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.
The Snow Queen Sixteen
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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