Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: The Princess and The Pea

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“That’s…IMPOSSIBLE! Nobody could feel a PEA beneath TWENTY MATTRESSES!!” “The Queen is almost as clever as the Fool.”
– Prince Richard and the Fool discovering the Queen’s implausible test and earning their snarky reviewer cred simultaneously

If you’ve ever been in community theater or took it up while in school, chances are you’ve been in either of the following productions at least once: Bye Bye Birdie, or Once Upon A Mattress. They’re frothy, light and fun shows that remain popular because they’re so easy to put on. Oddly enough, that was the main criticism Hans Christian Andersen received after penning the fairy tale Mattress is based on, The Princess and The Pea (my, it’s been a while since we’ve covered one of his narratives, hasn’t it?) Critics disliked the story’s laid-back tone and lack of morals and ripped into it like an old-school film auteur when asked about superhero movies. Despite the chilly reception, time was kind to The Princess and The Pea; when Andersen passed away, it was considered one of his most beloved stories.

As ol’ Hans tended to create his own fables as opposed to gathering them for posterity like the Brothers Grimm, I expected this to be a wholly original tale. Remarkably, there’s some precedence set by folktales spanning throughout Europe and Asia focusing on sensitivity as a mark of femininity. Sweden’s The Princess Who Lay On Seven Peas has the princess prove her pedigree by sleeping on, well, seven peas; she’s already aware of the test, though, thanks to being warned by her cat. An Italian story has a prince search for the most sensitive woman to make his bride, ending with him marrying a lady whose foot is injured by a falling flower petal. India’s variation, The Three Delicate Wives of Virtue-Banner, features a king solving a riddle about which of the maharajah’s wives is the most fragile. The earliest known story, however, is the medieval Islamic tale al-Nadirah. Though it’s likely all the previous stories originate from this one, the ending is less than happy. Princess al-Nadirah falls in love at first sight with the Persian king Shaupur I, betrays her father to him, and marries him – all while he’s in the middle of besieging her city, making this the first instance of Stockholm Syndrome before the term was even coined. She has trouble sleeping once they start sharing a bed, though. The culprit is a myrtle leaf found under the mattress. When Shapur asks how Nadirah can be so alarmingly delicate, she says it stems from how well her dad treated her. Shapur, appalled by how she could throw such a caring father under the bus, calls her out on her ingratitude and executes her. Well, there’s your morals for ya, backstab your family to bed a usurper and you get what you deserve.

Returning to the topic at hand, why has The Princess and The Pea grown into such a well-known fairy tale? What is it about it that makes it ripe for retelling? Some researchers believe it’s one of Andersen’s biting critiques of the upper-class; that the infamous mattress test pokes fun at the ridiculous measures taken by the nobility to prove their bloodlines pure. Others view it as another self-insert where Andersen expresses his longing to be part of the elite, and the extreme sensitivity he felt trying to fit in. As for me personally, the ridiculous and mirthful nature of the story is a nice break from some of Andersen’s more infamously dour tales. It’s endlessly optimistic, with the time-honored messages of not letting appearances deceive you and what’s on the inside that counts standing fully at the forefront – and it so easily lends itself to the romantic comedy genre. Today’s entry is the prime example of that. It boasts a lead in need of a partner who turns his worldview around, a love interest who’s more than what she seems, a comic relief best friend, a domineering mother figure and false-flag fiancées who provide obstacles, misunderstandings galore…the only thing that’s missing is a director’s credit for Garry Marshall.

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Return to Channel KRT!

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Guess who’s back on Channel KRT? I was invited to reflect on an odd videotape from my childhood, Rainbow Brite: San Diego Zoo Adventure. Come listen to me, Tyler, Randee and Kitt riff on badly costumed characters, questionable animal interactions, a sidekick with the most unintentionally hilarious name, terrible rainbow graphics, and a plan to steal animals’ color that makes zero sense. Some of the team may have regretted it but I certainly don’t, and I’m sure you won’t either. You can listen to it at any of these links, and be sure to join their Patreon for extra fun stuff! Enjoy!

A slight delay…

Hey y’all, sorry to say that the next Faerie Tale Theatre Review will be delayed slightly due to unforeseen circumstances, namely me catching Covid last month. Don’t worry, I was already fully vaccinated and boosted, and the worst of the disease has passed as of writing this. I’ll try to have the review up by the end of the week. Thanks for understanding!

My Top 20 Favorite Goofy Shorts

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happy birthday goofy

It’s the 90th anniversary of everyone’s favorite goof. Whether you know him as Dippy Dawg, George Geef, Mickey’s loyal pal, Max’s dorky dad, one of Donald’s many sources of frustration, or just the character you compare to Pluto when debating pants and anthropomorphism, Goofy is the best kind of everyman. He’s adaptable to any situation and a master of physical comedy. Name a sport, and he’s “mastered” it. Name a job and he’s tackled it; his resume is nearly as long as Homer Simpson’s. Goofy’s cartoons have aged the finest out of the Fab Five’s thanks to a healthy dose of slapstick and wry modern commentary. He even survived the move to mundane 50s suburbia with most of his good humor and personality in tact. And like his costars before him, we honor him and his nine decades of goofing it up here today.

The usual rules apply: no bits from films, only short features (but A Goofy Movie would be Number One if that weren’t the case). And while Goofy works just as well on a team as he does solo, this thankfully won’t be another matter of sorting through Mickey cartoons where he steals the spotlight. But before we begin, here are some well-deserved Honorable Mentions:

  • Goofy and Wilbur – Goofy officially gets his moniker in this charming short where he and his grasshopper pal risk life and limb in the name of fishing.
  • Victory Vehicles – Goofy and his ilk develop a variety of creative and implausible modes of transportation as a response to the war effort.
  • How To Be a Sailor – The reason why I barely saw this cartoon growing up is because the ending is one big screw you to the Japanese due to Pearl Harbor. But everything else up to that point is fantastic.
  • Goofy’s Big Kitty – This Mouse Works short has Goofy confuse an escaped circus lion for his new kitty.
  • How to Wash Dishes/Be a Waiter – These shorts appear to have misleading titles as they instead show Goofy globetrotting and becoming an actor respectively…but how they circle back to what the titles promise is genius.
  • How to Play Golf – Playing a good game is easier said than done when an angry bull gets involved.
  • Baggage Buster – Gags run amok when Goofy is tasked with unloading a magician’s trunk.
  • Get Rich Quick – Goofy catches the gambling bug; a quick reminder that golden-age animation was created with adults in mind.
  • Double Dribble – The rules of basketball barely apply when Goofys of varying size are involved.
  • Fathers Are People/Father’s Day Off/Father’s Weekend/Father’s Lion – Goofy’s first forays into fatherhood come with many pitfalls and pratfalls – and the occasional risqué joke.
  • The How To Stay At Home shorts – These extra-short shorts were created for Disney Plus in response to the pandemic, but Goofy learning to adapt to these unusual circumstances will make you smile.
  • Goofy’s Radio – Goofy spends a day in the countryside, oblivious that his radio is the only thing keeping him from being a mountain lion’s lunch.
  • Teachers Are People – Nothing but respect for good teachers in my house, even though Goofy doesn’t get much of it here.
  • How To Take Care of Your Yard – Goofy gains a green thumb but destroys his home in the process.
  • How To Sleep – An insomniac Goofy tries varying methods of getting forty winks when it’s time to actually go to bed. Shockingly relatable.
  • How To Be A Spy – Paranoid that his neighbor is out to get him, Goofy attempts to master the art of espionage.
  • How To Be A Rock Star – Goofy pursues stardom in the music world.
  • How To Camp – This How To short takes an interesting turn when Goofy is abducted by aliens.
  • A Goofy Movie – How could I not mention this? It’s Goofy as we’ve never seen him before, a fully-developed, compelling character that makes you feel things other than humor.
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Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: Goldilocks and the Three Bears

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“She was a pretty little thing, what with her golden hair and beautiful smile and all. She was also kinda, well…spunky.”
– Ranger Johnson introducing our plucky protagonist

You know, as someone breaking into the children’s book world I surprisingly don’t often get the chance to talk about kidlit itself here. One of my favorite authors and illustrators whose works I’ve studied in pursuit of my craft is James Marshall. You might remember him from such classics as Miss Nelson is Missing! and the George and Martha books. In 1988 he wrote and illustrated his version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears which reminds readers of a very important fact that other editions gloss over:

Goldilocks is an ASS.

She walks into someone’s home uninvited while they’re out, eats their food, destroys their furniture and jumps into bed like she owns the place, and when she’s confronted over her lack of respect for others’ property, she runs away without facing any consequences. Marshall had the guts to say “Are we really supposed to sympathize with this girl? She’s the worst.” So he recrafted the story to show how nasty she is beforehand, resulting in her ursine encounter properly scaring her into changing her ways.

Looking into Goldilocks’ origins, however, her being a terrible person may have been the point of the story after all. Fairy tales were used to impart lessons of kindness and obedience from the eighteenth century onward, and who better to set as an example for improper behavior than a destructive child…

…is what I would have said until I discovered the character was originally an old woman. Typical, even in fairytales the female parts are always remade to be younger and hotter.

In the version of the tale first recorded by English poet laureate Robert Southey in 1834, the three bears (who are all bachelors of varying size) are visited by a haggard crone shunned by her family for being an embarrassment and, in Southey’s own words, deserved to be put in a correctional facility. In 1894, folklorist Joseph Jacobs uncovered “Scrapefoot”, an long-lost oral story that, ahem, bears some striking similarities to Southey’s. Scrapefoot, the titular fox, investigates a castle belonging to three bears and causes some havoc involving chairs, beds and bowls of milk before the inhabitants kick him out. It’s widely accepted that Southey learned the story of Scrapefoot from his uncle when he was a boy and may have confused the “vixen” character with its less flattering alternate definition, that of a wild woman.

Only twelve years after Southey published his tale, Joseph Cundall released his version where he aged down the protagonist but kept her hair silver. His belief was that young readers would rather follow an attractive character closer to their age than read about an old lady. From there “Silver-Hair” would cycle through a number of names and hair colors in different iterations before settling on “Goldilocks” in the early 1900s. During that time the trio of ursine bachelors also evolved into a traditional two-parent one-child family. Even more alterations to the text resulted in what was once a menacing fable becoming a rather cozy family story that heavily relies on the Rule of Three because…

So now we have a tale with fairly low stakes but enough repetition and iconography within to be referenced and lampooned a multitude of times over one hundred years later. I will admit, though, between the first time I watched Faerie Tale Theatre’s retelling and revisiting it for the blog, I remembered virtually nothing about it. So how does it hold up on rewatch?

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Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: Hansel and Gretel

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“Nibble, nibble, little mouse, who’s that nibbling at my house?”
– The Witch, before showing her claws

Hey, the chimney smoke is in the shape of the Witch, I never noticed that until now…

Oh yes, the review.

It’s easy to forget that fairytales weren’t written exclusively for children all those centuries ago. They were recorded with the intention of preserving cultural heritage passed down orally that was on the brink of being lost. While the Brothers Grimm would later re-edit their findings for a younger, more conservative audience, the German folklore they published had no shortage of, ahem, grimness in their pages. This was due in large part to how awful living conditions were in the Middle Ages. It was an era of deadly plagues, drastic income inequality, wisdom and progress continuously curtailed by superstition and theocracy, human rights perpetually being violated, and the constant threat of war and death hanging over people’s heads.

Ah, sure glad we don’t have to deal with all that in these enlightened times.

When it comes to the origins of today’s tale, scholars tend to point towards a massive famine that overtook Europe in the early fourteenth century. Families would turn elder and younger members out of their homes in order to hoard whatever food was left for themselves; there’s even been reports of people resorting to cannibalism. Combine all that with folks’ fear of witches and the unknown lurking in the woods, and you’ve got the ingredients for a deliciously dark story. Even Jacob and Wilhelm, with their penchant for revisionism, couldn’t curb Hansel and Gretel’s eerie undertones. The only major edit they made later on was changing the mother who threw her children to the proverbial wolves into a wicked stepmother; trust me, I’ll have more to say about that when we get to Snow White.

Now there’s a lot one could unpack with Hansel and Gretel and the deeper significance of the motifs it shares with other fairy tales: the forest serving as both sanctuary and no man’s land, the two faces of the mother and witch belonging to the same patriarchal grotesque, the sanctity of the home and how choosing familial loyalty over independence leads to a just reward, but let’s instead focus on the children themselves. Hansel and Gretel’s journey is symbolic of a child’s rocky passage to adulthood, and how they must rely on their wits to survive a cruel world beyond their doorstep. Similar stories of children undergoing a transformative odyssey through the wilderness into maturity can be found in every culture around the world, from Southern India (Kadar and Cannibals) to South Africa (The Story of the Bird that Made Milk). Certain Russian folktales involve a girl cast out into the woods by her cruel stepmother and traveling to a chicken-legged house belonging to the cannibalistic witch Baba Yaga. She completes the impossible tasks the witch sets for her by being kind to the animals, makes a daring escape using the gifts she’s earned, and returns home, ending her stepmother’s reign of terror. Sound familiar? Even Italian author Giambatta Basile, originator of Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty, created his own take on the fable. Nennillo e Nennella starts off with the usual parental abandonment in the woodlands, but goes off the rails into royalty, piracy and some Jonah and the Whale-type shenanigans (seriously, read this one, it’s a hoot). And it doesn’t stop at the written word, either. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the seventh entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, explicitly weaves the story of Hansel and Gretel into its themes as part of Craven’s efforts to return to the series back to its terrifying, more serious fantasy origins. The iconic thriller Night of the Hunter also has shades of Hansel and Gretel: two children are forced out of their home by their stepparent and find shelter in the Depression-blighted countryside with an old crone; the twist is the crone becomes their selfless protector.

The point I’m trying to make is, when done right, this fairy tale can be a rich, emotional experience, a dark but thrilling and ultimately triumphant roller coaster ride that captures a child’s view of the world in all its terror and wonder.

And Faerie Tale Theatre…it doesn’t do it right. It hardly comes close, for a number of reasons. But if you like to plod through long depressing morality plays that consistently thrash you over the head with its mean-spiritedness and bleak atmosphere, then this is the outing for you.

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I Escaped From Vault Disney Twice And All I Got Was This Random Shout-Out

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Hey everyone, guess who was back on Escape From Vault Disney? As part of the podcast’s Theme Park Month, I joined Tony Goldmark, Garrett Snook, and legendary theme park designer and creator of Universal’s Men in Black ride, Dave Cobb, as we talked about “Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Betty and the Beast”. Give it a listen here!

Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: Little Red Riding Hood

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“Now there’s a tasty little dish…”
– Reggie V. Lupin as he first lays eye on on our heroine

CONTENT WARNING: This review contains several allusions to rape throughout.

You know her the moment you see her, the girl in the red cape and hood walking through the woods. Maybe she’s an innocent child, maybe she’s a bit older and looking for some excitement, but there is always a wolf watching her just out of sight, drooling at the the thought of making her his next meal. When you’re a kid it’s easy to understand this story on the surface level, but as an adult, you begin to notice certain dark undertones – ones which were deliberately planted there from the very start.

Little Red Riding Hood is another fable that was born from oral tradition, but for once, it wasn’t the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, or even Giambatta Basile who got to her first. That distinction belongs to Egbert of Liège, who recorded the earliest known version of her tale around 1023 AD in Fecunda Ratis (The Richly Laden Ship). The scarlet-clad lass in that story receives a red dress from her godfather as a baptism gift. The dress attracts the attention of a mother wolf and she kidnaps her. The other wolves start licking her face, but the girl demands they don’t besmirch her dress because it was a present from her godfather. The poem emphasizes the heavily Christian theme of God holding dominion over animals and protecting those baptized in his name, thus the wolves don’t harm her.

While variations such as Italy’s La finta nonna and Taiwan’s Aunt Tiger existed as early as the fourteenth century, scholars believe it was this poem that would inspire the version Perrault wrote almost seven-hundred years later. It’s similar to the one we all know, but with one cruel twist – the story ends with Red being devoured by the Wolf. No last-minute huntsman to the rescue here, it’s explicitly stated that she is dead (I still remember how shook I was when I discovered a book that kept that ending). German author Ludwig Tüg translated Perrault’s retelling and added the character of the huntsman, but kept the grim conclusion: he kills the wolf but is too late to save Red from her grisly fate. Ironically, it was the Brothers Grimm who gave the story a happy ending, as well as a denouement where Red and her grandmother work together to stymie a second wolf, and more context in the beginning for the underlying moral. The story starts with Red’s mother insisting she stay on the path and beware of strangers, stressing the importance of listening to the wise, experienced mother figure; I’d hail it for being a Grimm fairytale that finally gives some women a bit of respect, but one could argue that the main character needing to be rescued by a strong man in the end renders it moot.

And what of this moral, you may ask? Well, remaining wary of flattering strangers is the obvious one, but strip the tale of all fantasy elements and you have an aggressive male figure stalking and charming an attractive young woman, then taking advantage of her when she’s at her most vulnerable (in a bedroom, no less). The lesson posted at the end of Perrault’s story leaves no doubt that it’s a warning for women to be on their guard around men, lest they consume their bodies in more ways than one. Thankfully, unlike Sun, Moon and Talia, this is clearly portrayed as a bad thing.

There’s plenty of symbolic resonance that backs up this reading of the story. Think of the color red and what it represents: passion, fury, blood. Once the Wolf has youthful, vivacious Red in that pretty cloak within his sights, he marks her as his next victim. Then there’s the wolf himself. Folks growing up in Europe before the Industrial Revolution had good cause to beware of wolves. They would kill their livestock if prey was scarce, and you as well if you strayed too far into the forest. As wolves were also revered animals at the height of paganism, the rise of Christianity saw them marked as creatures of the Devil. Anti-wolf hunts – which Perrault happened to take part in – became the means to drive wolves to near-extinction, as well as demonize and destroy all traces of the old gods. In fact, some early versions dating before Perrault feature our heroine outwitting not an anthropomorphic wolf, but a werewolf. Witches were often accused of shapeshifting into wolves among other animals in order to commit evil deeds such as, oh, tricking a girl into getting eaten.

With that in mind, it’s not shocking that later retellings sanitized Red’s misadventure for fear of scaring kids, even though that was the point of the story in the first place. My introduction to it was a pretty safe version, one where the Wolf merely locked Granny in the closet and the Huntsman chased him away before he could eat anybody. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I was given a book that was truer to the Grimms’ text, vore and all. While I’ll always find the story nostalgic, I find Faerie Tale Theatre’s truer-to-text depiction…interesting.

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Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: Jack and the Beanstalk

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“When you mounted that beanstalk, you started to climb that ladder to fortune!”
– The Mysterious Old Man, reminding us that opportunities are worth the arduous climb

What’s in a name? Would that which we would call a Jack by any other name be as wily, cunning, adventurous or tricky? Perhaps, but then he wouldn’t be nearly as memorable as those who share the namesake. Funny how you find a lot of Jacks in fairy tales and nursery rhymes, isn’t it? There’s Jack Sprat, Jack Horner, Jack Be Nimble, Jack O’Lantern, and of course, Jack The Giant Killer, a distant cousin of today’s story. Thanks to the multitude of English and Appalachian tales featuring a hero with that sobriquet, naming a character Jack has become shorthand for a clever, agile, and often charming personality, a tradition in fiction which continues to this day (Jack Sparrow, Reacher, and Skellington, anyone?) Of course, it’s only natural that someone with a larger-than-life persona would have an enemy in someone who is, quite literally, larger than life.

Myths of giants and giant killers have rocked the folkloric landscape since the days of Greek and Norse mythology. The story of Jack and the Beanstalk, however, grew almost entirely out of England. Scholars have found its roots go as far back as 4500 BC, with some signs that it may have originated in early Iran. Inspired by the aforementioned Jack The Giant Killer and passed down through years of oral tradition, the story as we first know it appeared in English publications in 1734 as “The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean” (I can see why the title got whittled down). It was later popularized in 1845 by Henry Cole, the man who invented greeting cards, and again by Australian folklorist Joseph Jacobs in 1890. Jacobs’ version is the one that stuck around the longest, and is the take on Jack’s adventures that we’re all familiar with, for better or worse.

See, while all those qualities I mentioned earlier can be noble in some Jacks, they can be villainous in others, like Spring-Heeled Jack and Jack The Ripper – and even in the case of this particular Jack. Back in the salad days of Jack and the Beanstalk’s popularity, no one really questioned the morality of Jack’s actions. I suppose just being a giant (and an implied man-eating one at that) were wicked enough traits to make him the designated antagonist. When the Victorian period dictated that all children’s stories should teach morals in as hamfisted a manner as possible, Andrew Lang and Benjamin Tabart rewrote Jack and the Beanstalk so that Jack has a tragic backstory that gives him the moral high ground and makes the Giant more monstrous from the reader’s perspective. While the idea does have merit, I’m left wondering if two wrongs really do make a right. Does stealing from someone and eventually murdering them negate your culpability if the victim committed those same crimes against you first? What if your retribution left behind a widow with no one to support her? Does that still make you a hero, or leave you in the need of some good PR? I suppose that’s why I lean towards versions where Jack realizes his greed is making him as much a monster as the giant, or where the consequences of his actions catch up to him and he must take responsibility in order to set things right (hi, Into The Woods). I definitely don’t expect Faerie Tale Theatre’s to delve into such a moral gray area, but how do they handle making this Jack a hero worth rooting for?

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Schedule Slip Poll

Hey all, due to a number of stressful things going on at home in addition to preparing for my next writers’ conference, it looks like the Roger Rabbit review may not be ready in time. I hate leaving you high and dry until February though, especially since the next Faerie Tale Theatre review is 50% done (these I tend to finish a little quicker than the movie reviews). I made a little Patreon poll of what you think I should do here. Let me know what you think, and I’ll hopefully see you soon.