Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp


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NOTE: Throughout the month of May I’m raising money for the American Cancer Society, Please read to the very end of the post to see how you can help.


“Are there any of you who wish to live happily ever after?”
– A tantalizing offer from the Genie of the Lamp

Aladdin: genies, magic lamps, flying carpets, vast deserts, beautiful princesses, wicked viziers, it’s just your basic Arabian fairytale from The One Thousand and One Nights, right?

Though the stories within The One Thousand and One Nights (aka The Arabian Nights) were collected by Asian, Arabic, and African authors over several centuries, Aladdin was shoehorned in by Antoine Galland as part of his French translation of the anthology. It was based on a folktale that Galland claimed he heard from the Syrian storyteller Hanna Diyab in 1709. This “original” iteration takes place in China though it retains the Arabian elements we’ve come to expect, including there being a sultan instead of an emperor. There’s also an unusual epilogue where the evil sorcerer’s brother disguises himself as a medicine woman as part of an elaborate ruse to get revenge on Aladdin. Considering the bizarre, forced turns many of the Disney direct-to-video sequels took in order to justify their existence, I’m surprised none of the Aladdin sequels decided to take a page from there and give us “JAFAR’S CRAZY BROTHER!!”

Yeah, yeah, I know this exists, shut up.

With the advent of cinema and rise of filmmaking technology, Aladdin and Aladdin-type stories became a recurring staple of adventure-fantasy flicks set in the Middle East (as viewed through the West’s warped exoticism-heavy lens, of course). The earliest surviving animated film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, boasts elements of Aladdin, as does Richard Williams’ unfinished masterpiece The Thief and the Cobbler; the latter, in addition to The Thief of Baghdad and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, would go on to inspire the best-known (and overall best) version of the story in modern culture, the 1992 animated Disney classic. Today’s Faerie Tale Theatre episode is one of the last adaptations of Aladdin before Disney swallowed everything that came before and after it. So how does it hold up?

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My Reactions to Disney’s “Wish” Teaser Trailer


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If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know how much I love Disney. The projects they’ve announced for their centennial this year have been hit or miss (Little Mermaid and Peter Pan remakes? Not interested. Big history exhibit with Tupac Walt Disney hologram? Very cool. Suing the pants off Ron DeSantis? Awesome!) but the one thing I’ve been looking forward to the most is their next animated film Wish. What little of the premise revealed at D23 revolves around the time-honored Disney tradition of wishing on stars. What really drew me in, though? THE ARTWORK:

Ever since Paperman I’ve hoped that Disney would create a full animated feature blending traditional and CGI mediums in a beautiful, unique way, and now it seems we’re finally getting it. Look at that last picture, it’s like a watercolor illustration! I’ve been keeping tabs on Wish since the D23 debut because the potential here is staggering. Yesterday morning Disney released the first teaser trailer, and if you’ve read this far then you’re probably wondering what I think about it. After all, viscerally reacting to trailers and making bold assumptions before knowing the full context is nothing new on the internet, right?

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Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: The Emperor’s New Clothes


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“The people care not one whit for the inner workings of government. They only care that I look the part. If I’m to appear as a slovenly, disheveled ragamuffin, the subjects would assume that I am as common and ordinary as they are and unfit to rule this vast kingdom. No, they want to look up to me. They need to admire me. They demand I oppress them! And I shall.”
The Emperor’s raison d’etre that proves to be his undoing

Now we go from one fashion-centric fairytale about maintaining royal appearances to another. The Emperor’s New Clothes is the story that best encapsulates the lesson “clothes (don’t) make the man”. Though popularized by Hans Christian Andersen, the original version goes as far back as 1300s Spain. It’s one of many cautionary tales collected by Prince Juan Manuel of Villena in his moralistic compendium Libro de los ejemplos. Leaning into the fact that these stories were not intended for children, the king in this narrative is tricked into buying a suit that’s “invisible” to any man who’s not the son of his presumed father. A similar story is told in India, where the ruse is exposed when the commoners ask their king if he’s become a naked monk.

Andersen was unfamiliar with the Spanish original but based his take on a German translation. The alterations he made reflected his ire towards the vanity, pride, and false intellectualism of the upper class. One such change, however, reflects an incident in Andersen’s own life. As a boy, his parents took him to see the king’s procession through town; so much hype was built up around him that upon seeing the monarch for himself, young Andersen declared “But he’s only a man!” Despite his family shushing him, he would not be silenced. There’s little doubt that this scene influenced the climax of his story.

Hollis Robbins, in her critique of The Emperor’s New Clothes, states that the tale is so transparent that there’s no need for scrutiny. If you’ll forgive the expression, it wears its moral on its sleeve. And yes, I can see where Robbins is coming from, but that doesn’t make it any less important. In the wake of certain administrations and the ongoing battle to bring them to justice, it’s more important than ever to point out the naked truth regarding corrupt, self-serving officials instead of swallowing the lies they deck themselves in. This story is foundational in teaching those young and old that change can begin when someone has the courage to say that the Emperor has no clothes.

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A Country Song


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Oh the world will sing of a treasonous king a thousand years from now
And not just ’cause he broke some laws or where or why or how
While waiting for some peace after Barack Obama had gone,
We all had to suffer under that good-for-nothin’ Don
Despicable as he is inept, whenever the history books are kept,
They’ll call him the Felon Prez of the US

A pox on the Felon Prez of the US!

Don’t tell us please, don’t tell us please, don’t tell us please, we pray,
Where did he come from, where is he goin’, what did he do all day!

He sat alone on the White House throne pretendin’ he’s a king
An obese tyke; or rather, like, Putin’s puppet on his strings
And he threw some Twitter tantrums when he could not have his way
And pretends he’s bereft ’cause of “the woke left”
See, it ain’t “fair” when he must pay

He’s not only known as Don the First,
He’ll always be known as Don the Worst,
A pox on that Felon Prez of the US!

While he lied and cheated, bullied, screeched, and robbed us of our rights,
Pelosi, Carroll, Bragg and James were fighting the good fight
And with pissed-off Stormy and Jack Smith in their wily pack,
They’ll finally make the bastard pay and take our country back
This time he can’t escape, the wussy,
‘Cause Justice grabbed him by his pussy

The wheezin’ and deceivin’ Prez of the US!

The snivellin’, grovellin’ (election stealin’)
Thunderin’, blunderin’ (Nazi-lovin’)
Sexist, racist (narcissistic)
Jibberin’, mockin’ (gonna lock him)
Screamin’, plottin’ (wall buildin’)
Stealin’, dealin’ (boot lickin’)
Griftin’, sniffin’ (pants-pissin’)
White House wreckin’ (insurrecting)
Donald Trump, the Felon Prez of the US!

“The Phony King of England” was originally written by Johnny Mercer for Disney’s Robin Hood. The preceding parody lyrics are by yours truly. I’m no Weird Al Yankovic, but I had to do something to mark the occasion.

Escape From…Not On Vault Disney Plus?


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Hey y’all, I’m back on one of my favorite podcasts, Escape From Vault Disney! Every March the episodes are themed to a viewers’ choice poll and this year the winner was Not On Disney Plus, meaning Tony and friends are covering Disney and Disney-owned media not on the streaming service for various reasons. In this case, we got to watch Down With Love, a 20th Century Fox comedy directed by Peyton Reed that we had A LOT of good things to say about (this movie’s joining The Shelf for sure). Come listen to us laugh and sing the praises of the movie on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Libsyn, Audible and Listen Notes. Down With Love is now Up On The Shelf! Cheers!

Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: Puss in Boots


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“Bootmaker, I’m looking for a boot as light as air and fast as the wind. A boot that makes no sound, leaves no tracks.” “You’re in luck, I’ve got one pair left!”
– A feline acquires his defining bit of footwear

Fairytales are full of trickster mentors that aid the hero in their quest. The amount of stories where the mentor takes the form of a wily animal are beyond counting. Cats are a particularly popular choice for the role on account of folklorists making their natural stealthiness and hunting prowess shorthand for cunning and guile. And there’s no fairy tale feline more renowned for their craftiness than Puss in Boots.

Walking into this review I assumed Puss in Boots was going to be a Charles Perrault original, which is how I was introduced to it, but the story actually has Italian roots. The oldest known version is 1550’s Constantino Fortunato, or “Fortunate Constantine” by author and fairytale collector Giovanni Francesco Straparola. One of several tales included in the two-volume collection The Facetious Nights, the story is about a poor boy who marries a princess thanks to a clever cat. It’s interesting to note that this cat isn’t just a magical talking cat but a fairy in disguise; a detail that fell by the wayside in future retellings. Writer Girolamo Morlini wrote his version of Puss in Boots shortly afterwards (fair turnabout since Straparola often borrowed from Morlini), followed by Giambatta Basile in 1634. Then Charles Perrault popularized the tale in France as part of his fairy tale collection (the same that also launched the character of Mother Goose), and the feline’s fame hasn’t dwindled since. He’s even well-known in Japan, where a popular film by Toei Animation has made him the studio’s mascot.

Puss in Boots is one of those fairytales that falls into a gray area where the moral is concerned…in that there isn’t really one at all. If you go by a purely textual reading of the story, the takeaway is that lying, cheating and stealing will get you what you want without any consequences; not much of a lesson (but one that’s far too relevant if you look at the current state of the Republican Party). On the flip side, Puss uses his wits to make the most of his and his master’s lousy circumstances. He’s simply doing what he can with what little he has to improve their situation. The story takes place in a society that favors the first-born son, so it’s easy to root for the youngest son stuck with naught but a wisecracking mouse-catcher while his selfish brothers have the means to support themselves. The men and monsters Puss deceives are largely deserving of his trickery.

Tying into that is the unusual choice of clothing this cat in footwear. It’s not just for aesthetics, I assure you. Shoes were a luxury afforded only to young people of the upper-class in the Middle Ages because they were outgrown or worn through so quickly. As such, boots were a sign of wealth and status. In both the original fairytale and today’s episode, the king refuses to grant Puss an audience until he learns he wears boots. Appearances and presentation played as all-encompassing a role in society then as they do now, but the story of Puss in Boots shows that anyone with brains and the ability to pass off as refined can game the system. Make what you will of that.

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Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: Cinderella


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“So you’re telling me you had a good time?” “And I owe it all to you.” “Rubbish! You did it all yourself. The cake was already made, all I did was add the frosting.”
The Fairy Godmother lays down the truth about our long-lasting fascination with the original rags-to-riches story

Did I say Snow White held the record for the fairytale with the most variations? Silly me, how could I forget Cinderella, the story that’s so known worldwide that when I tried to research every single version for this review my computer exploded? In fact, I questioned the point of recapping this episode since you don’t need me to remind you of the plot. This is a fairy tale so widely spread across thousands of years, continents and cultures, from Ancient Greece to the Tang Dynasty, that everyone knows it in some form or another.

It’s only when I stopped to compare Faerie Tale Theatre’s Cinderella to other iterations of the story that I came to this conclusion: the devil is in the details. Cinderella’s timelessness has left it open to a multitude of interpretations, analyzations, deconstructions, reconstructions, subversions and spoofs. There is no one definitive version, which is great. You can do whatever you want with the tale if you play with the beats creatively enough. Want to change the setting to high school and make the prom the ball? Sure, why not? Remove the magical elements and place it in Renaissance-era Europe for that historical fiction approach? Whatever floats your boat. Flip the perspective to the stepsisters’ side of the story? Go nuts. Have Cinderella’s servitude be a literal curse she has to break by tearing the fairy who enchanted her a new one? Boom, done.

Cinderella has also been subjected to plenty of criticism, as a good many traditional fairy tales have lately. Forgive me for beating a dead mouse-turned-horse, but those espousing the negatives of Cinderella, from All-4-One to The Cheetah Girls to Andrew Lloyd Webber, to a whole slew of bad-faith “feminist” critiques and even YA retellings I love like Kaylnn Bayron’s Cinderella is Dead and Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Just Ella, have gotten it completely wrong. Cinderella is not, and never has been, about marrying a prince. It was, and always will be, about maintaining hope in dark times and escaping poverty and abuse through kindness and determination. That’s the eternal appeal of Cinderella, that anyone can rise to the top when it seems like the whole world’s against you. It’s also what makes a straightforward rendition in a sea of postmodern adaptations so refreshing (when done right, of course).

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Think of it as a brief Faerie Tale Theatre intermission…

Hi folks, really sorry but the nest Faerie Tale Theatre review is going to be delayed until next week. Not only am I recovering from a bad cold but I’m in the middle of some big plans that I can’t discuss just yet. I hate being secretive but I don’t want to announce anything that isn’t set in stone.

Anyway, the review will go up February 13th. Thanks as always for your patience and understanding.

Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: The Pied Piper of Hamelin


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“‘Please your honors,’ said he, ‘I’m able, by means of a secret charm, to draw all creatures living beneath the sun that creep, or swim, or fly, or run, after me so as you never saw! And I chiefly use my charm on creatures that do people harm: the mole, and toad, and newt, and viper; And people call me the Pied Piper.’”
-An introduction to a character that needs no introduction

For 300 years, a stained glass window depicting a colorfully dressed piper stood in the church of the German town of Hamelin. Although the window was destroyed in 1660, records detail the message enshrined upon it:

In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul on June 26, by a piper, clothed in many kinds of colors, 130 born in Hamlin were seduced and lost at the place of execution near the koppen.

Another entry in Hamelin’s town records dating from 1384 follows up with a grim assessment:

It has been 100 years since our children left.

It’s said that every folk story and fairy tale has a grain of truth to them…which can make the tale in question even more disturbing when there are written accounts to back it up. Such is the case with The Pied Piper of Hamelin. We know something terrible right out of a fantasy story did indeed happen, but the details and reasoning behind it are lost to time. From there the human imagination takes over and fills in the spaces with dark suppositions. What of this enigmatic Piper who lured so many victims to an unknown fate? Is he Death personified? One of the fae? A remnant of the mysterious dancing plague that struck 14th century Europe? Was he a colorful recruiter of German colonizers looking to settle further east? A metaphor for the Children’s Crusade, where thousands of children were rounded up to take the Holy Land only to never return? Or, perhaps, a dark manifestation of the fear of child predators?

Curiously, neither the window nor documents make any mention of a rat plague that so often accompanies retellings of the Pied Piper story. That aspect didn’t appear until the 16th century. The wonder and terror surrounding the Piper’s doings have inspired one interpretation after another. Can Faerie Tale Theatre recapture the magic, or is it full of sour notes?

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Christmas Shelf Reviews: The Muppet Christmas Carol


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So, is me reviewing a different version of A Christmas Carol every other year going to be a thing? Mind you I’m not complaining, each iteration has something interesting worth discussing, but if I had a nickel for every time I revisited the story for the blog on a consecutive even-numbered year I’d have three nickels.

“…which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it’s happened thrice, right?”

But enough memery, let’s go back to 1990, a magical year marred only by the passing of Jim Henson. Much like Walt Disney, the studio he founded was at a loss without their main creative driving force. Could the Muppets and the brilliant people who brought them to life go on without him?

The short answer, yes.

The first idea Jim’s son Brian had was a Halloween special. But when plans for that fell through, he turned to adapting classic literature with that singular Muppet charm. That in turn would charter the course the Muppets would take throughout the 90s and even affect them to this day.

Released through Disney since this was in that grey area before they outright bought The Muppets, The Muppets Christmas Carol was overshadowed at the holiday box office by another Disney feature, Aladdin, and one that they would eventually own, Home Alone 2. But the generation that grew up with annual viewings of this movie had the last laugh. It has since been reevaluated as a holiday classic and one of the best screen adaptations of A Christmas Carol. Yet…for the longest time I just didn’t get it. People claiming THIS was the best version of A Christmas Carol? I was convinced it had to be a nostalgia thing. To be fair, my early memories of the film weren’t exactly positive. Anything involving Muppets was a gamble for baby Shelf; there was a 50-50 chance of it being enchanting fun and games or pure nightmare fuel, and in this case it was the latter due to one scene in particular. But in 2016 I finally gave it another chance, and…

Guys, I am a Muppets Christmas Carol stan. Despite my lack of childhood sentiment, I understand what makes it such a beloved holiday fixture. When Muppets fans say this is their favorite movie in the franchise, I can smile and say “Good choice, it’s easily in my top 3-4, natch*”. Heck, for the past several years it’s usually the first Christmas anything I watch come December. Brian Henson and the Muppeteers brought their A-game as well as some familiar names in their repertoire to give it that classic Muppet feeling. Jerry Juhl returned to write the screenplay and Paul Williams, who previously wrote the songs for The Muppet Movie, crafted the ones heard here. This might be a controversial opinion, but The Muppets Christmas Carol has the best soundtrack out of all the Muppet features. Though the music in each film is usually top-notch, there’s always that one song I have no qualms skipping over (“Never Before Never Again”, “There’s Gotta Be Something Better”, you get the idea). Muppet Christmas Carol, however? Every song is perfect, and to lose any of them would be a huge detriment to the viewing experience.

And I mean any of them. Oh yeah, I’m going there.
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