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Series / Faerie Tale Theatre

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"Hello, I'm Shelley Duvall. Welcome to Faerie Tale Theatre."
Shelley Duvall, at the beginning of each episode.

Faerie Tale Theatre (full name: Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre) is an hour-long live-action children's anthology series created by Shelley Duvall. It aired on Showtime from 1982 to 1987, though it was actually produced over 1982-85. Showtime had a small subscriber base at the time, so it was also one of the first television shows that, with the exception of a Clip Show, was released episode by episode on VHS — many made their video debuts long before they aired on pay cable.

The show brings to life many traditional fairy tales, from standbys like "The Three Little Pigs", "Cinderella" and "Snow White" to more obscure ones like "The Snow Queen", "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers" and "The Dancing Princesses". Some adaptations are Played for Drama, others are Played for Laughs; some are extremely faithful to the original stories, some are playfully loose. Many were directed by such luminaries as (then a mere upstart) Tim Burton and (then certainly well-known!) Francis Ford Coppola, and — owing to Duvall's professional and friendly associations with many major Hollywood performers — often featured an All-Star Cast.

Once available to view on Hulu, the series' entirety is viewable on YouTube.


  • Accidental Pervert: The frog asks the princess if he can sleep with her (as in sleep next to her on a pillow). It goes about as well as expected.
  • Adaptational Heroism: The Snow Queen is a morally ambiguous figure in her original tale, and there's implied to be something demonic about her, since angels have to appear to help Gerda rescue Kai. The Faerie Tale Theatre version is The Mentor to Kai, who also gets rid of the evil goblin that made the magic mirror at the end.
  • Adaptational Intelligence: Rapunzel is outed either for asking the Witch why her dress is getting tight around the tummy (implying the prince had gotten her pregnant and she didn't know) or the more famous kid-friendly version - asking in a moment of sheer stupidity why it's easier to let the prince climb her hair. This adaptation gives Rapunzel a pet parrot who unexpectedly says "Come at night, my prince," and "I think I love you. Rapunzel, will you marry me?" in front of the Witch.
  • Adaptational Name Change: In Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Baby Bear is known as Cubby Bear instead.
  • Adaptational Nationality: Sleeping Beauty is set in Russia instead of Charles Perrault's France or The Brothers Grimm's Germany (although the fairies are dressed like Arabs or gypsies).
  • Adaptational Species Change: In The Adventures of Pinocchio, the pair of con artists who mislead Pinocchio are a fox and a cat. Here they're two human men, Mario and Vince, although at one point they disguise themselves as marionettes of a fox and a cat.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the original Rapunzel story, the witch was a fairly ambiguous character, but she's made outright evil here. She causes Rapunzel's mother to have her cravings so that she can give herself an excuse to take the baby girl. She also shows signs of misandry, of being physically abusive to Rapunzel, and is all but stated to be a murderer and a cannibal.
  • Adaptation Expansion: "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", "The Three Little Pigs", "Little Red Riding Hood", and "Sleeping Beauty" (which includes how the king and queen conceived their daughter, and some of the exploits of the prince before he came to rescue the princess).
  • Affectionate Parody: "Sleeping Beauty" may be viewed as this, as could the broadly Played for Laughs take on "Pinocchio".
  • Age Lift: Many of the characters are portrayed as older than they were in the source tales to avoid excessive Dawson Casting. For example, Pearl, the Little Mermaid, swims to the surface for the first time on her twenty-first birthday instead of her fifteenth, the title character of Sleeping Beauty is twenty instead of fifteen or sixteen, and Pinocchio, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Snow Queen's Gerda and Kai are all teenagers instead of children.
  • Ambiguously Gay:
    • The Frog Prince's younger brother, Hal. "He doesn't take much for Princesses. He just likes to meet up with the boys, and go off after dragons."
    • Also, the wizard from "Rumpelstiltskin". His behaviour is very camp, and he seems a little put out when the King finally chooses a bride.
  • Anti-Villain: King Vladimir from "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers" is only doing what he does because he does not want to lose his daughter.
  • Bait-and-Switch: At the beginning of "Sleeping Beauty," King Boris is lying in bed eagerly waiting for Queen Natasha to join him. Adult viewers will think they know what he's looking forward to... but it turns out that he's waiting for his wife read him a bedtime story. By the end of the scene, it's clear (at least if you pick up on the innuendoes) that they don't even know what sex is, and need a fairy to explain it to them so they can conceive a child.
  • Bedlah Babe: In "Sleeping Beauty", the prince is at one point being flirted with by a princess called Debbie, who wears this kind of outfit.
  • Berserk Button:
    • When in the presence of the mole in "Thumbelina", don't mention the word "progress".
    • In "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", don't refer to Bubba or his ideas as stupid.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: The Blue Fairy ("Pinocchio"), as played by Lainie Kazan.
  • The Big Bad Wolf: Played straight in "Little Red Riding Hood" with Malcolm McDowell's Faux Affably Evil take. Humorously zig-zagged in "The Three Little Pigs"; Jeff Goldblum's Buck Wolf is powerful and loves to intimidate others, but he's also a grouchy, lazy Henpecked Husband who's only pursuing the pigs because his wife wants one for visiting coyotes, and is all too easy to trick.
  • Bittersweet Ending: "The Little Mermaid" and "Rip Van Winkle" are both rather faithful adaptations of their source material, down to retaining their bittersweet endings. The former is notable as the last major adaptation of the work prior to the Disney version and its Happily Ever After ending, which many subsequent adaptations would copy due to both Lost in Imitation and the feeling that Andersen's ending is too bitter as is.
  • Camp Gay: The wizard from "Rumpelstiltskin".
  • Carpet of Virility: The Frog Prince, because Robin Williams.
  • The Chessmaster: The witch in "Rapunzel". The first scene she's in shows her bewitching Rapunzel's mother from afar, thus being the one responsible for the mother's craving for radishes. Which led to Rapunzel's father stealing them from the witch's garden, the witch catching him, and stating that she's going to take his daughter as compensation for her stolen vegetables.
  • Chewing the Scenery: The Genie of the Lamp enjoys screwing around with Aladdin's head by making empty death threats every chance he gets, even though he knows he can't kill him and enjoys Aladdin's company.
  • Chroma Key: Frequently used for special effects work.
  • Clip Show: The "Greatest Moments" episode. (Also a Missing Episode until the second complete series DVD release.)
  • Cold Snap: "The Snow Queen".
  • Composite Character:
    • The Pinocchio episode combines the characters of Mangiafuoco and the Coachman into the villainous Romani played by James Coburn.
    • The adaptation of The Twelve Dancing Princesses composites the twelve sisters into six, with the title changed just to The Dancing Princesses.
    • In The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers, the ghostly old man haunting the castle turns out to really be the King, who has been staging the supposed "haunting" to get rid of his daughter's suitors because he doesn't want to lose her.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • In "Rapunzel", the witch is mentioned to have died of "hardening of the heart" by the narrator. The original never mentions her fate.
    • The wicked fairy from Sleeping Beauty is also killed off.
  • Dirty Old Man: The mole in "Thumbelina" shows signs of this.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Lampshaded in Sleeping Beauty, when Henbane curses the Princess, and then makes every possible effort to stop any Prince from coming to wake her, just because the King and Queen didn't invite her to the christening and then had no golden dish dome for her plate when she arrived unexpectedly.
    The Pink Fairy: What is your problem, Henbane? One silly dish dome?
    Henbane: It's the principle of the thing!
  • Does Not Like Men: The witch in Rapunzel doesn't like men; she says she keeps Rapunzel in the tower to protect her from them. It doesn't work.
  • Downer Ending: "The Pied Piper of Hamelin", as it is a direct adaptation of the Robert Browning poem down to all the narration and dialogue being in rhyme. (A man implied to be Browning telling the poem to a young boy is the Framing Device.) This is probably why it's one of two episodes available on DVD only in the full-series set (the other being the creepy-fun "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers"), rather than any of the compilation discs — it's tough to match it with others thematically.
  • Dracula: A variation in "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers": Not actually a vampire, but the sorcerer son of the original Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) played by none other than Christopher Lee himself, complete with a hunchbacked servant, and a coffin scene.
  • Dramatic Thunder: As the Pied Piper prepares to spirit away the children of Hamelin, he causes the sky to cloud over and thunder to peal.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The miller's daughter from Rumpelstiltskin. Even her own father just calls her "daughter".
  • Evil Chancellor: The vizier in "Aladdin" isn't the Big Bad, but he is an enemy to Aladdin because he (the Vizier) was trying to marry the princess before Aladdin showed up.
  • Eye Beams: The witch in "Rapunzel" has them.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Averted in "Rapunzel" where the title character's father teaches his wife how to shoot a musket.
  • Fat and Skinny: The stepsisters Arlene and Bertha in Cinderella. Ironically, it's the skinny one, Arlene, who stuffs her face with food at the ball.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The Queen in Snow White. Rather than dying or being forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes, the Magic Mirror tells her that from now on she'll never be able to see her face in a mirror. Indeed, every time she looks in one of her mirrors (and she has many) from that moment on, it turns black, which causes a Villainous Breakdown.
  • Femme Fatalons:
    • The witch in Rapunzel has a rather impressive set of these. She puts them to good use, clawing out the prince's eyes.
    • In Sleeping Beauty, the evil fairy Henbane sports enormous nails in her giant One-Winged Angel form, which she uses like claws to fight against the Prince.
  • Fingore: In Rapunzel, the witch threatens to cut off Claude's fingers after she catches him stealing from her garden. When he tells her he was stealing for his wife's benefit, she threatens to cut off her fingers too.
  • Foreshadowing: In "Rapunzel", the title character tells the Prince that the witch told her the day her hair got cut would be the worst day of her life. Indeed, when it actually happens, it's a horrible day for her.
  • Framing Device: Several episodes have them; for instance, the pea in "The Princess and the Pea" is now in a modern museum — a direct reference to the ending of the original story!
  • Friend to All Living Things: The Miller's daughter from "Rumpelstiltskin".
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Tina in "The Three Little Pigs" pulls this on Buck Wolf.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Paul in "The Three Little Pigs" tells the salesman about the building material he desires for his house.
    Paul Pig: Ya see, I'm building me a house. A nice wood house. Something the ladies "wood" love, and ladies love wood. Believe me.
  • Getting Eaten Is Harmless: Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother both get eaten alive. After Chris cuts open the wolf's stomach, they're both completely unharmed.
  • Grand Finale: Subverted by circumstance: The "Greatest Moments" Clip Show featuring performers in and out of character is actually the last episode, filmed in 1985, but due to Showtime's erratic scheduling it ended up airing midway through the broadcast run and was not made available on VHS.
  • G-Rated Sex: The series as a whole does not shy away from implied sexuality, but there is one odd example in "Rapunzel" where the title character apparently manages to give birth to twins after one visit with the Prince where they merely confessed their love for each-other and made out for a bit. Although by the time the Witch finds out, Rapunzel is almost finished making the ladder to escape with the Prince, so presumably some time has passed that could have included more visits where the twins were conceived.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: A particularly great one occurs between James Earl Jones's Comedic Sociopath Genie of the Lamp and Leonard Nimoy's Evil Is Hammy Evil Magician. No scenery is left unchewed.
  • Henpecked Husband:
    • Buck Wolf in "The Three Little Pigs"; the whole reason he's trying to capture one of the pigs is that his seen-but-not-heard wife Nadine demands one since a coyote couple is coming over for dinner and "They like pork!"
    • Also, Rip Van Winkle, as in the original Washington Irving story.
  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": In "Beauty and the Beast", her name really is "Beauty"! Her two sisters are understandably resentful.
  • The Igor: Attila from The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Klaus Kinski as a handsome prince in "Beauty and the Beast".
  • Inspiration Nod: The climax of "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" manages to be both faithful to the poem and an extended Played for Drama homage to Poltergeist (1982), perhaps inspired by the fact that the nature of the Piper's music (which "tells" its targets that if they follow him they will reach their idea of Paradise) is not unlike how Carol Anne is lured to the Other Side. When the Piper enchants the children of the town to follow him, a disembodied female voice cries "He's heeeeere!" as they suddenly and obediently leave their schoolwork, etc. behind. From there, when they reach Koppleberg Hill and the portal opens in the rock, all that can be seen is a blinding white light that the Piper and the contentedly smiling children file into.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Stereo, according to the royal musician in "Tale of the Frog Prince".
  • Large Ham: At least one in every episode. Henbane from "Sleeping Beauty" and the Genie of the Lamp from "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp" are just two examples. The most spectacular is probably the frog played by Robin Williams.
  • Laser-Guided Karma
    • In "Cinderella": Cinderella's stepfamily immediately try to weasel in on her marriage once they realize they're in-laws with the Prince. The Fairy Godmother turns them into rabbits.
    • A sad twist on this in "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" with regards to the lame boy. He never realizes it, but he was left behind as a reward for being courteous to the Piper when he first arrived.
  • Little Miss Con Artist: Goldilocks from "The Three Bears".
  • Lyrical Dissonance: The miller's daughter gently singing her baby a lullaby over ominous background music as Rumpelstiltskin climbs through the window to claim him.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Again, Goldilocks!
  • Medieval European Fantasy: The setting for most episodes.
  • Misplaced Wildlife:
  • Ms. Fanservice: Princess Debbie in "Sleeping Beauty". Her role is fairly minor, but... well... just see for yourself.
  • Mood Whiplash: Some of the lighthearted episodes can turn dead serious in a hurry. Likewise, some of the more dramatic episodes can suddenly turn goofy.
  • Montage Ends the VHS: A compilation trailer previewing the whole series ended the original VHS releases. It was moved up to the start of the videos when CBS/FOX subsidiary Playhouse Video rereleased them at the end of The '80s.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: The Three Little Pigs are named Peter, Paul, and Larry, punning on The '60s musical group Peter, Paul and Mary. Larry even suggests they could form a folk music group early on!
  • Named by the Adaptation: Quite a few episodes invoke this as so many of the original stories went with No Name Given. For example, Rapunzel's prince is named Henry, and her parents are named Claude and Marie.
  • Non Sequitur: In "The Snow Queen" an otherwise normal reindeer is apparently able to fly. This is never addressed.
  • Not in Front of the Parrot!: In "Rapunzel", the title character's affair with the Prince is given away when the pet parrot starts repeating some of what they said in front of the witch.
  • Not What It Looks Like: In "The Tale of the Frog Prince", when the king discovers his daughter in bed with a naked man.
  • Offscreen Karma: At the end of "Rapunzel", the narrator mentions that the Witch died of "hardening of the heart".
  • Parental Bonus: A lot, especially in the comedy-centric episodes. These range from the theme naming of the Three Little Pigs (see above) to cheeky anachronisms in the dialogue to occasional references to the performers' other work (Goldilocks' mother is working on a needlepoint project that reads "My life is a tapestry" — she's played by Carole King).
  • Parental Favoritism: Beauty's father in "Beauty and the Beast" obviously favors the title character over his other two daughters. Why else would he name her "Beauty"?
  • Played for Laughs: Quite a few episodes, such as "The Tale of the Frog Prince", "The Three Little Pigs", and "Pinocchio". In general, the simpler the original story is, the more likely it ends up played as comedy. It's also common for the adaptations of stories that prominently feature anthropomorphic animals to play up the humor.
  • The Pollyanna: The miller's daughter from "Rumpelstiltskin". She has to marry a Psychopathic Manchild who threatened to kill her multiple times, but she's just happy to be alive, skipping merrily down the halls of the castle. It helps that she's played by Shelley Duvall.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: This is one of the few versions of "Cinderella" where the stepmother realizes she'd still be in-laws with the Prince if Cinderella marries him. The Fairy Godmother immediately turns her and the stepsisters (temporarily) into rabbits.
  • Precision F-Strike: From the first episode!
    The Frog: You're very beautiful in your own bitchy way.
  • Race Lift: "Puss in Boots" has an all-black cast with the exception of the Farmer, who is played by John Schuck.
  • Related in the Adaptation: In Villeneuve's original version of "Beauty and the Beast", Beauty was the daughter of a king and a good fairy. A wicked fairy had tried to murder baby Beauty so she could marry her father, and Beauty was put in the place of the merchant's deceased daughter to protect her. In this version, as in most retellings starting with Beaumont's, this backstory is cut and Beauty is the merchant's biological daughter.
  • Really 700 Years Old: The witch in "Rapunzel" claims to have been around for centuries.
  • Relatively Flimsy Excuse: Inverted in "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp": the evil magician that convinces Aladdin to delve into the cave and retrieve the lamp does so by pretending to be Aladdin's long lost Uncle. Aladdin's mother calls him on it, stating that her deceased husband never mentioned having a brother, but the magician plays it off.
  • Rhyming Episode: "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" save for the opening scene, which establishes the justification for it being this.
  • Romantic Comedy: Two different kiddie video critics in The '80s pointed out that the "Princess and the Pea" adaptation, which toplines Liza Minnelli, is effectively a fairy tale version of the then-recent romantic comedy hit Arthur (1981) — not least because she was the leading lady in that too!
  • Scenery Porn: "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp" and "Beauty and the Beast" are both prime examples of this.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: The King and Queen get one in "Sleeping Beauty".
  • Show Some Leg: Princess Debbie, in her attempt to seduce the Prince in "Sleeping Beauty".
  • Shout-Out:
    • In Sleeping Beauty, which takes place in Russia, the king and queen's names are Boris and Natasha, and later, this dialogue occurs:
    Henbane: You've got quite a way with words, dear heart.
    • In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Snow White's chin-length hair with a ribbon in it looks very much like the hairstyle of her Disney counterpart.
    • In The Three Little Pigs, the title characters are named Peter, Paul and Larry, and when they first leave home, Larry suggests that they form a folk music trio.
  • Sliding Scale of Adaptation Modification: Anywhere from 2 to 5 depending on the episode.
  • Spinoff:
  • Spiritual Successor: Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child — both shows have at least 24 episodes apiece, revolve around the same basic concept of celebrities performing fairy tales, and originally aired on pay cable.
  • Standard Snippet: Also sprach Zarathustra is used in "The Tale of the Frog Prince" when the frog retrieves the ball from the well (in a shot similar to the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey no less).
  • Straw Character: The mole in "Thumbelina" is a straw conservative, being a stuffy antiquarian who hates the very concept of progress.
  • Ɯberwald: The setting of "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers" complete with variations of Dracula and Igor (see above).
  • Unicorn: One shows up in "Rumpelstiltskin" (in the form of a miniature pony wearing a rubber horn).
  • Video Inside, Film Outside: The scenes at and around Beauty's home in "Beauty and the Beast" are shot on film, while the scenes in the Beast's domain are shot on videotape. This is the only episode in the series that uses film at all — all other episodes are shot on video.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Averted in "Thumbelina", which ends with the title character reuniting with her mother on the way to getting wed to the fairy prince (since she wants her to bless the union).
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The "Beauty and the Beast" episode is very much a loving homage to Jean Cocteau's classic film La Belle et la Bête.
  • Wicked Witch: Played straight numerous times, but averted in "The Little Mermaid". The Sea Witch is presented as a neutral party, but tries to talk Pearl out of wanting legs by describing the pain it'll bring.
  • Wizard Classic: A rather flamboyant example appears in "Rumpelstiltskin".
  • Would Hurt a Child: Fairy tales, what do you expect? But the Witch from Hansel and Gretel earns a special place, given she eats children and bakes their heart into gingerbread. She even eats one boy offscreen.