Until he watched this DVD, Judge Chris Claro never realized fairies had tails.
Our reviews of Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Magical Tales (published December 9th, 2009), Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Tales From Hans Christian Andersen (published August 14th, 2009), and Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Complete Collection (published October 1st, 2008) are also available.
Once upon a time…
If anybody has constructed a career based on quirkery, it would be Shelley Duvall. With her marionette figure, dinner-plate eyes, and gamin affect, Duvall has always been a walking Modigliani, a spacey sliver of far-out femininity. Working her way up through Robert Altman's company in films like Thieves Like Us, Nashville, and 3 Women, Duvall's bravura turn as Olive Oyl in Altman's reviled and revered Popeye was the one element of the 1980 film that delighted everyone. That same year, Duvall scored again as Wendy Torrance, Jack's terrorized missus in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
Facts of the Case
Having thus established her bona fides as both an actress and a darling of Hollywood's heaviest hitters, Duvall cashed in her capital and in 1982, created Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre, which was among the first regular series on the Showtime cable network. Over 27 episodes, Duvall presented postmodern riffs on such familiar tales as "Rumpelstiltskin," "Rapunzel," "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Hansel and Gretel." To star in the stories, Duvall exercised her offbeat sensibilities—and considerable clout—in enlisting everyone from Joan Collins to Eric Idle to Mary Steenburgen to Mick Jagger to appear.
Though whimsy was the goal, the stories and performances of Faerie Tale Theatre careen about indulgently, as if the novelty of Klaus Kinski (Fitzcarraldo) in "Beauty and the Beast" or Jeff Goldblum's (The Fly) big bad wolf stalking the three little pigs was enough to compensate for the thin scripts and threadbare production values. On the other hand, these shows are pushing thirty years old, and I'm speaking from a post-millennial perspective, where expectations of irony and satire are a hell of a lot higher. In 1982, it was probably a lot easier to get away with casting Tatum O'Neal (Paper Moon) as Goldilocks than it would be to put Britney Spears in the same role today.
Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre has been around on DVD in various incarnations and the "Bedtime Tales" collection, from E1 Entertainment, is comprised of four episodes on two discs. "Jack and the Beanstalk" features Dennis Christopher (Breaking Away) and co-stars Elliott Gould (M*A*S*H) as the giant with an existential crisis. A leaden Christopher Reeve (Superman) and Bernadette Peters take a whack at "Sleeping Beauty," which also features an unrecognizably slim and hirsute George Dzundza (No Way Out) as a schticky storyteller. The set is rounded-out with Harry Dean Stanton essaying "Rip Van Winkle," and the aforementioned Tatum co-starring with Alex Karras (Blazing Saddles) in "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."
With appearances by Ron Rifkin (Alias), Katherine Helmond (Everybody Loves Raymond), John Lithgow (Dexter), and Ed Begley Jr. (A Mighty Wind), Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre Bedtime Tales is hardly lacking in talent, and the actors' commitment and lack of condescension feels authentic; no one is slumming here. But the series' attempts at humor as a means of jazzing up the pokey, oft-told tales often fall flat, forcing the performers to resort to funny voices or overly broad performances. As a result, Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre feels more like a curio from an earlier era than an enduring family series.
Visually, Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre Bedtime Tales has the drab, shot-on-video patina of an early-80s soap opera, though it's clear that the producers worked hard to create a distinctive look for the series on a shoestring. Their imagination and ingenuity is evident through their use of such work-arounds as green-screen, forced perspective, and rear projection. Though the 5.1 surround sound is an interesting feature on a disc such as this one, it feels superfluous, as the production doesn't seem to warrant it.
The mix of moralizing and mockery that permeates Faerie Tale Theatre was likely its salient selling point back in the early '80s. In the pre-Pee Wee Herman days, imbuing a Saturday Night Live sensibility into a family show was rare and daring. While Duvall is to be applauded for the effort, the product is a twee reminder of the gossamer qualities of such a delicate conceit.
Guilty by reason of preciousness.
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