Judge Gordon Sullivan is legendarily tall.
"An award-winning, live-action series that is perfect for the entire family to enjoy together."
The television show that most affected me growing up was The Storyteller. It was a little dark, a little scary, and more than a little imaginative. It set the template for the kinds of things I enjoy to this day, things which are a little dark, a little scary, and more than a little imaginative. While watching Shelly Duvall's Tall Tales and Legends, I frequently wondered what I'd prefer if I'd grown up watching this instead. For certain my tastes would be more simple and wholesome, and I'd almost certainly be a little more patriotic. I'm not going to trade away my love of The Storyteller any time soon, but families could do much worse than watching Tall Tales and Legends together.
Shelly Duvall's Tall Tales and Legends consists of nine 50-minute episodes, and each episode focuses on a famous American figure. The discs break down like this:
The first thing I admire about Tall Tales and Legends is its diversity. We've got folk heroes (Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed, and John Henry), literary figures (Ichabod Crane, Casey at his famous bat), and historical figures (Ponce de Leon, Davy Crockett, and Annie Oakley). This mixture provides an interesting look into the mythical history of American culture. It also allows for several different types of stories. Rather than a simple catalogue of outrageous stories (something that many folktale collections fall prey to), Tall Tales and Legends leaves room for a variety of different angles, including individual triumph (John Henry), the rewards of being different (Johnny Appleseed), and even an adventure story or two (Ponce de Leon).
I also have to admire the sheer amount of talent involved in the making of this series, especially in front of the camera. Watching Tall Tales and Legends was like a nostalgia trip back to the height of '80s film. We've got Steve Guttenberg and Martin Short playing larger than life folk-heroes, and a smaller part for Molly Ringwald. Fans will also see Michael York playing Ponce de Leon and Danny Glover as John Henry. For the more dramatic turns there is Ed Asner, Brian Dennehy, and Elliott Gould. Not to mention Jamie Lee Curtis as Annie Oakley.
The stories themselves are standard versions most people grow up with, and there's no obvious revisionism going on here. Instead, these are simple versions of well-worn tales that attempt to either impart a lesson or provide a good story for a broad audience to enjoy.
Not everything is perfect in Tall Tale-land though. The shows have not aged particularly well, with a stagey, public access feel to most episodes. Although this might up the charm for nostalgia junkies, it won't do anything to win over new fans accustomed to CGI and makeup budgets.
That old-school feel travels over to the presentation on these discs. Although everything looks pretty bright and clear in the video department, there's only so much fidelity that DVD can rescue. These shows look like they were originally shot on video, and although the sources are clean they show their age pretty obviously. With that said, they're all highly watchable. The audio is all clean stereo mixes with easily audible dialogue and good dynamics. The audiovisual presentation won't turn anyone away, but fans will certainly be disappointed by the lack of extras on these discs. If there are any, I couldn't find them. Although the three discs are presented in a nicely illustrated foldout tray, the discs themselves only contain the show's nine episodes. This is especially disappointing given that it's almost twenty-five years later, and it would be very interesting to hear from the cast about how they remember the show (which was nominated for an Emmy).
For those who grew up on this series back in 1985, this DVD release will be a welcome trip down memory lane, despite the lack of extras. I also see this series getting a lot of use from those who teach young children: the stories are timeless, the lessons broad but engaging, and the presentation fairly simple. Fans of the actors involved should probably track these shows down, if only to see their stars in a new light. For everybody outside the those two demographics, Tall Tales and Legends is going to be a tough sell. Although the show is well-intentioned, I doubt that most people go to TV shows to learn lessons these days, and the way the show has aged makes it hard to get into the episodes to enjoy them on a purely storytelling level.
I've got a story for you: Tall Tales and Legends is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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