Monday, May 30, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Pinocchio

This is honestly one of my least favorite episodes of Faerie Tale Theatre, ever. Paul Reuben's laugh is just pitched to a place that screeches through my brain and soul, sending me into a spiral of despair and loathing. It's not his fault. It's just how my eardrums work.

I can't even say he does a bad job, and I'm sure at the time, the Pee-wee Hermanness of the character would have resonated with the intended audience. Watching it now, though, there's nothing enjoyable about the high-pitches shudders of laughter.

Pinocchio is one of my least-favorite fairy tales anyway, and all the problems with it are condensed in the FTT episode. The idea that you can't make a mistake even once without horrible disfigurement has always bothered me, and Pinocchio getting in such deep and lasting trouble for going a little off track on his FIRST DAY ALIVE distresses me deeply. Parents are supposed to teach their children, not let them wander off to get into trouble and then blame them for it.

But that's a separate issue than the episode itself, which is technically impressive as far as the low-budget but effective special effects. If you can get past the Pee-wee laughter and the hokey Italian accents, it's not a bad episode.

It is also still available to watch on hulu.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve

Here Lies Arthur tells the story of Gwyna, a young girl cast out of her home when King Arthur's raiding party destroys her village. When she swims to safety, she's noticed by Myrddin, who enlists her to deliver the sword Caliburn to Arthur as the Lady of the Lake. Then Myrddin takes her in, but disguises her as a boy to allay suspicion.

The narrative follows the bare bones of Arthurian Legend, stripped of magic but with trickery and storytelling aplenty. Gwyna/Gwyn (her male self) is thick in the midst of the story, giving a new perspective to the characters and shedding light on the fact that the Arthur of Myrddin's stories is a far cry from the actual Arthur.

I had trouble getting into this, although it's a fairly quick read, aimed at middle schoolers. It was hard to find a sympathetic character; nobody fell into a particularly flattering light in this version of the story. However, that's also part of what made it interesting. The best thing about this book is the way it explores the birth and growth of myths and legends, and how sometimes you just can't let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Overall I enjoyed this, but it was far from my favorite reimagining of the Arthurian mythos. I'm not sure how I feel about it as an introductory story for this legend; it's rather depressing although the ending is not a total downer. It's worth checking out if you want a unique perspective on the stories.

Philip Reeve's website is here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Vivian Vande Velde returns to the fun and funny type of retellings that she wrote in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, this time turning her wit upon Little Red Riding Hood and the strange illogic therein.

In her introduction, Ms. Velde points out the various flaws of the traditional story: How on earth could a little girl not realize her grandmother was actually a wolf? Why would a mother send her young daughter out into the woods alone? And so forth.

Then, with a clever eye for detail, Ms. Velde reinterprets the story eight times, all in ways that follow the traditional story, yet also which make more sense to a modern reader. Recasting all the characters in various ways--sometimes the wolf is the hero, sometimes the red riding hood itself!--this quick read is sure to delight you and make you think of LRRH in a whole new set of lights.

Very enjoyable. Although this volume is slim, it manages to flesh out LRRH in unique ways: especially impressive considering how many retellings are out there.

You can check out Vivian Vande Velde's other works on her website.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Princess and the Pea

Ahhh, Liza Minnelli. Throughout this episode, I couldn't help but hear Judy Garland in her voice. (No singing, unfortunately.) This is one of the episodes that follows the original story closely, although the writing added some character development for the queen, prince, and princess. And the jester, for some reason. (Actually, the dynamic between the prince, princess, and jester was pretty fun.)

The best part about this was the chemistry the actors bounced around; upon reflection, there wasn't much else about the episode that stood out for me. It did seem a bit thin; the character development was attempted but felt enough like Once Upon a Mattress that it wasn't original enough to make an impression.

Still, it's a solid episode, if somehow a little rushed.

You can watch it for free on hulu!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Goldilocks and the Three Bears

This is one of my favorite Faerie Tale Theatres AND one of my favorite in terms of how much was added. Goldilocks by itself isn't much of a story--well I suppose it depends on if you go for the happy or the tragic ending. There's a rich grounds for symbolism and metaphor, but the story alone is simple (which leaves a lot of room for interpretation).

Instead of the normal FTT, straight-up retelling, the actual bit about the finding the house and eating the porridge, sitting in the chairs, and sleeping in the beds is a pretty short part of the episode. Much more time is spent on Goldilocks's shenanigans and fibbing. Tatum O'Neal does an impressive job of being a bouncy little girl.

I really like this interpretation, from the Ranger's back-country narration to the bear's failing scheme to give away honey to the wild stories Goldilocks comes up with to try to get out of trouble. The writing is sharp and witty, getting more chuckles out of me than your average... bear.

It's available to watch on hulu now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil

I went to see Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil last weekend. Bringing back the elements that I loved from the first one: movie and pop culture references, a kick-ass Red Riding Hood, and a lot of humor.

However... it failed to have an engaging plot. I mean I REALLY enjoyed the first one, and the sequel left me feeling a bit... hollow. I saw it in 3D because that was the only option at my theatre. Now, I don't hate 3D, but I don't think it adds several dollars worth of entertainment value per viewing. It's nice and all, but there are no instances where I think it adds so much to the film to be classified as "necessary." Good scenery will not make me love a movie.

Some of my acquaintances complained about the original movie's lack of stunning CGI quality. I stood up for Hoodwinked, defending it by right of "The STORY is awesome." I... can't say the same for the sequel. In the absence of a tight plot, the audience starts to look at the scenery. And it's not that impressive, especially with CGI technology becoming what it has.

So--problems. The writers had the characters do the thing, you know, where two characters are fighting, and we're not really sure they're that invested in what they're fighting about, and the argument is basically just a "let's move the plot along," thing. You know what I'm talking about. And it gave Red and the Wolf an almost uncomfortably sexual tension. (Which I am fine with in some interpretations, but it felt grossly out of place here.)

The first movie did a great job of taking a simple fairy tale plot, fleshing out all the characters, and letting the movie ride on their organically developed motivations. The second movie failed in every aspect of that. Also, although Hayden Panettiere did a good job, I couldn't help missing Anne Hathaway's richer and more complex voice-acting.

It had enough humor and enough references to other fairy tales to keep me chuckling: I would call it entertaining but not good. It's worth renting, popcorn for your brain.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Hansel and Gretel

Faerie Tale Theatre's version of Hansel and Gretel had me worried, because Hansel and Gretel is one of those fairy tales that I tend to think of as being so straightforward and uncomplicated that I couldn't figure out how to get a full fifty minutes out of it. However, there is enough story there to make it happen, and although the writing on this one wasn't particularly sparkling with wit, the kids are cute enough that the episode worked.

Joan Collins as both the mother and the witch was a nice touch. Although FTT doesn't take the idea anywhere, it's definitely suggestive in the story concept: the threat to the children comes from an older female. And the step-mother's unexplained death at the end of the episode certainly parallels the witch's death. Since nothing is explicitly stated, my interpretation is that FTT decided to add an extra layer to the story, for those grown-ups who may be watching. I certainly don't remember catching on that the witch and the mother were the same actress when I watched it as a child.

This is one of the few episodes where FTT really goes above and beyond to make this ending happier than the original tale. Not only do Hansel and Gretel escape, and find their father at home, but all the children who the witch had previously eaten were restored from their gingerbread forms.

The complete collection is pretty reasonably priced at this point, just about $30 new.

You can also watch the episode on hulu.

In weird juxtaposition news, as I was watching this I was in the middle of rereading Little House on the Prairie. As the step-mother complained that if father didn't sell his wood, they wouldn't have any bread to eat, I couldn't help but think: "Start a garden, woman! What are you doing all day?" (Well, eating gingerbread children, perhaps.)