Sunday, January 29, 2012

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Puss in Boots

I... I... I have a confession to make.

I couldn't sit through this one.

I tried. But. The man-in-a-cat-suit as a special effect just doesn't hold up. Perhaps it's my age, or perhaps just that I'm spoiled by the proliferation of advanced special effects, but it completely took me out of the episode.

Which I suppose is a pity because as far as I did get, the writing was amusing and, although Faerie Tale Theatre didn't deviate much from the original story, the dialog and scripting was clever. I say they didn't deviate much; I suppose they may have, in the end, but I couldn't get that far.

I would only recommend this one to dedicated fans. You can watch it for free on hulu.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Frog Princess by E. D. Baker

The Frog Princess, by E. D. Baker has (it seems only appropriate to say) spawned a full series of prequels and followups, and this is the only one I've read. It seemed a good place to start. Also it's on sale for Kindle right now for only $2.49.

I liked Baker's Wide Awake Princess, so I had wanted to give this one a try and the deal was too much to pass up. It's another quick read, aimed at Middle Grade readers so zippy for me to get through. And rather enjoyable.

Although anyone hearing the premise of the story might get it confused with a similarly-themed Disney feature, the stories are different enough. Yes, the Princess does attempt to kiss a frog and turn him back into a prince, only to have the spell backfire and turn her into a frog as well, and yes, there is a swamp involved, but beyond that the characters and situations are their own.

I really like the magic of this world. Not too complex, but well reasoned and definitely the kind of magical detail that makes for good escapism. My favorite character was actually the witch, Princess Emerelda's Aunt Grassina, rather than the heroine herself, but she was also clearly a good role model for the future queen.

Overall: a quick, enjoyable read. I think I shall look for the sequel at some point, although the story resolved such that I don't have a desperate need to know what happens next.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, is the story of Minli, a poor girl growing up with her family in a poor village in the shadow of the Fruitless Mountain. Although they don't have much, Minli loves her family and her father's constant stories. Her mother is not so content, though, forever sighing and wishing that their fortunes would change, and one night Minli sneaks away from home, to ask the Old Man on the Moon how to change her family's fortune.

It's not an easy journey, but she makes some friends along the way, primarily a flightless dragon. Together they defeat the green tiger and make their way to the foot of the mountain where the Old Man of the Moon can be found.

Throughout the narrative, other stories are told, mostly centered around the misdeeds of a greedy magistrate who wished to be part of the royal family. Eventually these stories all tie together and interact with the main story, of Minli and her quest.

Although both the story and the framed stories are Grace Lin's creations, the motifs and characterizations draw heavily from traditional Chinese folklore. Additionally, Lin's colorful artwork enhances the story beautifully, making it a real delight to turn the page and find another of her illustrations. The book is well-deserving of its Newbury Honor status.

Especially refreshing if you are looking for mythology of non-European descent, but I'd recommend this to anyone interested in folklore and story traditions. While Lin has fleshed out the sparse folkloric stories and made them her own, they retain the flavor of their origins.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Cinderella

Ahhh Cinderella. That timeless story. Of which there are SO many versions. And so many musicals... I kept expecting the Faerie Tale Theatre cast to break into song: it doesn't happen.

There's not a whole lot of twist in this retold tale -- and of course FTT doesn't tend to change much. However, it is a solid entry in the FTT lineup. I like the interplay between Cinderella and her Godmother, and Cinderella blooms in that relationship more than she does with the prince, eventually learning to tease her Fairy Godmother back.

And I do rather enjoy the comeuppance that the stepmother and stepsisters receive, which is much more on the funny side of the line than the horrifying. FTT doesn't go so far back to the source material that the stepsisters are blinded by birds at the end, but it doesn't let them get away without repercussions, either.

This is a good introductory entry for FTT if you haven't seen any episodes and are curious about the show's general quality. It doesn't stand out for me, particular, in any way -- especially with as many different versions of Cinderella as there are -- but it's a well done episode and on that note, there is hardly anyone who isn't familiar with the basic Cinderella storyline so it's a good one to get an idea of the show from.

You can watch it for free on hulu.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Now here is a retelling that I can appreciate. You might guess from the cover what this story ties into... or you might not. And the retelling itself is much more subtle than most of the ones I cover here (which I certainly enjoy). So here we have Puss in Boots.

What I didn't realize when I started this is that it ties to Murdock's other book, Princess Ben, which I still haven't read. In this book, Princess Ben is the dowager queen, guiding her granddaughters as best she can, so the only spoiler for the previous book is: yes, she lives through it. And I did not have any trouble following this story or jumping into the world even though I missed the first book. It did make me want to go back and read the first book, so I'll be looking to get my hands on that one soon.

The story is told almost entirely through letters, diary entries, and a play written by "anonymous." (By the end of the story I think you'll have a good guess as to who the anonymous writer is.) There is both a clever cat and a man who is remarkably proud of both his boots and his wits. And there is something of an Ogre(ss) as well, although not in the shape you would expect.

I loved the way this was adapted. It was unexpected, yet as the pieces fell into place, it was clear to see that the elements of Puss in Boots were all present. I won't say too much about who did what and how it was reflective, but I will say that I loved it and I recommend this one for fans of Puss in Boots, more creative adaptations, or unique YA fiction.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey

The 6th entry in the 500 Kingdoms series, Beauty and the Werewolf came out in October 2011. (And I eventually got around to reading it.) Can I just say, before I say anything about the book itself, blech, what is with the cover art? I know these series has a penchant for fuzzy pictures of beautiful women and, normally, pastels, and while I do think you have to have a red cloak for a book so significantly featuring a Red Riding Hood motif, gah, this one just doesn't sit well with me. I think it's the way the model looks like she's uncomfortably holding her breath, waiting for the moment to end so she can relax....

Anyway. That aside, this is probably my favorite of the 500 Kingdoms books. It sneaks in the usual references to the Tradition and how We All Know More Than We Should -- except the main character doesn't, and other characters cut themselves off from revealing too much. So we, the faithful readers, know what they were about to say, but the character isn't wandering around trying to figure out how to manipulate people and events to her liking through most of the book. (Maybe just a little by the end.)

I also really like the blend of Beauty and Little Red. I've thought the two stories would combine well, and Lackey has done a solid job of putting the two stories together. And while the ending is not entirely unpredictable, Lackey has in this case done a good job of making the characters (at least the two main male characters) not entirely predictable. And Bella (of course she's named Bella, this IS a Beauty and the Beast story, after all) herself shows some moxie while not falling into the "I've got moxie because I'm STUBBORN" category.

If you liked the previous books in the series, I definitely recommend this one. It's not particularly deep but it is an enjoyable read.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Pied Piper of Hamelin

So. The Pied Piper of Hamelin is an interesting episode of Faerie Tale Theatre -- mostly because they didn't write it at all. The entire story is narrated and the dialog is lifted straight out of the original Robert Browning poem.

Which is good poetry but makes for some awkward and phrases that turn strangely on the actor's tongues.

In spite of that it's one of my favorite episodes. It's just such a crazy, creepy story, and FTT does a good job with the scenery at atmosphere. The Pied Piper is one of my favorite "villains" of fairy tale lore; I've always thought the real villains were the townsmen who promised to pay him and, well, you know. Plus the implications of underhill/faerie are so strong in this one (both the poem and the episode), yet without being blatant.

And what about the Piper? What's his DEAL?

This episode is available to watch for free on hulu. The complete collection of Faerie Tale Theatre episodes is available on amazon and the price seems to vary a lot from month to month, so if you're interested in buying (it's over $30 right now but I've seen it go as low as $22 or $23) I'd say your best bet is to throw it on a wishlist and just keep an eye on the price for a few months.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen is one of my favorite Faerie Tale Theatre episodes. It follows the original Andersen storyline fairly closely, with only a few simplifications (such as Gerda runs into the robber girl but never meets the rest of the robbers). For all the FTT had a small budget, they did a good job with the sets on this one, giving viewers some really rich scenery in the endless summer garden and the Snow Queen's palace.

And check out that dress! There were a couple of costume pieces in this one that made me waaant -- especially Gerda's deliciously snuggly shawl.

This story has enough complexity to hold older audiences' interest as well as the appeal to some of the younger fairy tale lovers. As I said, it's one of my favorites, and if you aren't sure about how much you want to watch these, it's a good one to try individually.