I love fairy tales and although I was too young to watch Shelley Duval’s Faerie Tale Theatre when it originally aired on television (in fact, I wasn’t even alive), it was nevertheless a part of my childhood because my aunt had taped a few and we used to watch them frequently, especially “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” and “The Princess and the Pea.” For me, those versions of the stories were the stories.
Now, I’ve begun working my way through the entire series. As a child, I didn’t appreciate it much, but now I am rather staggered at the cast Shelley Duvall was able to recruit: Vanessa Redgrave, Liza Minnelli, Christopher Reeves, Mick Jagger, Robin Williams, Gregory Hines, Vincent Price, Carrie Fisher, Teri Garr, Jeff Bridges, Lee Remick, Bernadette Peters, James Earl Jones, Christopher Lee, Helen Mirren, Barbara Hershey, Billy Crystal, Jeff Goldblum, Burgess Meredith, Leonard Nimoy, Susan Sarandon, Eve Arden, Matthew Broderick…the list goes on. Guest directors include Tim Burton and Francis Ford Coppola.
The story goes that Shelley Duvall was reading a book of fairy tales while filming Popeye and had the idea to turn them into a live-action anthology series, which she would host and occasionally star in. She received encouragement from Robin Williams, who then starred in the series’ first story, “The Tale of the Frog Prince,” which he did with Teri Garr as the (very) spoiled princess.
The series itself has so far proved rather endearing, apart from my nostalgic memories. It looks nothing like a slick modern show, which is a large part if its charm – magical, occasionally kludgy, idiosyncratic, often tongue-in-cheek but not always, with a unique twist for each story. It has it’s own unique warmth, like a televised play. And the way the stories are written, they can be enjoyed by both children and adults.
The story I saw most frequently was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” starring Vanessa Redgrave, Elizabeth McGovern, Vincent Price, and Rex Smith (who I always think of as Frederick from the 1983 film of “Pirates of Penzance” with Kevin Kline and Angela Lansbury). Vanessa Redgrave is clearly having a ball as the wicked queen who is enthralled with her own beauty and likes to detail every single perfect nuance of her features to her bored mirror, played with inimitable snark by Vincent Price. Elizabeth McGovern is a sweet Snow White and Rex Smith plays the prince, who mostly sits around and sings, waiting for his princess to arrives…which she eventually does, albeit a little bit dead at the time.
“The Little Mermaid” (which can be viewed here) is actually is closer to the original Hans Christian Anderson story than the Disney film, though the special effects look primitive (if imaginative) and I was a bit surprised to find Helen Mirren as the little mermaid’s rival for the prince’s affections. “The Three Little Pigs” stars Billy Crystal as the hippy (but wise) little pig who builds with brick (and plays the oboe) and Jeff Goldblum as the wolf trying to “bring home the bacon” to his nagging wife.
Tim Burton directed “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp,” with James Earl Jones as two genies (the bombastic genie of the lamp and the soft-spoken genie of the ring) and Leonard Nimoy is a wizard trying to steal the lamp. Liza Minnelli, looking and sounding exactly like her mother, appears as a bedraggled princess in “The Princess and the Pea.” Carrie Fisher is Thumbelina, dodging amorous frogs and moles. Jennifer Beal and Matthew Broderick (and Eve Arden as the stepmother) appear in “Cinderella.”
That’s all I’ve seen so far. Fortunately, the entire Faerie Tale series can be found on youtube. Next up is “Rapunzel” with Jeff Bridges, “Sleeping Beauty” with Bernadette Peters and Christopher Reeves and Christopher Lee in “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers.”