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.
“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.
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?
“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:
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.
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.
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?
If there’s a reason why we’re able to recall the story of Snow White from memory, and why said princess is usually depicted with short hair, a cute bow and surrounded by woodland fauna, look no further than Disney. Their take on the Grimms’ fairy tale is the prime example of pop cultural osmosis. Even if you’ve never watched Disney’s Snow White, it’s easy to recognize when a piece of work is borrowing from it or spoofing it. And I can definitely see why – not only is it going eighty-plus years strong, but its influence on nearly every Disney feature to come after it is a profound one.
The real story of Disney’s Snow White begins in the early 1910’s when a young Walt Disney saw a silent film version of the Grimms’ fairytale starring Marguerite Clark. The movie stuck with him well into adulthood. One night, well after he had established himself as an animation giant the world over, Walt gathered his entire staff of animators and storymen and re-enacted the tale for them in a mesmerizing one-man show. They were enraptured, but what he told them next struck them dumb – they were going to take what he performed and turn it into a full-length film.
In Tony Goldmark’s epic(ally hilarious) retrospective of Epcot, he performs a quick sketch he summed up as “Walt Disney’s entire career in 55 seconds” where Walt presents his career-defining ideas to a myopic businessman capable of only saying “You fool, that’ll never work!”. Considering how animation is everywhere today, it’s easy to forget that an animated film was once seen as an impossible dream. The press hawked Snow White as “Disney’s Folly”, and Hollywood speculated that it would bankrupt the Mouse House. It very nearly did. Miraculously, a private showing of the half-finished feature to a banking firm impressed the investors enough to ensure its completion.
Snow White is touted as the very first animated movie – admittedly something of a lie on Disney’s behalf. Europe and Russia were experimenting with feature-length animation decades before Walt gave it a try. But consider this: most animated films predating Snow White’s conception are either sadly lost to us or barely count as such by just crossing the hour mark. With all the hard work poured into it showing in every scene, with each moment displaying a new breakthrough in the medium, Snow White might as well be the first completely animated movie after all. Hell, it’s the very first movie in the entire history of cinema that was created using STORYBOARDS. A tool used by virtually every single movie put out today. If that’s not groundbreaking enough, I don’t know what is.
But is Snow White really…but why does it…can it…
“You know what? No. I’m not doing this teasing question thing before the review starts proper. OF COURSE Snow White is a masterpiece. OF COURSE most of it holds up. Let’s skip the middleman so I can explain why.”