1980's, 80s, Big Bad Wolf, Billy Crystal, blow the house down, brick house, Comedy, coyotes, Disney, disney animated short, Doris Roberts, english fairy tale, Faerie Tale Theatre, fairy tale, fairy tale adaptation, fairy tale origins, fairy tales, fairytale, Fantasy, Fred Willard, huff and puff, jeff goldblum, not by the hair on my chinny chin chin, pig, pigs, review, shelley duvall, Stephen Furst, stick house, straw house, straw sticks bricks, television, television review, three little pigs, tv review, Valerie Perrine, wolf, wolves
“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.
The story begins as we’re introduced to our porky trio: thrifty Peter, womanizing Paul, and empathetic artist and musician Larry. They live with their hardworking single mother. Though Mother Pig loves her sons, their bickering and her inability to provide for them all gives her no end of grief. After a hearty slop dinner, she tells them it’s time for them to move to their own place. The boys aren’t happy to hear this, but Larry accepts it much easier than his brothers do. Mother Pig gives each of them a bit of money that their father left before running out on them, the swine. She bids her piglets a fond farewell.
So let’s talk about the pig costumes and makeup. They could have dipped into the uncanny valley of Zoobilie Zoo or Wee Sing, but there’s so much charm to them. The noses are just the right size that they don’t distract from the actors’ performances. Though the hoods with the oversized ears and hats will bring Halloween costume or onesie to mind, the costumes themselves inform so much of the characters’ personalities (Peter’s in a business suit, Paul’s got a flannel shirt exposing his hairy chest, and Larry has a colorful smock and beret).
Larry suggests the brothers pool their money so they can build and share a house together as a family. Paul and Peter have their own selfish aspirations, however, and leave Larry high and dry on the road to town.
Peter visits the marketplace’s junk shop belonging to a Mr. Bert Mann. The other characters’ surnames are their species (Wolf, Pig, etc.) so in a weird way, it makes sense that the only notable human character is named Mann. Peter buys a boatload of straw from him as it’s the cheapest building material available.
As for Paul, he’s at the local watering hole bragging about striking out on his own when he comes face to face with a sweet little sow named Tina.
Valerie Perrine is absolutely saucy as the Mae West-inspired Tina. Tina’s a classy lady who won’t say soo-eeee to a swine unless he’s got a good roof over his head. Eager to get down and dirty with her (and not just in the mud), Paul hurries over to Bert’s and purchases a bundle of sticks to build his boudoir. He later gets a phone installed and calls Tina to invite her over for a date. Tina isn’t too keen on Paul, but decides to indulge him.
Larry, meanwhile, finds a decent plot of land for his new home and buys some sturdy bricks off of Bert. He meets his brothers building their own houses on the way back. They ridicule him for his cumbersome choice in construction materials. Larry’s reasoning that anything worth doing is worth doing right fall on deaf ears. Once Larry has all his bricks in order, he follows the IKEA-level instructions to begin building his dream home.
While all this is going on, we finally meet Jeff Goldblum, playing our villain, Jeff Goldblum. Really, I couldn’t think of anyone better to play Jeff Goldblum than Jeff Goldblum. This may be the most Jeff Goldblumiest he’s ever been, and that’s saying something.
If it were up to me I’d be detailing all his wonderful sardonic moments, but I have a review to do. Jeff Goldblum as the big bad wolf Buck is pestered by his wife, Nadine, into getting a pig for their dinner with their neighbors The Coyotes.
Buck’s mere presence scares everyone away from the marketplace. He coerces Bert into telling him about his porcine customers (“Nice straw, it’d be a shame if something happened to it”) and heads off to Peter’s. Buck puts forth his customary threats of huffing and puffing, then makes short work of the straw house. He’s pretty pleased with himself, yet can’t seem to find Peter anywhere in the wreckage. He heads back to his cave and cracks open a cold one but Nadine insists on him getting that pig by tomorrow.
Peter emerges from the collapsed straw once Buck is gone and cries wee-wee-wee all the way to Paul’s home. Paul allows him to stay the night, though tells him he has to am-scray before Tina arrives. Speaking of, Buck crosses paths with her the following day. She spends a good amount of time unabashedly flirting with him. But once he makes it clear he’s taking her to his cave whether she likes it or not, she beats him with her parasol and leaves in a huff. “Men, pigs, wolves, they’re all alike,” she sighs.
Buck turns his attention to Paul’s house. When the pigs call his bluff, Buck blows down the domicile with a few puffs. Again, Peter and Paul manage to hide before Buck can sniff them out. Unfortunately for Paul, Tina arrives soon after. She’s not thrilled to find a scrapped pile of sticks instead of the lusty lodge Paul promised. She readily helps Paul and Peter get to Larry’s, though, on learning their brother’s got a fine brick house.
Larry finishes work on his home in time for the other pigs to arrive begging for help. Tina and Larry instantly hit it off. Larry promises his siblings he’ll help protect them, but on the condition that they start acting like brothers and work together to stop the wolf.
I admit it took me a moment to get used to Billy Crystal’s performance as Larry when I’m more familiar with his sarcastic and abrasive style of humor. Mike Wazowski this is not. He’s still excellent in the part. Larry is genuine, sweet and clever, but just zany enough to hold his own against the rest of the comic cast.
No amount of huffing and puffing can destroy Larry’s house, and a winded Buck crawls off. Peter and Paul are all too happy to celebrate Buck’s failure, but Larry’s smart enough to know he won’t give up on storming the
castle brick house so easily. The four pigs formulate a plan: when Buck returns, he finds Larry “trapped” on the roof. It’s too high for Buck to reach, and Larry pleads with him to not use Paul’s ladder in the bushes. Then Larry slips down the chimney. While Buck makes his way down after him, the pigs place a pot of hot water on the fire. Buck lands in the drink, and Tina knocks him out with a frying pan. Then the pigs truss him up like a suckling pig and drop him off at his cave. Buck resigns himself to not bringing home the bacon, and the Three Little Pigs and Tina walk off into the sunset happily ever after.
This episode is a highlight of the series. It succeeds in stretching a two-minute story out to an entertaining hour thanks to developing the pigs’ and wolf’s personalities beyond short-sighted frugality and hunger. Every actor involved could have said “this is just a silly kids show” and not put in the effort, but they gave it a hundred-and-ten percent and had a ball the whole time. There’s a cartoony feel to this one, right down to the oversized lump on the head Buck ends up with. That, in addition to the tremendous amount of jokes aimed at both adults and children (the innuendos involving Paul and Tina? They’ll go over your five year-old’s head) and spectacular delivery from the cast makes this one of the funniest episodes of Faerie Tale Theatre. It’s a delight from beginning to end and I can’t recommend it enough.
- I have to be upfront here, Larry’s outfit is pure kidcore and I love it. I would wear it every day while painting.
- The frying pan Tina uses was foreshadowed earlier: Bert gave it to Larry as part of his brick purchase. Best use of Chekov’s frying pan I’ve seen in a long while.
- While trying to convince his brothers to go in on building a house together, Larry proposes they form a folk music trio. This is a nod to the music group Peter, Paul & Mary, from whom the pigs’ names are derived.
- I’m not entirely sure why they went with tricking the wolf into landing in hot water (literally) when the plan was to tap him unconscious. Other versions I’ve seen send him packing with a burnt butt or, in a few gruesome editions, boil him alive. Perhaps the idea in this one was to catch him in his surprise and confusion.
- The score for this outing is one of the better ones. Like the episode itself, it’s rather charming. Each character gets their own special instrument that speaks to their character, like Larry having an oboe to match his playing and sultry Tina accompanied by a trombone’s wah-wah. My favorite motif has to be Buck’s, a bluesy base and sax that underscores his sly menace.
- I promised I wouldn’t go off on all my favorite Goldblum lines, but his confusion after thrice being told “Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin” is a good one. Not many wolves in the story question that unusual response.
- This marks the second episode where a big bad wolf gets beaten up by a feisty lady he wanted to eat. You know what they say, nickels and all that…
- Buck’s chest inflates when he’s huffing and puffing, a nice touch with the costume.
- When Bert meets Larry, he brings up meeting two other pigs earlier and jokes if there’s a sausage convention in town. Judging by Larry’s reaction, that’s a very offensive remark towards pigs.
- We’re informed early on that Larry’s the runt of the litter. It’s even displayed in how he’s smaller and skinnier than Peter and Paul. Though he doesn’t appear as physically intimidating or ambitious as his brothers, he proves to be the better of them by virtue of his quick thinking, creativity, foresight and kindness. Some pig, indeed.
Hey, Was That…: Stephen Furst, who’s best remembered as Flounder from Animal House, plays Peter. Doris Roberts of Everybody Loves Raymond and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is Mother Pig. Speaking of Everybody Loves Raymond, the late great comedian Fred Willard hams it up as Paul. Brandis Kemp, who was previously Mama Bear in the Goldilocks episode, provides the voice of Nadine. I also failed to mention in the Goldilocks review that she was once married to Mark Blankfield, who played the mysterious old man in Jack and the Beanstalk, but is more fondly remembered as Blinken from Robin Hood: Men in Tights! Longtime actor, writer, editor and director Larry Hankman plays Mr. Bert Mann. His IMDB page is the longest and most interesting of anyone I’ve seen in the series thus far; I’d list a few of his roles but you’re better off seeing them for yourself. Director Howard Storm is a television and film actor primarily known for directing episodes of Kenan & Kel, Full House, Everybody Loves Raymond, Taxi, and Mork & Mindy. The soundtrack is by Stephen Barber, who previously scored the Faerie Tale Theatre episodes The Nightingale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Pinocchio, and Beauty and the Beast.
Who’s The Artist?: No specific artist this time around either. Ironic, since the main little pig is an artist.
Better Or Worse Than…?: The only major competition this porcine trio faces is the classic Disney short. On the one hand, it’s short, sweet, and has a catchy theme tune. On the other hand, it doesn’t have Jeff Goldblum. Oh, and the Three Little Pigs reenactment as part of Muppet Classic Theater is fun too. Miss Piggy having to put up with Andy and Randy’s stupidity in addition to the wolf is a hoot.
Ranking: This is a toughie. I feel like the top three episodes are so strong that most of what follows keep getting the number four spot. I really like The Three Little Pigs, but I don’t know if it’s enough to crack the romance of The Princess and the Pea, the casting of Sleeping Beauty, and the witty banter of The Tale of the Frog Prince. So for now it keeps the number four streak going.
The next episode of Faerie Tale Theatre reviews coincides with the start of the holiday season, so let’s just say this frosty outing is very appropriate – it’s The Snow Queen!
Thank you for reading! Faerie Tale Theatre reviews are posted on the 6th of each month. Special thanks to my generous patrons Amelia Jones, Sam Flemming and Robert Barnette. Anyone who joins the Patreon party can get such fun perks as sneak peeks of reviews, extra votes, movie requests and more!