wrong per se. In real life, trusting people can lead to them taking advantage of you. And while Cruella herself remains evil, there is another antagonist, albeit a minor one, who changes for the better by the end. A careful analysis of the story shows that the message is really that sometimes bad guys reform and sometimes they don’t, sometimes trusting them pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s arguably a refreshingly nuanced take for a kids’ movie. But it feels totally out of place in a cheerfully lowbrow children’s comedy.[5]One of the end credits songs asks listeners “whatchya gonna do with your second chance? Will ya throw it away or get it right?” This could imply that the real moral is neither … Continue reading

Though it remains repetitive, I think I appreciate Glenn Close’s portrayal of Cruella more in this movie. Maybe that’s because in the previous one, while there were plenty of farcical and fantastical characters and plot points, the character of Cruella De Vil was the only thing really played for camp. Here the rest of the film seems to want to be a cartoon. (Compare the tastefully muted wintery colors of the 1996 101 Dalmatians with 102‘s art direction.) She just fits better. During her nicey-nice phases, Cruella has her old collection of fur coats thrown in a basement and boarded up. (Don’t ask me why she doesn’t burn them or sell them.) And when the fur fancying fashionista reverts to her old ways and tears through those boards with her hands, I’ll admit I chuckled.

Gruffudd is likeable as the sweet, naive Kevin and I’m sure Evans could have been likeable as Chloe if the character had been written better. To me, Chloe’s personal vendetta against her client makes her seem like a jerk. You see, she happens to own Dipstick, one of the dalmatians Cruella stole in the last movie. (Dipstick and Cruella’s manservant, Alonso (Tim McInerny), are the only characters from there besides her to also appear in this sequel by the way.) Doesn’t that represent something of a conflict of interest? I’m not saying she should let her guard entirely down with Cruella, but the woman really does seem to be trying to be friendly, albeit because her mind has been altered by outside forces, only to get shot down. (In one of the movie’s better jokes, when Cruella says she wants a job with dogs, Chloe says she sees her as more of a coal miner or a sewage worker.) Chloe also rails against Kevin for letting Cruella near dogs even though Cruella only wants to make clothing out of fancy, stylish animals. It’s doubtful she’d be inspired by the scruffy mutts at Second Chance. Maybe it’s just because I’m a cat person but I got rather tired of everyone in this movie acting like Cruella is a serial killer of human children. I’m not saying I approve of her intending to kill ninety-nine puppies for a coat, but does it really make her as irredeemable as Chloe insists?[6]In the book and the 1961 movie, Cruella actually only stole fifteen of her intended victims. The 1996 one though mentioned that she stole all of them, yet it still had the Dearlys adopt them all in … Continue reading Of course, Chloe starts to trust Cruella (and distrust Kevin) as soon as the story requires her to do so. Sigh.

This movie has more jokes about dog slobber than all the other Dalmatians movies put together, thanks to the character of Drooler, one of the dogs at the shelter. I don’t want to write about Drooler though. He makes me depressed. There’s also a parrot called Waddlesworth (voiced by Eric Idle) who insists that he’s a rottweiler. He’s not funny and gets fairly annoying after a while. Strangely, he doesn’t just mimic human words he’s heard repeatedly but actually is able to hold intelligent conversations with Kevin and even translates what the dogs are saying for him at a critical point in the plot. While Dodie Smith did include a human toddler being able to communicate with animals, none of the movies had done anything like this previously and neither Kevin nor Chloe nor anyone else finds it odd.

Every once in a while, there’s a good joke in this movie, most of them involving the character of Ewan (Ben Crompton), another client of Chloe’s who works at Second Chance. (In his first scene, Chloe asks him if the best excuse he can give her for not having a paycheck is that a dog chewed it up. He tries saying that he was abducted by aliens.)

The rest of 102‘s humor comes from bad dog puns and more of the last film’s overdone, unfunny slapstick.

I’m sorry you had to see this, folks. But I felt like I had to include an image like this to back up my point.

And yet…while I was unimpressed by the movie’s first hour and ten minutes or so, I didn’t really wish to stop watching it either. Maybe it’s that oddly depressing anti-redemptive message. Maybe it’s the weirdness of seeing Cruella De Vil behave so sweetly for a while. Maybe it’s the deliberate outrageousness of her costumes and the tongue-in-cheek creepiness of her house.

Maybe it’s seeing distinguished actors like Timothy West, Ian Richardson and Gerard Depardieu slumming. Maybe it’s the feeling that some people involved in the production were having fun. One way or another, there’s something I find hypnotically fascinating about the movie.

Well, about the first hour and ten minutes or so. Like the previous one, it goes on about twenty minutes too long and saves what is probably its dumbest material for the climax. The reason I’ve been describing so many genuinely funny moments isn’t to give you the impression the movie is hilarious. It’s in the hope that my readers will be able to enjoy them vicariously without the need to sit through the whole thing. You’re welcome.

Sympathy for the Devil: Cruella (2021)

In the early 2020s, the Disney company was in a bit of spot. They were remaking all of their most popular old properties, mostly doing hand drawn animated stuff in a photorealistic style. But they’d already done that back in 1996 with One Hundred and One Dalmatians and apparently felt they couldn’t do so again. That’s too bad in a way because I’d consider most of their recent remakes to be better written and better directed than the 1996 101 Dalmatians and the record will show I didn’t hate that one, so those words aren’t damning with faint praise.[7]Heh. Damning. De Vil. There’s got to be a pun in there somewhere. In any case, this is what they came up with instead.

On a dark and stormy night, a troubled and rebellious young girl called Estella (played by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland at this point) witnesses her beloved single mother (Emily Beecham) pleading with a mysterious rich woman for money. Suddenly, a trio of snarling dalmatians attack the mother, knocking her off a cliff.

Seriously, that’s the premise.

You’d assume from that that Estella is going to grow up hating dalmatians and possibly animals in general, change her name to Cruella De Vil at some point, and try to get a dalmatian fur coat as payback for her trauma. But, except for the name thing, no. Far from hating pets, Cruella actually acquires a couple of canine sidekicks, who feel out the place in this, the only 101 Dalmatians movie aimed mainly at adults. She does end up kidnapping dalmatians at one point and jokes about making them into coats but that’s as far as it goes. This movie isn’t really so much a prequel to the original story or a reimagining of it as it is something new that’s packed with homages to 101 Dalmatians, though there is an end credits scene which could be interpreted as a complete renunciation of the original Cruella De Vil or as setting up the original story.[8]If you don’t mind me giving it away, read on. There are characters in the movie named Roger (Kayvan Novak) and Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), the former being a struggling songwriter and the … Continue reading Could the movie have begun life as a totally unrelated project and Disney decided it wouldn’t be marketable unless it were connected to one of their successful franchises? Or did Disney assign writers Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel and Steve Zissis with the task of writing a story with Cruella De Vil as a sympathetic antiheroine and that was such a bad idea that the best thing they could cook up was barely related to it?

Anyway, back to the summary. Estella flees to London where she falls in with a couple of juvenile pickpockets, Jasper (Ziggy Gardner at this point) and Horace (Joseph Macdonald) who remain her partners in crime and makeshift family into adulthood. Quickly realizing that her unique hair coloring makes her recognizable, Estella dyes it red. Eventually, (when she’s old enough to be played by Emma Stone), she gets a job working for the high-profile fashion house, Liberty of London, and claws her way up from bathroom cleaner to personal assistant to the head of the company, the cruel and arrogant Baroness Von Hellman (Emma Thompson.) (Past incarnations of the character have always implied that Cruella came from “old money,” and this is one of the things that makes it hard to view this as a prequel.) One day Estella notices that the baroness is wearing a necklace that belonged to her (Estella’s) mother. When she questions her about this, she speaks of the woman and her death with shocking callousness. Estella enlists Jasper (now played by Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) to help her steal back the necklace. Her plan involves herself distracting the baroness by sporting her real hair coloring and posing as an unruly party guest called Cruella.

Things don’t quite go as planned and Estella realizes that the baroness controls her dalmatians with a whistle, meaning that she deliberately killed Estella’s mother. This seemingly causes her mind to snap, and she goes from acting like a typical Emma Stone character to acting like, well, Cruella De Vil, ordering Horace and Jasper around and calling them imbeciles. Only as her Cruella persona, she believes, can she exact revenge on the baroness.[9]In a nice touch, an early scene shows Estella watching a movie with Tallulah Bankhead, an actress who influenced the animated Cruella, mainly her trademark evil laugh. She plans to do that not by killing her, though she teases that possibility twice, not by stealing from her, at least not solely, not even by gaining her trust and then giving her bad business advice, but by upstaging her at every fashion event. I’m not sure why this movie is set in the 1970s instead of the 50s or 60s but maybe it was so it could portray Cruella as sort of a pioneer of punk. Her radical stylings make her the talk of the town and spur the baroness to find some way or another to destroy her mysterious new rival.

I hope no one who hasn’t seen this movie yet is miffed that I’ve just given a broad summary of half the plot. I didn’t know how else to convey that it’s story, despite a lack of talking animals, is completely ridiculous. There’s no reason the baroness should have dalmatians for attack dogs once you factor out that this is an homage and there’s no reason they should kill Estella’s mother by knocking her off a cliff instead of tearing her throat out once you factor out that while this may be a PG-13 Disney movie, it’s still a Disney movie at heart.[10]That’s not to say I consider it appropriate for kids. And I haven’t even revealed the unbelievable way Cruella ultimately brings down the baroness in the end. Let’s just say this movie has as many holes in its logic as a dalmatian has spots on its coat. I wasn’t particularly interested in the movie when I first heard about it but when I heard the story summarized, I was shocked by how laughably stupid it sounded. Then an intriguing thought occurred to me. What if it was supposed to be stupid? Surely, this must really be a witty parody. A parody of villain origin stories. A parody of perspective flips. A parody of crime movies. A parody of revenge stories. A parody of Martin Scorsese.[11]Cruella (2021) has been described as Disney’s answer to Joker (2019), which was influenced by the works of Martin Scorsese and director Craig Gillespie has been compared, not necessarily … Continue reading A parody of Disney nostalgia bait. A parody of something! But no. While the movie has a sense of humor, it plays out all of its absurd plot points with an unblinking earnestness. The baroness and Cruella sport hairdos and outfits as ridiculous as anything from the old live action 101 Dalmatians movies but there’s much less of a sense, if any, of winking at viewers. Give the devil his due. 102 Dalmatians was a dumb kids’ comedy, but it was a dumb kids’ comedy that knew what it was. Cruella is a dumb adult drama that genuinely believes it’s smart and sophisticated.

That being said…playing the nonsensical story with such a straight face sort of works. At least, it works in that I was able to watch it without laughing at it though maybe that was just because I was already prepared for its looniest plot points. I would rather rewatch this than 102 Dalmatians and I don’t think that’s just because I’m an adult.[12]After all, one of my favorite movies is Nanny McPhee, a children’s movie with bright colors, goofy sound effects, a fart joke and a climactic food fight. The difference between that movie and … Continue reading It also functions better as a piece of storytelling than Maleficent (2014) which it superficially resembles, with none of that movie’s rushed pacing or uneven acting. The writing is engaging. The cinematography and visuals in general are easy on the eyes. And some of the heist elements are genuinely fun, particularly the elaborate con Cruella pulls to ruin one of the baroness’s fashion shows roughly halfway through the movie.

The cast is solid as a whole and Emma Stone and Emma Thompson are great playing essentially two different versions of the same character. Stone gives a fine traditional Cruella De Vil without sounding exactly like the versions portrayed by either Betty Lou Gerson or Glenn Close[13]Who serves as an executive producer for this move., all while giving her cartoonish villainy a creepier vibe since her hammy behavior is apparently the result of a psychotic breakdown. As the regal baroness, Thompson is actually closer to how I imagine the original book’s Cruella De Vil than any other version or she would be if she were cheerier and more convincingly friendly. A big part of me wishes this were a regular remake or, better yet, a new adaptation of the book and Thompson’s baroness were really supposed to be Cruella De Vil. But, anyway, this movie is at its crackling best when she and Stone’s Cruella are trading barbs.[14]Similarly, the most fun part of Maleficent‘s 2019 sequel, Mistress of Evil, was the animosity between the rival villainesses played by Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfieffer but they sadly only … Continue reading

Still, the only way I could call the movie good were if it were aware of how silly its story was and expected us to laugh at it. It’s not and it doesn’t. If that story had to be executed so earnestly, I guess it did so as well as possible. But that still leaves us with something too good to qualify as so-bad-it’s-good and far too bad to just be good. I guess I’ll call it a guilty pleasure, not one I wish to experience again but a step up from something unpleasurable.

Conclusion

So…yeah, the best of these four movies is easily One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961.) But the original book by Dodie Smith is much better and I’d love to see a fresh yet faithful adaptation of it that jettisoned all the old movies. If you haven’t already given the novel a read, check it out sometime.

References

References
1 Dodie Smith actually wrote a literary sequel to The Hundred and One Dalmatians called The Starlight Barking which barely featured Cruella. It was about Sirius, the astral guardian of dogs, putting every other species into a trance to save canines from the possibility of nuclear war. I am not making that up.
2 In the aforementioned Starlight Barking, it’s implied Cruella has been able to replace her fur fetish with one for metallic raincoats. I couldn’t make this stuff up, people.
3 I’m actually impressed that the sequel has her say this means she’ll need three more puppies, not just one, remember that the final two dalmatians of the last movie were the parents, not the stolen puppies. Of course, since there are also two parents dalmatians in this story, the title should really be 104 Dalmatians.
4 Maybe it’s trying to say that true redemption has to come from within, not just changing outward behavior but nobody explicitly says anything like that and in a movie like this, if the characters don’t explicitly say something, it’s probably not the intent.
5 One of the end credits songs asks listeners “whatchya gonna do with your second chance? Will ya throw it away or get it right?” This could imply that the real moral is neither “don’t be like Kevin” nor “don’t be like Chloe” but “don’t be like Cruella.” Or it could just indicate how hard it was for whoever writes these end credits songs to put an uplifting spin on this movie’s anti-redemptive message.
6 In the book and the 1961 movie, Cruella actually only stole fifteen of her intended victims. The 1996 one though mentioned that she stole all of them, yet it still had the Dearlys adopt them all in the end, so I’m not sure what the point was of that change.
7 Heh. Damning. De Vil. There’s got to be a pun in there somewhere.
8 If you don’t mind me giving it away, read on. There are characters in the movie named Roger (Kayvan Novak) and Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), the former being a struggling songwriter and the latter an old school friend of Cruella’s. The two of them never meet in the movie but by the end, Cruella has come into some dalmatian puppies, and she gives one called Pongo to Roger and one called Perdita to Anita. Like I said, this could be seen as a complete renunciation of the traditional character (instead of stealing puppies from Roger and Anita, Cruella gives them to them) or it could be setting up the traditional story (she’s giving them puppies in the hope that both humans and dogs will mate and then she can buy or steal more puppies from them to make into coats. I think you may have added some extra steps to that plan, Cruella.) The first option makes infinitely more sense but there’s enough tonal ambiguity in the scene to leave Option no. 2 on the table.
9 In a nice touch, an early scene shows Estella watching a movie with Tallulah Bankhead, an actress who influenced the animated Cruella, mainly her trademark evil laugh.
10 That’s not to say I consider it appropriate for kids.
11 Cruella (2021) has been described as Disney’s answer to Joker (2019), which was influenced by the works of Martin Scorsese and director Craig Gillespie has been compared, not necessarily favorably, to the famous director.
12 After all, one of my favorite movies is Nanny McPhee, a children’s movie with bright colors, goofy sound effects, a fart joke and a climactic food fight. The difference between that movie and 102 Dalmatians is…well, there are actually a lot of differences. But the main thing is that Nanny McPhee may not be highbrow, but it’s far from being dumb or unfunny.
13 Who serves as an executive producer for this move.
14 Similarly, the most fun part of Maleficent‘s 2019 sequel, Mistress of Evil, was the animosity between the rival villainesses played by Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfieffer but they sadly only shared the screen for a couple of scenes. Cruella doesn’t make that mistake at least.
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Giving De Vil Her Due Part 1

In my last post, I mentioned that one of my favorite things I’ve written on this blog has been a series about the 2014 movie, Maleficent, despite my having-at best-a very mixed opinion on it. I published it to coincide with Halloween since it was about an iconic villain, so for this Halloween I thought I’d do another series about an iconic villainess from a Disney animated movie who has inspired many a Halloween costume. But instead of just looking at the spinoff movie she recently got, I’m going to be reviewing each of the four released movies that feature Cruella De Vil. I don’t think any of them are as interesting as Maleficent[1]Which isn’t to say they’re all inferior to it. Oh no! I make a distinction between interesting and good. but the lore of 101 Dalmatians can be surprisingly crazy. Or maybe not so surprising when you stop to think about how kooky the original story really was.

The Devil Appears: One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)

This is one of those movies adaptations which I can sum up by saying, “it’s OK but the book is better.” I know that’s kind of a cliche and there are lovers of movies and television out there who roll their eyes whenever they hear it but…it’s true! It’s not that I consider the 1961 animated movie terrible or anything. It’s quite cute. But the 1956 book, The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, was also cute while also being much more interesting. Still, I’ll try to give this adaptation its due.

This movie starts out with a really fun opening credits scene.

Individual images from it may not seem that fun out of context but, trust me, they’re fun when you see them in motion and in context.

In general, the visual style for the whole thing is fun. The backgrounds have a much more sketchy, “modern” look than those from most of the Disney animated movies that had come before.[2]The animators were also using a new technology called xerox. I wouldn’t get into it because I’m not a technology guy, but it might be worth a google if you’re interested. I don’t love the look per se, but I think it works for this movie.

The character designs are also much more caricatured and cartoony than typical for Disney heretofore. They’re great. Pongo (voiced by Rod Taylor), the lead dalmatian, and his “pet,” Roger Radcliffe (Ben Wright), are especially fun to watch.

The leading ladies, dalmatian love interest Perdita (Cate Bauer) and her “pet,” Anita (Lisa Davis), are, perhaps predictably, more conventionally pretty. But if you compare Anita to Snow White, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, she still has something of an appealing everywoman quality to her.

Despite what I wrote about the book being better, I should stress that this isn’t a horribly inaccurate adaptation of it. Mind you, it’s not beat-for-beat accurate but considering Disney’s reputation for bad adaptations, it’s remarkably faithful.[3]You could argue that it’s Hollywood in general that makes bad adaptations and Disney just makes for a convenient scapegoat but never mind. It stays true to the book’s premise, its broad characterizations and overall spirit. A number of the movie’s most charming ideas come from the source material, like the dogs thinking of their human owners as pets or dogs barking late at night actually being a sophisticated chain of communication. In a few cases, it even takes ideas from the book and improves upon them. The game show, What’s My Crime, and the villainous Baddun brothers, Horace[4]Who was named Saul in the book by the way. (Fred Worlock) and Jasper (Disney veteran J. Pat O’ Malley), being so absorbed in watching it that they don’t notice the multitudinous puppies they’re supposed to skin sneaking out of the room are from Dodie Smith. But the movie makes of this a great little suspense scene with the show’s contestants’ desperation to make the right guess before time runs out paralleling Sgt. Tibbs the cat (David Frankham)’s desperation to herd every puppy out before the episode is over. The book also has the dalmatians rolling in soot to disguise themselves but only in the movie do they have to sneak past the villains this way in another nifty bit of suspense.

The dogs ironically ending up looking like black dogs with white spots is also from the book.

I hate to admit it, but the characters of Roger and Anita are probably more endearing than their literary counterparts, Mr. and Mrs. Dearly. The book opened with both the dalmatians and their “pets” happily married, which I think works fine there, but I agree with Disney story man Bill Pete that it would have been a dull way to open the movie. The initially disastrous meeting between Roger and Anita that turns out surprisingly well is great fun and the two of them have nice chemistry. Mr. Dearly in the book is a financial wizard who “had done the Government a great service (something to do with getting rid of the National Debt) and, as a reward, had been let off his Income Tax for life.” (It’s that kind of book.) Roger in the movie, on the other hand, is a struggling musician. Him being rich made it more semi believable that he and his wife could keep seventeen dalmatians and later a hundred and one. But the Radcliffes’ modest means draw viewers’ sympathy and interest and Roger being a musician leads to the soundtrack having a nice jazzy vibe.

According to the book, Mr. Dearly “wasn’t exactly handsome but he had the kind of face you don’t get tired of.” I feel like Roger’s character design captures that.

In the book, the couple had two servants, Nanny Butler who was Mr. Dearly’s nanny growing up and eventually became his butler and Nanny Cook who was Mrs. Dearly’s nanny growing up and eventually became her cook. The movie combines them into one character, Nanny (Martha Wentworth), who fulfills both functions. This is understandable from a practical standpoint, but I’ve got to say the only really memorable thing about the nannies from the book was the joke of their names and Nanny Butler taking on a traditionally masculine job. Without those things, the movie’s Nanny lacks any kind of gimmick.

The movie’s Perdita is also a combination of two characters from the book. In Dodie Smith’s version, Pongo’s mate was named Missus Pongo and Perdita was the name of a stray dalmatian who had lost her puppies[5]Guess how. and whom the Dearlys took in to help nurse their dogs’ litter of fifteen. Again, this is understandable from a practical standpoint. Having the mother dalmatian just be called Missus was pretty lame. Perdita doesn’t do much in the book besides help nurse the puppies and developing her in the movie would have slowed down the pace. But this change reflects the absence of one of the most endearing things about the literary Hundred and One Dalmatians: its surprising streak of realism. (I said, streak of realism, not a lot of realism.) Not only does the book insist that a single mother dog would have a hard time nursing fifteen puppies by herself, it also has the humans keep Pongo from away from Missus after she gives birth because “mother dogs did not usually Like to have father dogs around when puppies had just been born.” It also has them try to keep Missus and Perdita and the puppies that each nurses apart on the grounds that Missus would hurt her children that she didn’t recognize, and she and Perdita would fight though this turns out to be unwarranted.

…this does happen with some dogs. It would never have happened with Missis, but it will already have been seen that she and Pongo were rather unusual dogs. And so was Perdita. And so, if people only realized it, are many dogs. In fact, usual dogs are really more unusual than unusual dogs.

Perhaps a Disney movie was never going to reference the brutalities of nature in this way even to avert them. But in doing so it loses the sense you get from the book of a real fondness for and interest in dogs and animals in general.

The reason I wished to write about this movie during October was because Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson) is an iconic villain, wasn’t it? Well, as I said, she’s an icon. The movie’s design stays fairly true to the book’s description of her as tall, dark and sporting that trademark half black, half white hairdo. Her nose is less pointed and more piglike though and rather than the “absolutely simple white mink coat” she wears in the book, she has a giant poofy one that contrasts amusingly with her ridiculously bony body. I don’t mean that as a criticism, for the record, it’s a very fun character design.

I also like a moment the adaptation invents where Pongo tries to evade her detection by erasing his family’s pawprints with a stick and she sees right through it. Villains who are played for laughs but are also somewhat competent and represent legitimate threats interest me.[6]Disney animation has created more than a few. There’s also Captain Hook from Peter Pan and Kaa the python from The Jungle Book. Even Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove surprisingly has … Continue reading But while I don’t imagine the book’s Cruella as being as hammy and scenery chewing as the one in the movie, Disney actually makes her a less outlandish and over the top character than that one. For one thing, we never see her eating black pepper-flavored ice cream.[7]All Cruella’s food tastes like pepper in the book. Maybe she’s related to the Duchess of Wonderland’s cook. For another, Cruella’s surname isn’t just a joke in the book.[8]And it’s spelled with a small d but, hey, who’s keeping track? It’s actually implied that she’s actually a descendant or some distant relative of Satan. That’s what Pongo comes to believe anyway, and he’s described as possessing “one if the keenest brains in Dogdom.” I wonder why Disney didn’t go with that since they were no strangers to supernatural antagonists. It’s also worth mentioning that while Cruella doesn’t get her coveted dalmatian fur coat and her fancy car is utterly destroyed, she doesn’t get nearly as much comeuppance as she does in the book.[9]The car isn’t destroyed in the book but…well, let’s just say some other possessions of her are. It’s not even clear if the Radcliffes ever know for sure that’s she the one who stole their dogs. Perhaps to make up for this, future 101 Dalmatians movies would devote so much time to humiliating Cruella that it would get tedious, but we’ll get to that later.

Cruella’s ultimate comeuppance isn’t the only memorable scene from the book’s second half that would be cut. We also lose the touching scene of Pongo and Missus encountering an old man who thinks they’re the ghosts of dogs he knew in his childhood and the character of Tommy Tompkins, a human toddler who, not having mastered English yet, can communicate to an extent with dogs and helps them out. (He serves as a foil to another little boy Pongo and Missus meet who throws stones at them.) The book also has some odd use of Christian imagery. Not only is the main villain associated with Hell and the Devil but at one point, the dogs find sanctuary in a church building with a nativity set in it, which they find by following a star on Christmas Eve. Missus has previously resented churches since dogs aren’t allowed in them but changes her mind after this positive experience. Her “pet” is reported as saying that she herself would go to church more if dogs were allowed inside. I don’t know much about Dodie Smith, but the book gives the impression that she found Christianity-or Christian imagery anyway-attractive but disliked that it didn’t provide any afterlife for dogs.[10]The protagonists of a later children’s book she’d write, The Midnight Kittens, would be an atheist and an agnostic, though not militant ones, which presumably reflects her own beliefs at … Continue reading Not much later in the book, the dalmatians are in a tight spot and Pongo declares that nothing but a miracle can save them. Just then, a van appears on the scene, providing their escape and leading Missus to think that type of vehicle is called a miracle.[11]Missus in the book is a lot ditzier than Perdita in the movie but on the flipside, she’s much more resilient. None of this makes it into the movie.[12]Well, there is a van, but it isn’t called a miracle.

On the whole, I’d describe this movie as like the book with most of the most interesting parts removed. Because of that, I really can’t say it’s a good adaptation, but I can’t say it’s a terrible one either. There’s still plenty of charm to be found in it if you’re a member of the target audience and it probably helps if you have a higher tolerance for the sound of dogs barking than I have.

The Devil Is in the Details: 101 Dalmatians (1996)

This 1996 live action remake of the old, animated film really doesn’t do itself any favors by opening with a very dull opening credits scene that shows up poorly beside the visually entertaining one in the original.

The soundtrack by Michael Kamen is also, to my ears anyway, annoyingly heavy-handed compared to the more pleasant one from the 1961 version. But let’s not get too negative too soon.

This remake portrays Roger (Jack Daniels) as a struggling video game designer rather than a struggling songwriter. Hmm, maybe we do need to get really negative right away. I don’t get this change. Struggling songwriter just strikes me as more romantic than struggling video game designer, an irrational prejudice on my part perhaps. I don’t see the point of the career change, but it doesn’t ruin the character or the movie for me. Anita (Joely Richardson) now works for Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close)’s fashion company. This, by the way, arguably harkens back to the book where Cruella was married to a furrier and intended to sell Dalmatian fur coats as well as own one.[13]Roger’s surname is also Dearly as in the book, and I think the ultimate fate of the country home where Cruella stashes the puppies might be the same as in it too. I’m not quite sure … Continue reading Instead of inspiring Roger to write a song that makes enough money for the family to move to the country and keep over a hundred dalmatians, Cruella serves as the model for the villain of his latest video game. Normally, I’d avoid giving that plot point away, but the movie foreshadows it in such a deliberate, even cheeky way that I’m convinced viewers are expected to guess it.

A startling thing about this film is its implied antifeminist message. Cruella expresses displeasure at Anita wishing to quit her job once she gets married and settles down, saying, “More good women have been lost to marriage than to war, famine, disease and disaster. You have talent, darling. Don’t squander it.”[14]Whatever one’s views on gender, I’m really not sure what selfish motive Cruella could have for saying this. Presumably, she doesn’t want to lose a valuable employee, but the movie … Continue reading She also disapproves of Anita’s desire for children, saying coldly that she has “no use for babies” as opposed to puppies. Presumably, since Cruella in the 1961 movie looked down on Anita for marrying someone who wasn’t wealthy, the filmmakers thought the closest modern equivalent would be her looking down on her for pursuing a family over a career, but the result is this remake actually feels more offensive to modern sensibilities than the older original. It’s actually Anita having a job that gives Cruella the idea for a dalmatian fur coat in the first place, setting the conflict in motion.

The biggest difference between this movie and the old one is that the dogs don’t talk and neither do any of the other animal characters. This works fine, though not brilliantly, during the movie’s first half or so where Pongo and Perdita just have to convey basic emotions like attraction to each other, distrust of Cruella and concern for their puppies. But once the big rescue mission kicks off with all of its communication between species, the animals not talking starts to feel weirder than having them talk would.

This is from a scene where a dog has to pantomime for a bunch of farm animals that he’s seen puppies being carried away in a bag.

The movie’s live action dalmatians, while very well trained, also completely lack the highly expressive faces of their 1961 animated counterparts.[15]It’s disheartening to remember that this came out a year after the family classic, Babe, which got such great dramatic performances out of border collies. This means that the movie’s second half focuses largely on noncharacters, and it really drags after a while.

I’d compare this to an image of Pongo and Perdita reuniting with their children in the animated film, but I feel like it would be just unfair.

That’s too bad because the first half or so is actually fairly promising. As long as it sticks to verbal comedy rather than physical, the script by John Hughes is quite funny and quotable. Daniels and especially Richardson are charming as Roger and Anita and the film does a just good enough job of establishing a fairy tale atmosphere to sell their incredibly fast romance. (I always assumed that in the animated version they dated for a while offscreen between the day they met and their wedding. Here Roger lets slip a proposal that very evening!) Joan Plowright is also adorable, if I can use that word without sounding condescending, as Nanny.

Would you believe they’re looking at dog collars in this moment?

The most popular character from the original movie-the only popular character, truth be told, was easily Cruella De Vil and this one clearly sets her up to be the biggest thing in it too. The design team went to town with the cartoony stylizations of her wardrobe, workplace and house with their emphasis on black, white and red.

The script includes all of her most memorable lines from the 1961 movie and invents some good new ones too. “My faith in your limited intelligence is momentarily restored,” she tells her employees at one point. Later, she taunts her animal adversaries by saying, “you’ve won the battle but I’m about to win the wardrobe!” Many would cite Glenn Close’s performance as the best thing or the only good thing about the movie but I’m really not a fan. If you compare any of her readings of the character’s classic lines with those of Betty Lou Gerson, they sound flat by comparison. Her attempts to mimic the cartoon character’s body language, such as the strange way she holds her fingers as if always clutching something, just strike me as awkward. When this Cruella is restrained, she comes across as stiff and when she shrieks or cackles, she comes across as less entertainingly hammy and more…like a genuinely disturbing portrayal of an unhinged maniac.

This weird tonal problem with Cruella arguably extends to the whole film. At times, it seems like it wants to be a slightly darker and edgier take on the story.[16]It’s rated PG rather than G though I’m not entirely sure why. In addition to the comedic Horace (Mark Williams) and Jasper (Hugh Laurie), Cruella has another sidekick, Skinner (John Shrapnel), who skins the animals she steals for her fashion purposes. Skinner never speaks owing to having (reportedly) had his throat torn out by a dog in his youth, leaving him with a very noticeable scar. This is at least potentially creepy as well as ridiculously over the top.

Jasper and Horace overpowering Nanny and locking her up so they can steal the puppies is also potentially more disturbing here though that may just be due to the change of medium.[17]It’s still played somewhat for laughs in the live action version as she still puts up a good fight and you could argue it was always a little bit disturbing in the animated one. On the other hand, the movie’s second half swaps the suspense of the original for slapstick comedy as it turns into a series of scenes of the villains being easily outwitted and outmaneuvered by various animals. (Apparently, nobody informed the filmmakers that raccoons aren’t native to England.) There was already plenty of slapstick violence in the 1961 movie but this one seems determined to outdo it. It certainly outdoes it in terms of outrageousness as Jasper and Horace’s crotches get electrocuted and Cruella gets squashed by a giant hog but not in terms actually being funny. Slapstick can be really funny in my experience, but this movie’s cartoony violence is the kind of thing that you’ll love as a kid and then look back on as an adult and think, “man, was I stupid at that age!”[18]The remake also dials up the slapstick of Roger and Anita’s meeting from the old movie. It’s not that funny either but thankfully it’s not as obnoxious. Ironically, if it were animated instead of live action, it would probably work better. You can tell this was made by a post-Home Alone John Hughes and I don’t mean that as a compliment. The second half just drags on and on, refusing to leave poor Cruella with any dignity, and it sours the whole viewing experience.

Which is too bad because I really am fond of that first half even if there’s nothing in it worth replacing the original movie. Hey, who said it has to replace the original? If you read this blog at all, you’ll soon find that I’m the kind of guy who likes to hear the same story told by as many different people as possible, even if some of those storytellers are superior to others. I feel towards this remake as a teacher might feel toward a basically smart, underperforming, occasionally obnoxious pupil who could do so much better if only they would apply themself.

Next Week on The Adaptation Station.com: Attempts are Made to Rehabilitate Cruella

References

References
1 Which isn’t to say they’re all inferior to it. Oh no! I make a distinction between interesting and good.
2 The animators were also using a new technology called xerox. I wouldn’t get into it because I’m not a technology guy, but it might be worth a google if you’re interested.
3 You could argue that it’s Hollywood in general that makes bad adaptations and Disney just makes for a convenient scapegoat but never mind.
4 Who was named Saul in the book by the way.
5 Guess how.
6 Disney animation has created more than a few. There’s also Captain Hook from Peter Pan and Kaa the python from The Jungle Book. Even Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove surprisingly has her moments. Even more surprisingly, so does Kronk.
7 All Cruella’s food tastes like pepper in the book. Maybe she’s related to the Duchess of Wonderland’s cook.
8 And it’s spelled with a small d but, hey, who’s keeping track?
9 The car isn’t destroyed in the book but…well, let’s just say some other possessions of her are.
10 The protagonists of a later children’s book she’d write, The Midnight Kittens, would be an atheist and an agnostic, though not militant ones, which presumably reflects her own beliefs at the time. But you wouldn’t guess that from The Hundred and One Dalmatians.
11 Missus in the book is a lot ditzier than Perdita in the movie but on the flipside, she’s much more resilient.
12 Well, there is a van, but it isn’t called a miracle.
13 Roger’s surname is also Dearly as in the book, and I think the ultimate fate of the country home where Cruella stashes the puppies might be the same as in it too. I’m not quite sure though. There’s also a veterinarian in the movie named Tomkins, which I’d like to believe is an homage to the character of Tommy Tompkins from the book. It’s probably just a coincidence though.
14 Whatever one’s views on gender, I’m really not sure what selfish motive Cruella could have for saying this. Presumably, she doesn’t want to lose a valuable employee, but the movie establishes that Anita still sends her sketches from home. “It’s not the same thing,” insists Cruella, “I miss the interaction.”
15 It’s disheartening to remember that this came out a year after the family classic, Babe, which got such great dramatic performances out of border collies.
16 It’s rated PG rather than G though I’m not entirely sure why.
17 It’s still played somewhat for laughs in the live action version as she still puts up a good fight and you could argue it was always a little bit disturbing in the animated one.
18 The remake also dials up the slapstick of Roger and Anita’s meeting from the old movie. It’s not that funny either but thankfully it’s not as obnoxious.
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