October Review: Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

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When I was a kid, my dad raised me on a steady diet of Abbott and Costello. Some of my fondest memories of the two of us include him popping in a tape of the classic duo’s capers after many of our intense Mario Kart sessions. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello contributed a lot to comedy in their thirty years together, most notably the famous “Who’s On First” routine, but for many they reached their peak with 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The meeting of the two teams sounds like something wouldn’t work in theory but does gangbusters in practice. Bud and Lou’s career needed a boost right around the time Universal’s famous movie monsters were dwindling in popularity, so it was decided to bring the two together. Though some, even Lou Costello, had their doubts, the film was so successful that kicked off a whole series of Abbott and Costello running into other notable monsters and characters (with varying levels of quality). It’s arguably the first mainstream horror-comedy and it’s easy to see why it was such a big hit. It’s a loving homage to Universal’s golden age of horror that knows how to poke fun at the cliches it’s wrought and when to inject terror to up the suspense. Even the contrast between our creature actors’ melodramatic, haunted delivery and Bud and Lou’s rapid-fire responses when played against each other provide just as much laughs as suspense.

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By The Cover: 30 Years of Simply Mad About The Mouse

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Hi. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? I’ll level with you, on top of the usual burnout, every time I’ve done a By The Cover post, I’m always struck by some kind of bad luck immediately, or something bad happens in the world that affects me personally. Don’t believe me? The last time I did this was in February 2020; do I need to remind you how things went after? Still, I couldn’t resist dragging this series out of mothballs to honor the 30th anniversary of something that’s very much the reason why By The Cover exists at all.

On September 27th 1991, Disney released Simply Mad About The Mouse, a 35-minute collection of music videos featuring some of the most popular artists of the time covering, what else, Disney songs. It’s not the first time a well-known musician has taken Disney classics and made it their own, but none of them ever made a high-profile music video to go with it. These videos were exclusive to the Disney Channel and I remember occasionally hearing the songs on Radio Disney (yeah, remember when Radio Disney was a thing?) The CD version comes with two more songs; En Vogue’s “One Song/Someday My Prince Will Come”, which I already discussed in the first By The Cover, and an instrumental jazz version of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” titled “Mad About The Wolf” by Kirk Whalum – but we’re not here to talk about the CD. I had the VHS tape when I was a kid, and it had me spellbound. Without realizing it, I was introduced to singers who would go on to be some of my all-time favorites. As great as these covers are on their own, each video is a unique experience perfectly tailored to its artists’ genre and style. That tape I had disappeared ages ago, but an acquaintance gifted me a brand-new one after hearing me rave about it, and another friend even ripped me a higher-quality laserdisc copy for my birthday.

As of writing this, the individual songs are available for purchase on most online music stores, but the videos, either as a whole or individually, haven’t been re-released since 1991; it’s not even on Disney Plus. Thankfully, fellow Disney enthusiasts have kept the memory of Simply Mad About The Mouse alive through the magic of YouTube. So come with me as I explore this unearthed musical corner of Disney history and see what makes it worth going mad over.

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Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: Rumpelstiltskin

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“I give you three days […] three days to find out what my name is.” “What is your name?” “It’s…that’s what YOU have to find out!”- An impossible deal struck by a desperate mother and one of the most mischievous imps in all fairy tales

Names have a power of their own in fairy tales. If you know the true name of a magical being, you can have complete control over them – and the same goes vice-versa. It’s a trope that comes up often in stories about the fair folk. Now, fairies in the old stories aren’t the sweet wish-granting Tinkerbell clones that you see these days. They’re immortal, powerful beings with control over nature and magic, and they view their human mortal neighbors as funny playthings to trick, punish or reward as they please. They could pay you for your services with a bag of gold that will turn to acorns come dawn. They can invite you to their place for a christening one weekend and when you return home you’ll find seven years have passed. They switch human children with changelings just for laughs, and cut deals that seem beneficial to you at the start – and this is where Rumpelstiltskin comes in.

Yes, Rumpelstiltskin is by all accounts a fairy. Knack for striking magical bargains? Check. Wants to steal a child for no other reason than just because? Check. Sees others’ struggle between life and death as nothing but a game? Check. Heavily reliant on the Rule of Three? Triple check. Though dear old Rumple managed to stand apart from his fairy kin on account of having a proper name, his story never seemed to quite reach the same level of ubiquity as fairy tale characters like Snow White or Cinderella. Ironically, it probably would have stayed that way were it not for the Snow White-heavy series, Once Upon A Time.

Greetings, dearies.

Robert Carlyle’s dual performance as the hammy, conniving Rumpelstiltskin and his civil but duplicitous real world alter-ego Mr. Gold is a highlight of the show – at least for the first few seasons. The character(s) are reinterpreted as a sort of Faustian devil figure, offering characters both good and evil their hearts’ desires at a steep cost. He was a master manipulator and plotter, always one step ahead of everyone and twisting his words so his bargains seemed like the only logical choice, punctuated with that perfect line “All magic comes with a price”. For a series where the Evil Queen was the main antagonist, he well and truly earned being called The Dark One. But Once Upon A Time was heavily inspired by Lost, and much like that show, it went from a fun re-imagining of a not entirely unoriginal scenario to a total mess the writers had no clue what to do with. Things got too complicated, convoluted and inconsistent the longer it went on; Rumple/Gold’s character and motivation began flip-flopping every other week until he became nothing like his devious deal-making literary counterpart. “I’m going to manipulate Regina into cursing the kingdom because I am the Dark One! No, I’m only doing it to rescue my son who I banished to New York! No, I am going to get rid of my Dark One persona for the good of everyone I love! No, I am going to try to stop being the Dark One but hold on to my powers because I like having power! No, I LIKE being the Dark One after all! No, I only became the Dark One because my dad’s Peter Pan, my wife slept with Captain Hook, and my mom, the anti-Blue Fairy, is killing children as part of an elaborate prophecy involving me sacrificing myself to destroy her, hehehehehee!!”

By, the way, didn’t make a word of that last sentence up. This show went in some weeeeeird directions.

But to get back on topic, I have a bit of a soft spot for the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin as I grew up with a “sound” storybook that that told this particular yarn. If you were a 90s kid, you probably had at least one, those books with the buttons that you were prompted to press as you read through and made the different noises; the sound of our titular imp muttering “Fiddlesticks!” is still ingrained in my brain to this day. For all the havoc he wreaks on the young heroine – not to mention the precarious situations the other men in her life put her in – she ultimately pulls through using her wits and whatever means at her disposal, showing an inner strength and courage that few traditional female fairy tale protagonists have. But how well does this translate to Faerie Tale Theatre?

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Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: The Tale of the Frog Prince

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“Oh! A horrid toad!” “Oh! A nasty princess!” – Our princess and titular amphibian upon first meeting

Ah, our very first episode of Faerie Tale Theatre. Where to begin…the beginning, obviously.

The story of the Frog Prince is one of a long line of folktales sharing the concept of an animal bride or bridegroom. The plot of these stories usually goes likes this:

  1. The protagonist is given an impossible task, must be married before a certain deadline, or just needs something done that they can’t be bothered to do themselves.
  2. A talking animal appears to offer aid in exchange for marriage. The protagonist agrees, even if they’re not exactly onboard with the concept of bestiality.
  3. Surprise! The animal was really a gorgeous human under a spell the whole time! The protagonist is rewarded for not letting appearances deceive them and they all live happily ever after.

You’ll find stories with this motif all over the world with the animal in question ranging from cats, dogs and mice to monkeys, wolves, bears, and of course, frogs. The oldest known recording of The Frog Prince comes from a Latin translation of a German tale dating back to the 13th century, though some sources say a version from Scotland was what made its way to the Brothers Grimm’s ears. Some variations, such as “The Well at the World’s End” have the royal amphibian be part of a larger story. In fact, the Brothers Grimm retelling comes with the alternate title of “Iron Henry”, named after a servant that appears in the last few sentences who previously had his heart bound with iron bands so it wouldn’t break over the Prince’s fate (that in and of itself sounds like a great side story, why is this guy always left out of the adaptations?)

The Frog Prince holds an important place in the fairy tale pantheon, no doubt thanks to the iconic image of a beautiful woman kissing a frog in the hopes of finding a handsome prince – something which was a much later addition to the story. The original ending in the Brothers Grimm version does NOT in fact have the princess break the spell with a kiss, but by hurling the frog against the wall in a fit of anger! Later editions made by the Grimms changed it to what we know today; it’s not clear why, though considering the brothers’ penchant for patriarchal rewrites in their later years, it may be to give the moral that women will be rewarded if they are obedient and docile and do everything that’s demanded of them even if it crosses personal boundaries. If you don’t want to give this story a chance on that basis, I completely understand, but what if I were to tell you that in the right hands, The Tale of the Frog Prince is a will-they-won’t-they battle of the sexes with witty banter bordering on raunchy but still fun for the whole family?

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An Introduction to Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews

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“Hello, I’m Shelley Duvall. Welcome to Faerie Tale Theatre.”

Once upon a time in the faraway land of Malta, an actress named Shelley Duvall starred in a little movie called Popeye. A blithe innocent spirit, Ms. Duvall kept herself entertained with a charming book of fairy tales in between shooting. Duvall recounted the story of The Frog Prince to her costar, Robin Williams, who found the tale humorous enough to his liking. From there, an idea sprung that would stay with many a child of the 80s and 90s.

From 1982 to 1987, Duvall produced and hosted Faerie Tale Theatre, a 27-episode long anthology series on Showtime. She convinced many of the biggest stars of the time to play the roles and even a few well-known auteurs to direct using her clout and gregarious charm. Duvall herself would star in seven of the episodes as well. This show, along with HBO’s Fraggle Rock, proved to be one of the first successful examples of cable programming and cemented itself as a cult classic. My own experience with Faerie Tale Theatre stems from renting episodes on VHS from my library at a very young age. Back in the day, if you really wanted to know what you were in for, then you could turn to the VHS cover. Yes, we’re all familiar with the old adage about not judging a book et cetera, but there’s an art to home media releases that’s tragically all but lost. The VHS tapes of Faerie Tale Theatre had a specifically crafted painting made for each episode done in a famous art style that the episode itself replicated in its set and costume design. Apart from giving you an idea about the content on the tape, it was just pretty to look at. Tell me, which is the more inviting, this –

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or THESE?

After a lengthy time gap, I rediscovered the entire series on Youtube and watched with fascination. While many of the effects and the over-reliance on green screen certainly dates it, there’s a nostalgic charm that’s far from a deal-breaker. This was well before Disney began building upon and later deconstructing classic fairy tales with the Renaissance and Revival periods of animation, meaning the stories are told completely straight with just the bare amount of changes needed to fill an hour runtime. Seeing a score of well-known actors in fantasy costumes playing to the cheap seats can make you feel like you’re watching a pantomime, but there’s hardly a moment where it seems like they’re doing it just for the paycheck. Everyone involved looks like they’re in on the idea of putting on an entertaining show. Some performances remind us how excellent some of the actors are at their craft, others show sides to their talent that were rarely seen – though for the most part, there’s plenty of ham to go around, ham smothered in heaps of delicious cheese.

So I’ll be going through every episode in order, providing a ranking, a little bit of the stories’ history, why they were changed, and how they hold up compared to other versions. I won’t be classifying the reviews season by season as the amount of episodes in each one is erratic, with some having as many as six or as few as two. Despite their being only twenty-six of them (plus one reunion episode), there’s going to be a lot to unpack.

See you tomorrow when I review the first entry in this series, The Tale of the Frog Prince.

August Review: Song of the Sea (2014)

One of my favorite books from my childhood was Stories From The Sea, a collection of folktales from around the world revolving around one thing:

Ah, no.

These stories answered such questions as why the sea is salty, where do storms come from, who Sinbad the Sailor was, and why Disney had the right idea when they altered the ending to The Little Mermaid. More to the point, they introduced me to the wondrous mythical creatures known as selkies. What are selkies, you may ask? STORY TIME!

On a cliff by a shore lived a lonely fisherman. Day in and day out he pulled his nets and sold his fish, but had no wife and children to come home to. Early one morning, the fisherman heard the sounds of singing and laughter coming from the beach. He followed it until he found a group of beautiful women with flowing hair and large brown eyes, naked as the day they were born, dancing on the sand. He saw a pile of discarded seal skins nearby and instantly knew who they were – selkies, the souls of people drowned at sea who could turn themselves into seals.

“And what if I should take one of those wee skins for meself, I wonder?” the fisherman murmured. He snatched up the nearest skin, but one of the selkies saw him and cried out. The others panicked, grabbed their skins and fled into the sea, yelping like seal cubs at dawn as they changed back and swam away. Only the woman whom the fisherman had stole from remained; “Please sir, give me back my skin, I cannot return home without it!” she cried. But the fisherman refused, and told her he would return it to her seven years to the day if she agreed to be his wife. Left with no other choice, the selkie capitulated to him.

They were married and in time she gave him a beautiful son, one who brought light and laughter to her days. But as the years wore on, the selkie grew thin, pale and sickly. Her heart longed for the sea. If she continued on this way, she likely wouldn’t live to see next summer. When the seven years ended, the selkie demanded that her husband return what he promised her, but once again he refused; he was afraid that she would leave him if he gave back her seal skin.

As it so happened, their son wandered into the barn the following morning and found a beautiful, soft coat of silky fur hidden on one of the beams. Inhaling the sweet familiar scent, he knew at once that it belonged to his mother. The selkie was overjoyed when he brought it to her and flew to the shore, wrapping herself in her skin and becoming whole again. The son chased after her, begging her to take him with her. Alas, he was mortal and she was not, so the only thing she could do was give him a small glimpse of her world beneath the waves before returning him home to his father.

The lad grew up into a beloved storyteller with a voice that could make even the most hardened soul weep. On early mornings, one could see him out at sea whispering to a seal in the waves. Some say it was his mother, the selkie, passing on her songs and tales to him; why else would he have the same beautiful brown eyes as she?

“That was a pointlessly long way of saying ‘They’re were-seals’.”
“I LIKE telling stories! Sue me for making a career out of it!”

I actually bring this tale up because many selkie stories, including today’s movie, follow the same pattern as the aforementioned one. Critics praised Song of the Sea as an original masterpiece, but if you were already familiar with this one story going in, then it’s incredibly easy to spot where things are going. And I’m gonna be honest here…maybe it’s because I know the story so well that I’m not as in love with this movie as most animation aficionados are.

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Fifth Anniversary Review: Ratatouille (2007)

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The very first review I wrote for this blog was the 2009 animated masterpiece The Secret of Kells, a gorgeous blend of Irish art, fantasy, and history which, incidentally, centers around the growth of a young artist. So what better way to mark this blog’s fifth anniversary than to look at another animated classic that masterfully expands on the themes of creativity, the nature of the artist, their work, and how public perception and greed thwarts the new and experimental?

Oh, and it’s also the first Pixar movie I’m reviewing because somehow I never got around to one in the past five years (so-so holiday specials notwithstanding).

You know, animation directors rarely get the recognition they deserve. A ton of work goes into creating each scene, each character, each frame from scratch, and it’s not surprising that two or more people usually have to share the responsibility of getting the movie out on time. Only a select few animation directors have risen to some prominence outside of their community, but not quite to the level of their live-action peers – with perhaps one exception.

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Brad Bird, maybe you’ve heard of him: The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, helped kick off The Simpsons; he even made the jump to live-action and made some pretty good stuff in that medium too. I specifically say medium because, as he so rightfully stated, animation, like live-action, is a medium, a method used to produce artwork, not a genre. There is a distinct difference that studios and the public tend to ignore because of the stigma that animation is meant for children. Animation is a means to tell stories through, not a boxed-in category to dump kids’ movies into.

You’d think Bird’s passion and dedication to crafting mature stories for both adults and children would have made him a shoo-in to direct Ratatouille, especially after his Oscar win for The Incredibles. That wasn’t the case, however. Long-time animator and storyboarder Jan Pinkava got the ball rolling, but was replaced when the the film hit story troubles. Anyone who’s kept an eye on Pixar’s output will undoubtedly note that whenever a director is switched out during production (Brave, The Good Dinosaur, and depending on your POV, Toy Story 4), the resulting features wind up being, well, let’s call them a mixed bag. But in this case, bringing Bird onboard was nothing short of a godsend for Ratatouille. The film may have started as Pinkava’s brainchild, but it was Bird who really got what the story was about. His drastic changes, from redesigning the rats to be less anthropomorphic to even killing off one of the central characters, reinvented the film from the ground up, and got him his second Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

I’m happy to say that at the time this review is being wrapped up, Ratatouille is undergoing something of a critical re-evaluation and renaissance; yes, it was a big hit on release, but there was a long period of time where, despite its overwhelming success, it was something that Pixar itself seemed to have forgotten about. There were no plans for a sequel (unless you count the uproarious short “Your Friend, The Rat”), no TV series, no high demand for a consumer product line, little to no character presence in any of the Disney parks, and it wouldn’t receive a proper ride until 2014; even then, it was added to Disneyland Paris (a clone was set to open in Epcot’s World Showcase last year though it was delayed due to 2020 being…2020). For whatever reason, nobody was interested in talking about it or utilizing its potential like most of Pixar’s other films. That apparently changed as of last year; Maybe the movie gave people that comfort food for the soul they craved during quarantine, or the Kingdom Hearts 3 minigames centering around Remy controlling Sora reminded them how fun it was, or maybe it was the Ratatouille musical meme on TikTok that became so popular that they turned it into an actual musical. But I have to ask, why? Why did Ratatouille fall off the radar for so many in the first place? Well, after poking my nose in a few places, the main consensus I got from people who didn’t believe it rose up to Pixar’s lofty standards was because they considered it “boring”.

Now I try to respect most other’s opinions when it comes to animated movies, but…boring?

Is fast-paced, expressive computer animation that still holds up with what Pixar puts out today boring?

Are colorful, relatable characters in a vibrant reimagining of the City of Lights boring?

Is an original story that shows how creativity can apply to an unlikely field and an even more unlikely creator boring?

Is one of the most iconic actors of the twentieth century delivering the greatest speech about criticism and its relationship to art boring?

If your answer is no, then you’ve come to the right review blog.

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Hold On To Your Heart, Hold On To Your Hat, Hold On To Your Dreams…

“Okay, so my latest writers’ conference is done as well as that umpteenth shower and birthday, I’ve got the Song of the Sea review ready, so all that’s left is to whip out the last three paragraphs of the Ratatouille review and finally post it as well as make headway with Faerie Tale Theatre -”
“…”
“Bob? Whatcha got there?”
“An email about your latest book query.”
“Don’t tell me, ‘Thank you but it’s not a good fit, you’ll find an agent who matches your writing elsewhere’?”
“They want the book.”
“…say what?”
“They enjoyed the book and are offering you representation! You got an agent! Do you know what this means?! Shelf…you’re on your way to being published!”

Guys, this is big. Really big. Not so big that the world is sunshine and rainbows but enough to validate me running around the house like Kevin doing my best excited Kermit imitation. How did this come about? Back in June, Cindy Bullard of Birch Literary liked a pitch I made for my book through #PitMad. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a day-long event on Twitter where authors advertise their unpublished stories for that one in a million chance that an agent or editor will notice them and want to sign them on. Since an agent liking a pitch means you get the ok to query them, I went ahead and did so but didn’t expect much of a response. Much like Shrek, I thought love and getting an agent through PitMad were only true in fairy tales, meant for someone else but not for me. But then I saw her email and now I’m a believer.

I’ve queried my books on my own for at least four years now and have had nothing to show for it, but an agent means you’ve got your foot in the door. An agent means people are open to seeing what you’ve got. Now, it could take weeks to get a publisher, it could take months, it could be even longer than that, but for the first time in ages, I’m highly optimistic about my future as a writer and illustrator in my chosen field. I’ve turned a corner and the road ahead seems clearer than ever.

Ratatouille will be served in a day or so. Until then…I GOT AN AGENT YAAAAAAAY!!!

New Review Schedule!

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Hi everyone! I hope you’re having a great summer so far! You’ve told me about what movies you want me to finally take a look at yourselves, so we’ll be taking a break from the voting system and celebrating six years of Up On The Shelf with a pre-chosen review party that’s going to be over a year long! I want to thank everyone who’s supported the blog for this long by sharing how the new review schedule looks for the time being, as well as who requested what. Mark your calendars and rev up your streaming service/media player of choice, because here’s how things are going down:

August: Song of the Sea (gordhanx)

September: An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (John Dailey)

October: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (The Animation Commendation)

November: Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Amelia Jones)

December: Christmas vote!

January ’22: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Tristan Petty)

February ’22: The Incredibles (Mr. B)

March ’22: Toy Story (Rhapsody)

April ’22: The Ten Commandments (Samuel Minden)

May ’22: Twice Upon A Time (julayla)

June ’22: The Adventures of Tintin (Cup Of Joe)

July ’22: Seventh Anniversary Review

August ’22: Jurassic Park (MrXemnas1992)

September ’22: The Triplets of Belleville (Sam Flemming)

October ’22: Halloween vote!

November ’22: Aladdin (MichaelSar12IsBack)

December ’22: Christmas vote!

January ’23: The Little Mermaid (Ben Walderberger)

I’d like to add that in addition to these film reviews, I’ll be posting a review of every episode of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre each month. Expect the first shortly after this August’s review is done. See you then!