29 April 2011


Faerie Tale Theatre Production Smackdown!!!

Okay, who else remembers these from back in the day? (Who else absolutely loved them back in the day?)

Even as a child, I could tell that Faerie Tale Theatre was something special. My picture book collection had a whole section on fairy tales--all retold by different writers and interpreted by different illustrators--but none of them had "production values" as high any of the adaptations in this TV anthology. Nor were any of them half as edgy . . . and you can bet that even my younger self knew how to appreciate edge. =P

Remember that the first round is always decided by reader votes. It's up to you to pick the eight contenders for the next round. You all have until Thursday, 4 May to publish your ballot in the combox! UPDATE: Who pays attention to deadlines, anyway? =P I'll keep accepting votes as I await my Horror blogger friends.

Round 1:
The Snow Queen Sixteen

Rapunzel vs. Rumpelstiltskin

Faerie Tale Theatre was Shelley Duvall's brainchild, so it seems only appropriate to open this smackdown with two productions in which she plays a leading role. (Notice that she also bills herself second in both, although she is also the host of the whole series. What a generous star!) I'm especially delighted that these productions are the first two stories in my Top 5 "Golden" Fairy Tales, because I truly love them. (In case you were wondering: Duvall is also the original mother in the Faerie Tale Theatre production of Snow White.)

Cinderella vs. Sleeping Beauty

Now let's talk a bit more about casting, which was the greatest source of the Faerie Tale Theatre magic. Even as a girl, I swooned at the thought that Sleeping Beauty gets to be kissed awake by Superman . . . and that Cinderella dances with Ferris Bueller at the ball! (Well, okay, Matthew Broderick played the prince a year before he played truant, but what we learn from this is that the truth of art transcends timelines.) This both plays into the convention of "Prince Charming" as every girl's most abstractly perfect dream come true and allows this new take on the old stories to turn their prince figures into real characters, for a refreshing change.

The Princess and the Pea vs. Thumbelina

So what shall it be: a princess who gets pegged by a pea or a peasant girl who is barely bigger than one? The Princess and the Pea fleshes out the one faerie princess who is so unconventional that she has to pass a test to prove who she is, and adds a prince who learns to get that. Thumbelina recreates Hans Christian Andersen's magical vision of a world of giant flora and civilised fauna, giving us twice the enchantment and a shot of some surprisingly quirky humour.

Little Red Riding Hood vs. The Tale of the Frog Prince

Faerie tales (Yes, I think I'll spell them that way from now on) are also full of enchanted animals. They're the reason we still talk of "kissing frogs" in order to find a prince and warn the vulnerable against the "big, bad wolves" of life. These two productions go all out, wit-wise, pairing a spoiled princess with a cheeky frog who gives as good as he gets and a sweet peasant girl with a roguish, charming wolf who almost gives her earnest, straight-laced human sweetheart a run for his money.

Hansel and Gretel vs. The Snow Queen

Twenty-something high school students might be a running joke in TV and the movies, but the more purely oxymoronic "adult children" are a respected convention in the theatre. In many of the Faerie Tale Theatre productions, adult actors are cast as child characters and pull their roles off perfectly. To represent them all, I've chosen The Snow Queen. And I paired it with a production that that goes beyond the stage and into the studio (as well as beyond the literal studio and into the literal backlot!), with two child actors playing a very young brother and sister: Hansel and Gretel.

The Boy Who Left Home to Find out about the Shivers
The Princess Who Had Never Laughed

I'll admit it: I paired these two only because of their titles. =P Still, I suspect neither one is complaining. It's a great honour to be part of a Shredded Cheddar Smackdown, you know! In all seriousness, now, what both stories have in common is their abstractness. When characters have names, distinguishing features, and even props, we tend to forget that the power of faerie tales comes not from three-dimensional individuals with virtues and flaws and all the jazz of being human, but from archetypes we understand best in our dreams. And these two productions share one of the best archetypes of all: the Fool. In the first story, he is the only one who knows no fear; in the second, he is the only one who knows real fun.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin vs. Rip Van Winkle

I've always thought that there should be an "wild card" pairing in every smackdown--the kind that makes everyone wonder why those two made it while better candidates were turned away. As a couple, these two productions don't even make sense . . . but let me explain how they sneaked through, anyway. The Pied Piper of Hamelin was a shoo-in as soon as I learned that the entire script is one long poem--and that, indeed, all the narration and dialogue is done entirely in rhyme! Rip Van Winkle, on the other hand, stood out from the conceptual stage, having been based on a New World short story rather than an Old World faerie tale. And I think many fans agree with me when I say that this essential difference crept into the filming as well, so that the finished product stands out as surely as it would have, had it had also been done entirely in verse.

Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp vs. The Nightingale

These two are here for politically correct reasons . . . because that's how I stir the pot. =P Now, actors playing characters of other races is perfectly normal in theatre--and you don't have to look further than a list of major productions of Othello. And yet a Japanese friend of mine was appalled to hear this: it seemed so racist to her. I answered that there's a whole other sense in which it is the very opposite of racist: what a radically liberal idea that an actor of any race, through the virtue of his talents and abilities alone, can play a character of another race! So now the question is which production does the better job getting you to believe: the one with Robert Carradine as an Arabian boy (and Leonard Nimoy as a "Moroccan magician") or the one with Mick Jagger as a Chinese Emperor.


PS -- Now, I'm quite aware that not everyone is familiar with Faerie Tale Theatre, much less able to say he has seen every production that made it into the smackdown. But I'm fairly sure everyone reading this knows a good bit about fairy tales . . . and perhaps also has a little supplementary knowledge of the actors cast to help bring these fairy tales to life. I always say that the only time I'm ever ready to host a smackdown is after it is over, because I do so much of my learning as I go along--and I suspect the same is true for those who feel they're not ready to vote. These smackdowns are all about jumping in head first and hoping that everything turns out all right. =)

PPS -- But all the same, let's keep our fingers crossed and hope that the best production wins! =D

PPPS -- In case you really want to judge each competitor on its own merits, someone has uploaded the entire anthology onto YouTube. So watch away! But don't take too long! =P

PPPPS -- This post has been submitted to this week's "Friday is for Fairy Tales" link up at This Miss Loves to Read.

Image Sources: a) Faerie Tale Theatre poster, b) Rapunzel DVD, c) Rumpelstiltskin DVD, d) Cinderella DVD, e) Sleeping Beauty DVD, f) The Princess and the Pea DVD, g) Thumbelina DVD, h) The Tale of the Frog Prince DVD, i) Little Red Riding Hood DVD, j) Hansel and Gretel DVD, k) The Snow Queen DVD, l) The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out about the Shivers DVD, m) The Princess Who Had Never Laughed DVD, n) The Pied Piper of Hamelin DVD, o) Rip Van Winkle DVD, p) Aladdin DVD, q) The Nightingale DVD


Salome Ellen said...

I've not seen any of these -- didn't know they existed -- and I can see that I have some catching up to do. But I want to register one vote for Cinderella, because Jean Stapleton enriches everything she touches.

(Full disclosure -- her husband owned the nearby summer-stock theater, and I've seen her live in everything from The King and I to some entirely otherwise forgettable light comedies.)

Avid Reader said...

Ahhhhh!!! I loved Faerie Tale Theatre. This was such a fantastic show.

Here are my votes, even though some of them are really tough to choose between...
Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, The Princess and the Pea (I loved this one), The Tale of the Frog Prince (though Red Riding Hood might have been wittier, Robin Williams was so perfect as the frog), Hansel and Gretel, The Boy Who Left Home to Find out about the Shivers (I haven't seen either of those two), The Pied Piper of Hamelin, The Nightingale (because Jagger was cast as a Chinese emperor and that's hilarious).

This post just made my day.

Syrin said...

For those of us in the states, the series is also available streaming through Netflix. That's how I've managed to see a few of them. I was also disappointed to not see Pinocchio on this list. Paul Reubens playing the titular character is a must see!

1. Rapunzel - the radish dream her mother has is one of the craziest things I've ever seen!

2. I've not seen either, but I'm picking Cinderella because Ferris Bueller wins over Superman to me.

3. Thumbelina. I haven't seen these either, but I have to stick up for a fellow small girl. :)

4. The Tale of the Frog Prince - Robin Williams was so funny in this. I haven't see the other yet.

5. Snow Queen. This is a blind guess!

6. Anything with Christopher Lee in it pretty much has to get my vote. The Boy... wins.

7. The Pied Piper mostly because of Eric Idle

8. While I haven't seen Aladdin, I found the Nightingale one so boring that I haven't been back to watch this series since. So Aladdin wins.

Thanks for pointing out some of the other specials in this series.. I need to go back and check at least some of these out now!

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, everyone, for your early votes! =)

And now I'm starting to wonder whether this is one smackdown I should have stretched out properly, dedicating a live blog post to each pair over the next eight Fridays! (A perfect example of knowing exactly what is to be done after I've done something else!)

Ellen -- It was Jennifer Beals and Matthew Broderick who did it for me as a girl, but I'm sure I'd appreciate Jean Stapleton much more this time around. I'll get to watch it again sooner if Cinderella makes it to the "Faerie/Final Four"! =)

Avid Reader -- I'm glad to hear you're a fellow fan! =D

I probably saw The Boy Who Left Home . . . and The Princess Who Had Never Laughed as a girl, but I don't remember them very well now. But I do know that the former is one of the most highly regarded productions among fans, so I'm looking forward to watching it again someday. =)

Thanks again for voting!

Syrin -- Ah, Pinocchio! I confess that the source material being a novel rather than a faerie tale and my not being a huge fan of Pee Wee Herman were big factors in its getting left out. =P But if I decide to have wildcards again for this smackdown, I'll have a chance to reconsider that decision. ;-)

antiaphrodite said...


Sleeping Beauty

The Princess and The Pea

Frog Prince

Hansel and Gretel

The Princess Who Never Laughed

The Pied Piper

The Nightingale

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Antiaphrodite! =)

Long live Mick Jagger, aye? ;-) LOL!!!!!!

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Thank you for the wonderful post!

I can't believe I haven't seen any of these. Actually, I didn't know about Faerie Tale Theatre AT ALL! I must remedy that. Thank you so much for pointing it out!

Enbrethiliel said...


You're welcome, Irena! =) Please don't hesitate to vote for your favourite faerie tale among the lot, even if you've never seen a single production. It will be fun to see which ones make it to the next round. There is one that I'd really, really like to see crowned the winner . . . but its status is still dubious! =P

Sullivan McPig said...

I think I've seen this series, but I can't remember all those well known actors playing in it.

ok, my votes:
Sleeping Beauty
The Princess and the Pea
Little Red Riding Hood
The Snow Queen
The Boy Who Left Home to Find out about the Shivers
Rip Van Winkle (can't let Harry Dean Stanton lose!)
Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp

diego15 said...

Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, The Princess and the Pea, Little Red Riding Hood, The Snow Queen, The Princess Who Had Never Laughed, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp

Birdie said...

Sleeping Beauty
The Frog Prince (because the costuming in Little Red makes me LOL)
The Snow Queen (not enough people are familiar with the story)
The Princess who Never Laughed
The Pied Piper (it IS all about Eric Idle)
The Nightingale (this was a tough choice)

Enbrethiliel said...


Sully -- A fellow Harry Dean Stanton fan, aye? =) Rip Van Winkle is not his best vehicle, but I love him, too. Thanks for your votes.

Diego15 -- Thank you. ;-)

Birdie -- The puppetry in The Frog Prince might make you laugh, too. =P When I watched it again a few nights ago, I realised how spoiled I've been by the technical mastery of Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Yet they made it look so easy!

I agree that not enough people are familiar with The Snow Queen. I wonder why that is . . .

antiaphrodite said...

LOLness :-D

Lesa said...

Fun smackdown! I didn't see all the episodes back in the day-- hope Netflix has them to rent.

1. Rapunzel
2. Cinderella
3. Princess and the Pea
4. Little Red Riding Hood
5. Snow Queen
6. Boy Who left home
7. Rip Van Winkle
8. Aladdin

Kate said...

Shoot! I'm late! I just read through it, saw "May 4," thought "I'm right on time!" and then saw my little iCal icon telling me it's the 5th. I'm so sorry! I have to admit I've never seen any of these, but I was willing to vote on cast alone! :)

Enbrethiliel said...



Damn my forbidding deadlines . . . *facepalm*

dylan said...

Little Red Riding Hood
Snow Queen
... Shivers
Pied Piper

(based on cast! and sometimes based on which title I like better)

Kate said...

Oh no...I just gave a really long and amusing vote and the interwebs ATE IT.

Here's the short version...

Sleeping Beauty
Frog Prince
Hansel & Gretel
The Boy...
The Pied Piper
The Nightengale

Of course, my original was a lot longer and a lot more witty. Sigh.

mrsdarwin said...

Okay, here we go:

1. Rapunzel. We just saw Tangled, so this one is in my head.

2. Sleeping Beauty. I think that Matthew Broderick is a better actor (and dancer!) than Christopher Reeve, but Bernadette Peters wins out.

3. Princess and the Pea. I like the story better than Thumbelina.

4. Frog Prince. How can I vote against the combo of Robin Williams and Eric Idle?

5. The Snow Queen. Though I did like Ricky Schroeder when he used to star in Silver Spoons. (Anyone remember that show? Anyone?)

6. The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About The Shivers. I love that story.

7. This one was so tough, I had to flip a coin: Rip Van Winkle.

8. Aladdin. I love both stories, but the cast of Aladdin trumps. Hey, Leonard Nimoy!

The Mike said...

Totally voting based upon the actors. Way exciting!

Rapunzel - based on Bridges
Sleeping Beauty - based on Bernadette Peters
Thumbelina - The Duo of Fisher and William Katt - who sports one of the coolest hairdos ever - wins out.
Little Red Riding Hood - This one was tough, because Garr owned in my beloved Young Frankenstein. But the Time After Time duo of McDowell and Steenburgen faced off with Jack the Ripper, and that means something.
The Snow Queen - Young Lee Remick was something else. That's worth a vote.
The Boy - Anyone who knows anything about me knows Christopher Lee wins my vote.
Rip Van Winkle - Harry Dean Stanton is a fave, but I dig that story too.
The Nightingale - As if it wasn't enough to have Christopher Lee, you threw in Barbara Hershey too? My heart skips a beat.

Enbrethiliel said...


Dylan -- Thanks! I'll bet The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out about the Shivers was one of those which got your vote based on its title. ;-)

Kate -- Oh, don't you hate it when that happens?!?! =( And the Internet always eats the really good comments, too. All the same, thanks for coming back and voting. I do appreciate it!

Mrs. Darwin -- Thanks for your votes! =) I don't think I'd even heard of Silver Spoons until you brought it up, though. Sorry!

The Mike -- You remind me that this could have been based on casts alone! I'll definitely write about the casting when I start analysing the shows, because the actors are such a great part of the magic of this show. Thanks for voting. =)

Enbrethiliel said...


As of this comment, voting is closed!

(I'm sorry to everyone who couldn't make it!)