E1 Entertainment // 1984 // 201 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // December 9th, 2009
In the early '80s, Shelley Duvall (Popeye), brought a children's series to Showtime. Dubbed Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre, the series was notable primarily for the big names Duvall lured to the project. The likes of Christopher Reeve, Elliot Gould, Tatum O'Neal, Liza Minnelli, even Duvall's Popeye co-star Robin Williams, joined in. The series ran for five years, receiving strong marks from critics and viewers alike.
The rights to the series have been passed around with the frequency of a cheap ham radio, so there are a lot of different releases floating about. Last year, E1 Entertainment, a division of Koch Media, released the complete set; now they are starting to release some compilations. For some reason, they decided not to release by season, but rather by theme. Thus, we have Faerie Tale Theatre: Magical Tales, which is kind of odd, given that just about every episode involves magic in one way or another.
This set has four episodes:
* "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp"
An evil Magician (Leonard Nimoy) convinces Aladdin (Robert Carradine, The Revenge of the Nerds) to enter an enchanted cave and retrieve a magic lamp. When Aladdin won't turn over the lamp, the magician seals him in the cave. Luckily for Aladdin, a Genie (James Earl Jones, Field of Dreams) is there to save the day, rescuing Aladdin and helping him win the heart of Princess Sabrina (Valerie Bertinelli). Unfortunately, the Evil Magician returns and plots against Aladdin. This episode is seriously uneven; on the one hand, Carradine is simply bland as Aladdin, mainly because that is how the character is written. He doesn't have to have any character or personality, as magic gets him out of all of his problems. On the other hand, Nimoy flings himself into the role with clear relish, and Jones is just having a good time channeling Geoffrey Holder (and his trademark laugh) for the proceedings. Ray Sharkey (The Idolmaker) is sorely underused as the Grand Vizier -- it's easy to see why Disney decided to combine that character with the evil magician to create Jafar. The episode was directed by Tim Burton, but there's nothing particularly Burton-esque about the proceedings.
* "Beauty and the Beast"
A traveling merchant (Stephen Elliot, Beverly Hills Cop) inadvertently transgresses against the hospitality of the Beast (Klaus Kinski). To save her father, Beauty (Susan Sarandon) travels to the Beast's palace, a magical castle in the woods. The two quickly become friends and learn the true nature of beauty. Directed by Roger Vadim, the episode is an abbreviated remake of Cocteau's 1948 classic, down to the set and makeup design. Kinski seems a bit lost in the role, but Sarandon shines with a moving performance; Vadim shoots her so that she is positively luminous. In a minor role, Angelica Huston (The Grifters) plays one of Beauty's sisters. A subplot concerning Beauty's suitor Avenant (who became Gaston in the Disney film) is omitted, which makes the ending a bit anti-climactic.
* "Puss in Boots"
Edgar (Gregory Hines, Running Scared) is ticked off. His late father left the mill to his eldest son and the donkey to his middle son. Edgar, the youngest son, is left with nothing but his father's cat (Ben Vereen, All that Jazz). Edgar is convinced that he will amount to nothing, but the resourceful Puss uses both skill and trickery to win his master the hand and heart of Princess Lovinia (Alfre Woodard, Star Trek: First Contact), defeat a fierce Ogre (Brock Peters, To Kill a Mockingbird) and bring Edgar wealth and success. The set and costume design is fun, but after a while, the plot gets a little repetitive -- Edgar complains that he'll never be able to [fill in the blank], and then Puss schemes his way through the situation, but Edgar hardly seems worthy of Puss' machinations. In fact, the French viewed the story as a lesson in the proper function of servants, who should be willing to go to any length to advance their master's cause. That said, the confrontation between Puss and the Ogre is particularly well done.
There's a very noticeable layer change at the *very* beginning -- You can't help but wonder why they didn't just move the episode to the second layer; but then you realize that would have taken effort, and precious little of that has been invested in this disc. Useless information: There's a lot of Star Trek in this episode. In addition to Alfre Woodard, Ben Vereen played Geordi La Forge's dad on TNG, John Schuck played the Klingon ambassador in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and Brock Peters played Admiral Cartwright in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
* "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"
After a jealous Queen (Vanessa Redgrave, Mission: Impossible) poisons Snow White (Elizabeth McGovern, She's Having a Baby), it's up to seven brave dwarfs and a handsome prince (Rex Smith) to break her spell. Redgrave revels in her malicious vanity, and Vincent Price (Edward Scissorhands) has a fun turn as the Magic Mirror. Scenes with Redgrave explode with vitality (a few sequences are oddly reminiscent of "The Lusty Month of May" from Camelot, which is probably further proof that I watch too many movies), but the episode drags whenever she's off screen. Elizabeth McGovern is lovely as Snow White, but is hamstrung by a weak script and the misfortune of having to work beside Redgrave.
Technically, the disc is a disappointment. The video has a soft image (bordering on blurred in some areas), inconsistent colors, and a lot of flaring, particularly in "Snow White." Audio fares little better; while there is a remixed 5.1 track, there's little "surround" involved. "Puss in Boots" has a fairly clear audio track, but in the other episodes, audio is somewhat thin and even tinny at times. The original 2.0 mix is a bit clearer, so just stick with that one.
There's a lot of talent on display here, but the sad fact is that with very
few exceptions, that talent isn't effectively used. The disc might have some
nostalgic value for some, but the stories just did not engage my kids at all.
Review content copyright © 2009 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 201 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: Faerie Tale Theatre