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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Frosty (and I) Returns…to Channel KRT!

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Following up from the previous post, here I am back on the Channel KRT podcast to discuss the little-known Frosty sequel “Frosty Returns”! What happens when a studio that isn’t Rankin-Bass tries to build their own snowman with blackjack and hookers John Goodman, Elisabeth Moss, and the Flying Dutchman? You get an odd, not-quite Christmas special with environmental overtones that furthers the divide between snow lovers and snow haters. Come listen to us discuss the inexplicable reappearance of everyone’s favorite snow golem on Apple Podcasts, Podcasts Online, and now on YouTube!

Also, face reveal. Merry Christmas.

Bah Humbug, Delayed Again!

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I’m sure this comes as a surprise to no one, but the review for Muppet Christmas Carol isn’t ready just yet. There’s a lot to be said about the film and I couldn’t say it all on time, unfortunately. My goal is to have it posted before Christmas Eve at the very latest.

Since I don’t want to leave you all hanging until then, please allow me to share some delightful news: This month I hit the three-timers club on the Channel KRT podcast! I was invited to discuss the little-known unofficial Frosty The Snowman sequel, Frosty Returns, and we all had a hoot doing so. The full episode should be ready soon (and I will eagerly promote it when it is), but patrons can listen to the first 20 minutes right now for only $5. Tyler, Randee and Kit are a great bunch and I highly recommend you support them, even if it’s a one-time donation.

So until then, I hope you’re having a safe and happy holidays, and I’ll see you soon with the finished review!

Christmas Shelf Reviews: A Garfield Christmas

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Ah, Garfield, bastion of feline laziness and gluttony. Forty years after his his first newspaper comic appearance, he’s living proof that a little cynicism is welcome now and then; that inside all of us, there’s a cat who hates Mondays, loves sleeping in and eating whatever he wants whenever he wants. Thanks to that relatability, Garfield’s popularity peaked to the point where he received no less than twelve television specials throughout the 80s and 90s. The two most popular based on my observations are the Halloween one, and today’s entry, A Garfield Christmas.

Funny enough, I was unaware of its existence until a certain critic of nostalgia included it in his follow-up list of favorite Christmas specials. It premiered a full year before Garfield and Friends, the series that introduced me to the cantankerous cat, yet it has a lot in common with it: the same voice actors, the animation studio, and much of the humor is directly adapted from Jim Davis’ comic strips. But does it hold up on rewatch or is it as flabby as our feline’s physique?

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Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: The Snow Queen

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“Cold be hot and friends be kind when love unites the heart and mind.”
– The Snow Queen’s moral wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a slide puzzle

“You’re doing it! You’re finally reviewing Frozen!!”
“No I’m not. I’m reviewing The Snow Queen, the story that loosely – very loosely – inspired Frozen. There’s a difference.”
“Does it have a singing snowman recapping Disney movies?”
“Nope.”
“Fine, I’ll be on my AO3 writing more Elsa/Honeymaren fluff.”

I might as well get this out of the way, my feelings toward Frozen are…mixed. Granted, I understand why the story was altered to the point of barely resembling its literary counterpart. Hans Christian Andersen painted the original fairy tale with a ton of heavy Christian overtones that can be preachy at times. Said original is also very episodic like most of Andersen’s works, which means changes for the screen aren’t just inevitable but encouraged.

I stand by what I’ve said before about alterations in adapting fairy tales, they need to be done for modern audiences. The problem lies in the story completely shifting so the filmmakers can soapbox in as ham-fisted a manner as possible about past Disney romances being unrealistic, and then said story balloons in popularity to such a degree that Disney can’t go five minutes without pushing it in your face at the cost of other excellent films, and…well, that’s when one tends to grow more critical over it over time.

But what of the narrative that inspired Frozen in the first place? The Snow Queen is one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most popular tales, as well as his longest. The story is divided into seven chapters and is almost novel length. As this is a fairytale from Andersen, The Snow Queen is wholly authentic; it’s been speculated, however, that he based the cold-hearted character on one of his unrequited loves.

You know how some people write to cope and provide happy endings where real life couldn’t? Andersen wrote like a teenager using fanfiction to vent.

“And when the Little Mermaid could not find true love, she threw herself into the sea and DIED and her BODY turned to SEA FOAM. CRAAAAAWLING IN MY SKIIIIN, THESE WOOOUNDS THEY WILL NOT HEAAAAL!!”

Andersen included a different origin story for The Snow Queen in his biography: his sick father on his deathbed drew a figure not unlike a woman with outstretched arms on the icy window, and joked to his young son “She comes to fetch me.” He died soon after, and Andersen’s mother told him “The Ice Maiden has fetched him.” This “Ice Maiden” has her own story separate from the Snow Queen, but the idea of coldness connected with death, specifically in form of an elegant but dangerous woman, is a reoccurring motif in many of Andersen’s fables.

Another symbol that can be found here as well as other Andersen stories is that of the wise beloved grandmother, a nod to Andersen’s own grandmother from whom he learned many Danish fairy tales. Bible imagery is also included in The Snow Queen as previously stated, from various Christian verses worked into the text, to the main conflict being kicked off by a school of demons trying to reach God with their evil mirror and getting struck down like the Tower of Babel. The Snow Queen is rife with the themes of growing up, devotion, bravery and love conquering all – but unlike Frozen, the love between our main characters is supposed to be read as platonic, not romantic.

“But Elsa and Anna aren’t supposed to be romantic -“
“I’M SAYING IT OUT LOUD FOR THE INCEST SHIPPERS TO HEAR!!”

I promise that this will not be a review bashing Frozen, but the differences between it and the source material are like night and day. Revisiting The Snow Queen I was reminded of how many missed opportunities there were to tell a very different story about love, adventure and maturity in a compelling way. No one work of fiction should be held as the definitive version as nearly all stories deserve to be retold. So for the sake of this review and for all the angry Frozen fans that are going to come after me, can we just…

“Say the line, Shelf!”
“…let it go.”
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Vote to Vindicate Virtue and Convict Virulent Villainy!

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Remember and be wary
The sixth of January
Trump’s treasonous MAGA plot
I know of no reason
The violence and treason
Should ever be forgot…

Felicitations, my fine friends and fans. It is I, your verily vindictive and vociferous visualization of voting vendettas, Vhelf. As those of you in the USA are well aware of, today, November the 8th, is Election Day, and I appear before you once again with an urgent announcement.

It is no secret that our country is in a state of political turmoil spurred by the violent rhetoric of the former commander-in-chief and his treacherous lackeys. You may have heard that democracy balances on a knife’s edge – and that is unfortunately correct. This is a midterm, not a presidential election, yet the danger presented by the Republicans is no less dire.

If you’re unaware of the ramifications, then recall the terms of President Barack Obama. Change was promised, some changes were made, but most of our hopes were dashed by a Republican House and Senate hellbent on denying him the power to enact that change at every turn. In serving themselves over the will of the people and the Constitution they swore to uphold, they held open the doors for Trump, Pence, Greene, Barr, Cruz, Flynn, Conway, Barrett, Boebert, Walker, Bannon, Kavanaugh and their ilk. How did this happen? Well, there are those who will hopefully be held accountable in the days to follow, but the voters need only look into a mirror.

It is not enough to wait every four years to let yourself be heard. Change, especially positive change, is an engine requiring constant care and momentum to move forward. Foregoing midterms and primaries is what allows conservatives to seep through the cracks and siphon the energy that would otherwise power that change for their own selfish purposes.

Though pushing for that good change has felt slow, President Biden and many of the Democrats have come through on their assurances, especially during this tumultuous year. Student debts are being erased, COVID is falling under control, relief money has made its way into the hands of those who need it, hate crime bills were passed, Juneteenth is a recognized holiday, and a greater effort is being put into reversing climate change than ever before, among other noteworthy accomplishments.

All this was possible because of the overwhelming turnout at the polls in 2020. You did this.

And the Republicans have retaliated by ripping freedoms once thought untouchable out from underneath us. Roe vs. Wade? Gone. Now they’re openly discussing revoking social security and the right of same-sex marriage.

They have done all they could to stoke fear, from putting the rights of gun owners over the safety of children and educators, to calling for violence against political opponents and their families and making light of the suffering they inspired. Projecting their own failures on to Democrats has become a pastime, such as blaming them for inflation despite Republicans’ refusal to sign off on the Inflation Reduction Act. Gerrymandering, especially in red states, is still very much a thing. And of course, they continue to push the narrative that the election was “stolen” from Trump and deny their involvement in their vicious attempt to steal it for him.

Why? Why do they resort to continuously lower, spiteful actions? Because they are afraid of you.

They know the power you wield with your vote. Seeing the huge turnout against them and Trump two years ago terrified them, so much so that they incited and supported an insurrection so they could hold on to their power. By creating a climate of hopelessness and doubt, they hope to take back the Senate majority and regain the power to abuse the country as they saw fit during the previous administration.

Once again, however, they underestimate the intelligence, compassion and forward thinking of this new generation, and the lessons they and the previous ones have taken to heart while under the orange tyrant’s yoke.

We will not be swayed by fearmongering and falsehoods. We will not be indifferent to their greed, egos, lust for power, racism, misogyny and sycophantic obedience towards fascist orangutans. There is only one way to cast out these vipers, and that is to vote for the considerably progressive, peaceful and caring candidates all along the blue ballot.

To those of you who trekked to the polls in advance to cast your vote for a future favoring inclusivity, peace and justice, you have my heartiest thanks and gratitude. To the rest who are either going there today or are currently sitting on the fence –

Vote blue.

Vote blue so your daughters and wives and sisters and mothers will regain control of their own bodies.

Vote blue for the clean skies and waters to remain that hue.

Vote blue to keep books and history pertaining to more colors than white within schools.

Vote blue to defend marriage for everyone on the LGBTQA+ spectrum.

Vote blue to protect immigrants from being treated as criminals or cattle.

Vote blue to keep the social security that you, your parents and grandparents worked so hard to build.

Vote blue to recognize transgender rights as human rights.

Vote blue to see the traitors who believed they could overthrow 200 years of democratic process face the consequences of their actions.

Vote blue, because if we don’t, it’s likely that we’ll be seeing nothing but red for a very, very long time.

I hope to see you again in a world where heaven is blue, and tomorrow the world. Until then, I shall leave you with this uplifting message from one of the greatest animated films of all time:

Now we are not afraid
Although we know there’s much to fear
We were moving mountains long before we knew we could.

Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: The Three Little Pigs

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“Okay listen up because I’m only gonna say this once: open the door…or I’m gonna huff and I’m gonna puff and I’m gonna…blow your house in, whaddaya think of that?”
– The Big Bad Wolf’s ultimatum, as delivered by the only actor who could do it justice

All right, we’ve finally come to an episode many of you have been waiting for. For some fans this is peak Faerie Tale Theatre, and I agree with them. This outing has everything: a funderful cast (my way of saying fun+wonderful), clever writing, and humor coming out the wazoo. You’re in for a treat.

But first, the obligatory story behind the story.

This is another English fairytale brought to us by folklorist Joseph Jacobs in 1890, four years before he published his findings on Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ origins. Jacobs credited fellow nursery rhyme collector James Halliwell-Phillips as the source of The Three Little Pigs story. The earliest known version has a very different cast from the one we know: instead of three pigs and a wolf, it’s three pixies and a fox, and their houses were made of wood, stone and iron rather than straw, sticks and bricks. The reason behind the changes in the definitive English version are unclear; one theory is that the divergence comes from someone mishearing the word “pixie” as “pigsie”.

The fable has a few international variations, though much less than what I’ve come to expect doing this research each month. Italian retellings dating from the same era Jacobs published his story replace the pigs with geese. The one Joel Chandler Harris recorded in his collection of Uncle Remus tales appropriation of African mythology has six pigs instead of three. The one consistent theme running through them all is the moral of hard work, resourcefulness and careful planning paying off.

That’s not to say this story has some underlying darkness to it. In some iterations, even the perspective-flipped The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, the wolf eats the first two pigs after blowing down their houses. The original fairytale also ends with the third little pig tricking the wolf, killing and eating him instead! This has been toned down in future retellings, understandably so. Regardless, the rule of three in effect as well as the fun nonsense phrases like “not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin” has helped this tale remain a memorable one. Now, let’s see how Faerie Tale Theatre puts their spin on it.

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Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021) Review

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Surprise, you’re getting another Halloween review because I couldn’t wait another 365 days to talk about my favorite spooky special in recent years.

Muppets Haunted Mansion (or as I sometimes call it, “Muppets Most Haunted”) is one of those features that feels tailor-made me. It combines three things I love: the Muppets, Halloween, and the beloved Disney ride The Haunted Mansion. If you’re wondering why no one thought to do something like this sooner, well, they did. Brian Henson’s first idea for a Muppet project after his father Jim Henson passed away was a Halloween special. Though it didn’t pan out, The Muppets Studio toyed with doing something creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky with Kermit and the gang for years.

Remember this? It started as another tv special pitch but got reworked into a video game.

This brings us to the Muppets and Disney. The last time they both got together to do anything theme park-related was The Muppets Go To Disney World special, a couple of short-lived in-park shows, and MuppetVision 3-D. Cut to thirty years later and now Disney owns them. After the success of the 2011 film, the concept of a Muppets Halloween special was revived. Longtime Muppet director and writer Kirk Thatcher took the helm, and the result is magic.

I think Jambreeqi said it best when he called Muppets Haunted Mansion a variety show with a plot connecting the segments. It’s not unlike a classic episode of The Muppet Show made feature-length. There’s guest stars, gags, bad puns and musical numbers galore, and a surprising amount of heart as well. Every second is filled with love for the Muppets and the Haunted Mansion.

Please note that I’m going to be spoiling the entire special, so drop what you’re doing and go watch it first. You will not regret it. This special is truly something worth experiencing before I color it with my own commentary, no matter how glowing it may be. While it’s been on Disney Plus for a year now, it’s making its cable debut this weekend for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet (or LAST weekend as of the time this is posted, thank you new job and stomach flu). Also, I’m aware that some of my readers have never been to a Disney park or ridden the Haunted Mansion before, so I’ll do my best to put some of the scenes, references and in-jokes in their proper context.

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Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers

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“I’ve got to learn about the shivers, and this seems like such a sure thing.”
“Do you not want the treasure?”
“Treasure? What would I do with treasure?”
– Our protagonist’s reasons for seeking danger

I usually begin these reviews with a brief discussion of each fairy tale’s origin and history. This time, however, let’s talk a bit about a certain folkloric archetype: The Fool.

When I first started writing these reviews, I considered combining this episode with a later one, The Princess Who Never Laughed, because both have fools at the heart of their story. A fool’s true purpose is to provide more than just comic relief. They are uninhibited by social conventions and often maintain a childlike innocence towards the world. Through their ridiculous words and actions – or the appearance of such – they reveal truths that the characters and audience might not have discovered otherwise.

The most notable example is in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Lear’s Fool is the only one allowed to openly criticize him without repercussion thanks to phrasing his jibes to sound like harmless jokes. Perhaps if the mad monarch listened to him, his story wouldn’t have ended so tragically. Likewise, Lady Olivia’s fool Feste in the play Twelfth Night is quick to snap her out of her melancholy by pointing out the folly of grieving her late brother: “The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven.” (Act One, Scene Five)

In other cases, the Fool demonstrates how selflessness and kindness will always outweigh strength and wit, like in the Russian folktale The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship. The story even contains the line “God loves a fool, and will turn things to their advantage in the end.” Though denigrated by his own family for his perceived simple-mindedness, this Fool is a caring soul to everyone he meets, and hits the karmic jackpot as a result: a cabal of super-powered friends, the hand of a princess, the adulation of his fellow countrymen, and of course, the only airborne schooner known to man.

The Fool archetype has gone even beyond the written word. In the tarot Major Arcana, The Fool is the first numbered card in the pack. He’s often depicted as a cheerful youth, sometimes accompanied by a dog, making his way down a sunny path without really looking where he’s going. Should The Fool wander into your tarot reading, it signifies the start of an exciting new journey in your future…or, perhaps, a fool’s errand.

This all ties into today’s episode and the story it entails. It’s another tale brought to us by the Brothers Grimm. Though there were a few variants beforehand, this iteration was directly influenced by an Arthurian story of Sir Lancelot spending a night in a haunted castle. Alternate titles in various fairy tale collections replace the word “Boy” with “Youth” or “Fool”; no matter the difference in sobriquet, it’s the same main character with the same foolish attributes. In keeping with both themes, this fool teaches us that some common fears might not be as terrible as they seem, and other things that are actually worth fearing may never have crossed our minds before…

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