If you were born in the 80s or later and you have never seen an episode of Faerie Tale Theatre, you were a deprived and neglected child. Shelley Duvall's marvelous series originally aired on Showtime, when it was a fledgeling cable channel, from 1982 to 1985. Each episode narrated a different fairy tale, each with highly unique production design and different major stars, from Robin Williams and Teri Garr to Carrie Fisher and Burgess Meredith. Some of the tales are better than others, the worst being a tacky adaptation of "Pinocchio" starring Paul Reubens a.k.a. Pee Wee Herman, but the lion's share are delightful and charming.
5. "The Pied Piper of Hamelin"
Of all the tales, this one is certainly the most haunting and atmospheric. With sets based on the paintings of Jan Breughel, an eerie score by James Horner, and an incredible dramatic performance from Eric Idle, this faithful adaptation of Browning's poem never panders to a young audience, embracing the darkest implications of the story.
4. "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers"
This lesser known fairy tale is about a young man who feels no fear - and isn't pleased about it. In his quest to find out about the shivers, he agrees to spend three nights in a haunted castle and, if he succeeds, he marries a princess. Vincent Price narrates, Christopher Lee is at his Hammer Horror best, and Peter MacNicol blithely plays nine-pins with spooks. Frank Zappa has a cameo.
3. "Hansel and Gretel"
In another dark tale, Joan Collins plays the double role of the stepmother and the witch and it's hard to know which character is more frightening. The production design is based on Arthur Rackham's beautiful drawings. My sister and I watched this episode obsessively when we were kids and it hasn't worn thin, a testament to its compelling interpretation of the Grimms' tale.
2. "The Emperor's Clothes"
Dick Shawn, Art Carney, and Alan Arkin are hilariously funny in this adaptation of the Andersen story, aided by a superb supporting cast playing the various government ministers, townspeople, and most memorably, the army - composed of one man because of the expense of the uniform. The sets and costumes are based on Louis XIV's court at Versailles and the classical score is by Stephen Barber.
1. "The Princess and the Pea"
This witty and charming production stars Tom Conti as the befuddled prince, Liza Minnelli as the feisty princess, and Tim Kazurinski as the fool who does his best to make everyone laugh. The highly stylized black and white costumes and sets and the catchy score by Robert Folk, together with a pointed satire of everything monarchical and a witty script by Mark Curtiss and Rod Ash, make this one of the best fairy tale adaptations ever, both on the small and silver screens.
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