Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Slipper And The Rose

Welcome back followers! Still going down the more family friendly side of my nature I thought we would also go back and talk about one of my favorite genres of film: the musical. What better way to combine my love of music and movies than to talk about musical films and a very underrated one is The Slipper And The Rose. Of course by the title you may or may not know this is a musical version of the fairy tale Cinderella which is completely a British production filmed in both London and Austria. There is the more famous Cinderella musical with songs written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein III but The Slipper And The Rose is a little more mature in tone but still a family film and quite beautiful the first time you see it. For those of you who haven't despite knowing the story let's first look at the plot of this twice-told tale...

Once Upon A Time...
In the fictional kingdom of Euphrania, their prince returns home from meeting a princess he has been arranged to marry with less than thrilling results. Our prince, Edward, is a romantic who wants to be able to marry for love but his parents (and much of the royal court) need him to marry in order to keep the kingdom from  going to war with neighboring countries. So since Edward has snubbed his chosen bride, a ball is to be held to find himself a wife from one of Euphrania's potential enemy kingdoms.

Since this a Cinderella story we can't go without mentioning our heroine but it's pretty much the same as always: her father has passed away and now she is a servant at the hands of her stepmother and two less attractive stepsisters in her own home. The twist is that before even the night of the ball commences Cinderella meets her fairy godmother who looks less fairy like than you would imagine but she has a way with helping those in trouble and pure in heart and assisting her is a little dog and a lot of wit.

After testing Cinderella's kindness, she helps to send our girl to the ball in wonderful European period dress as "The Princess Incognita" (which I think is quite clever) with the same warnings that at midnight, the magic is over. Once Edward sets his eyes on Cinderella, it's love at first sight for both of them and they dance until the clock sounds its warning and of course a slipper is left behind. Edward searches in vain for his lost love almost to the point of frustration but soon he finds Cinderella and you think our story would end there... but it doesn't it. We go beyond happily ever after... or do we even reach it? Not being of royal blood or born in a country of needed alliance, Cinderella is sent into exile with Edward left to marry for the honor of Euphrania. Will Edward go through with a marriage that is based on duty and not love? Will he ever see his Cinderella again and will she ever get her true happy ending torn from the one she loves?

I can't really remember when I first saw this film but I do remember that when I saw it for sale on DVD that I was intrigued by it because as stated before I love fairy tales. There have been many interpretations of Cinderella and this has to be at least in the top 3 of my choosing for a number of reasons. As I stated the movie was filmed in London and Austria so the backdrop scenery in this movie is absolutely gorgeous especially in the countryside scenes but the palace scenes are also very beautiful...almost as beautiful as the costumes. Since the movie is a period piece set when powdered wigs were the point of high fashion, the costumes are dazzling on not just the women but also on the men and reflect the beauty of the time when Charles Perrault first published the story of Cinderella.

 Before I talk about the actors, another thing that makes The Slipper And The Rose such a gem is of course the music and the composers of the film are ones most of us know very well: The Sherman Brothers. Don't know them you say? Well Robert B. Sherman and his brother Richard M. Sherman are responsible for writing a lot of songs for Disney films and many other films from childhood you may recognize (go on and Google them and just see how many!) and were Academy award winning composers when it came time to do music for this film.

 Besides composing the songs for The Slipper And The Rose, The Brothers Sherman also wrote the film alongside the director Bryan Forbes and as writers they do a pretty good job if only in my opinion of course. Sadly, Robert passed away in 2012 ending the duo but his brother Richard is still alive so their legacy is still far from being finished. The songs themselves are catchy numbers and beautiful ballads and if you love films like Mary Poppins then you are sure to enjoy the songs in The Slipper And The Rose and will end up humming and singing them inside your head long after watching it.

 Now, the film is not all drama and romance there is all hilarious comedy and I believe all three elements work because of The Slipper And The Rose's wonderful cast. The King and The High Chamberlain characters portrayed by Michael Hordern and Kenneth More respectively play off each other very well which provides most of the comedy but the dowager queen played by Edith Evans and Prince Edward's foppish cousin Montague, played by Julian Orchard, also display bits of comedic timing as well.

Even though it is Cinderella's story and I do love romance my favorite character in the film by far is Cinderella's fairy godmother played by Annette Crosbie. She is hilarious in a very lady-like way, poised and kind of soft spoken, but she is clever and witty as well. She doesn't just appear once to grant Cinderella's wish but she also helps drive the story along when needed and the character bows out gracefully when scenes don't call for her.

I guess since this a Cinderella film we should take a look at the actress who portrays her in The Slipper And The Rose, Gemma Craven. I think she makes for a very pretty and sweet Cinderella and she has a nice singing voice but I believe she gets overshadowed by other characters and actors in this film. You wouldn't know that Craven was 26 when she starred in this film because she looks so young and even though she has done acting before and after The Slipper And The Rose, which is a beautiful film but I can see why they don't outright state that this is a Cinderella film because our Cinderella doesn't really shine as bright as her glass slippers here.

If anything The Slipper And The Rose seems to be Cinderella's story told from the prince's point of view and when your prince is played by a handsome actor like Richard Chamberlain it isn't that much of a shock. I'll admit I've always had a small attraction to Richard Chamberlain but it comes from having to watch The Thorn Birds a lot with my mother as a little girl (and there' nothing wrong with that believe me!). Yes, I know now that Richard Chamberlain is gay but you have to admit that you didn't know then because it seems Richard Chamberlain was very good at acting to hide that fact because he seems to be perfect here as Prince Edward. Chamberlain has charm, an excellent singing voice and so much under his belt acting wise before playing this role in The Slipper And The Rose that it is my second favorite role of his even if The Thorn Birds came later.

 Besides the obvious there is actually one more actor in this movie that I have to mention and his name is Christopher Gable, who plays the character John, valet to the prince. Not only does the character get his own side story but he also gets two songs to sing in the film which display Gable's good looks and amazing voice and we even get to see a little bit of his dancing skill seeing as Gable was a British ballet star early in his career.

Once again I stand behind my opinion that The Slipper And The Rose is at least in the Top Three of Cinderella movie adaptations (based on my opinion) for its beautiful cinematography, costumes, songs and its fine cast. The Cinderella character may get lost in the adaptation but it is still a wonderful film worth watching whether it is with your family or on your own curiosity.

***This is a first - I could not locate an original trailer for The Slipper And The Rose for you to watch! There is a fan-made trailer but the beautiful music of the film is too loud in one certain scene but you can still find it on YouTube as well as the whole movie (while you still can since copyrights may cause it to be taken down).***

NEXT TIME: Still in a fantasy mood, we going to look at an animated film that deserves a little love and recognition from those geniuses at Rankin-Bass called Flight Of Dragons.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Polar Bear King

Welcome back followers and I am pretty sure most of you are female as I continue my lighter side of looking at films that I love but if you so happen to be a man I appreciate you sticking it out with me as I talk about today's film. Now I have tackled only one film so far based on a fairy tale and let's admit it was a little heavy-handed and not exactly kid-friendly (if you missed it you can check out my blog post on Snow White: A Tale Of Terror) but today's movie I am going to discuss is quite suitable for least in my opinion. First of all you may ask is why does a 30 year old woman want to talk about fairy tales in the first place? Answer: I enjoy fairy tales because you can do so much with them. Fairy tales come from cultures all over the world and can be told in so many ways such as poetry, music, books, films, plays, ballets, art and other forms of media.

Let's face it we all grew up hearing them at bedtime, during school and most of us grew up watching Disney films based on fairy tales and as we get older we become parents and tell them to our children. For me personally as I have gotten older I have discovered that there are so many obscure fairy tales we never got to discover as children and The Polar Bear King is based on one of those. The plot of this little known movie is actually a mash up of two Norwegian fairy tales, East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon and the almost similar White Bear King Valemon, but also based on Greek mythology and a Scandinavian version basically of the French fairy tale Beauty And The Beast. A lot to take in I know so why don't I just explain the way I always do except since we are dealing with a fairy tale it goes a little more like this...

Once Upon A Plot...
In a kingdom where it is winter all year round, an old king has three daughters and his youngest is of course the prettiest and kindest mostly because her oldest sister is the meanest and her middle sister is well the middle child isn't she? Anyway, the youngest daughter is the heroine of our tale and she has been having dreams about a land where flowers grow and seeing the figure of a handsome prince moving through the trees...well we are meant to believe he is handsome because the princess can never really see the prince's face (this is a major plot point so hold onto your spoilers!). Fortunately for us, we get to see that the prince is indeed handsome since the place our winter princess is dreaming of is quite real: a land of constant summer where the king has died and now his son, Valemon, is its ruler. On the day of his father's death and his crowning as king, a witch who has been lusting after him offers Valemon the chance to rule by her side and when he refuses, she turns him into a polar bear and some what less than stellar 1990s puppetry and animatronics ensue!

Now the Polar Bear King (hence our title) must stay this way for seven years (wow that witch really must have been ticked off huh?) and in that span also find a wife who can look past the bear and love the man within. So naturally the princess finds our bear king and with one look can tell that this is the man she has been dreaming of and accepts from it a golden chain (given to the king by his mother just before he was turned into a bear) that pretty much works as a wedding ring. So leaving her winter wonderland behind, the princess travels to the bear king's kingdom and finds out that at night her husband can come to her as a man but she can never see his face. So whether you find it creepy or romantic, King Valemon and the princess have royal relations at night and though she never sees his face, she bears his royal heirs but every time the witch comes to steal them only for the newborn babies to be spirited away by the king's mother using her more kindly magic.

 Depressed over constantly losing her children, Valemon tells his bride to visit with her family after she receives a gift of enchanted snow (go with me here it's a fairy tale...) from her father which seems to give her strength. So the princess goes home and of course her sisters give her grief over being married to a bear and not seeing the face of the man who has fathered her children when he is no longer a wild animal. The oldest daughter gives her little sister a rather impressive lighter for an enchanted Scandinavian fairy tale land and tells her to finally discover whether she has been hooking up with a troll  even though it's clear from what we saw of the babies that they were perfectly human. Curiosity of course wins out and the princess soon discovers that disobeying her promise to Valemon has now put him in an even worse situation than being a bear for seven years and now she must do whatever it takes to free her husband from the evil witch...

That is as much of the plot as I can tell you without spoiling the whole film but since we are all intelligent people here you can pretty much come to the conclusion that there will be a happily ever after. The middle part of the story as to what the princess must do to save King Valemon from the witch is pretty much the only part that I will not tell you because the fairy tales of which The Polar Bear King are based have different plots concerning our heroine's journey and the way in which the ending of the tale concludes are just as different. I don't expect most of you to watch The Polar Bear King to try and find out unless you have kids or you are just curious but that doesn't mean you also can't get on the Internet or even go to the library or even find a bookseller to find out what happens. If I have done anything it's at least sparked your interest in reading up on obscure fairy tales or even in reading an actual book and that makes me proud because reading is actual quite fun ya know?

Back to The Polar Bear King as a film, if you aren't that into fairy tales you can at least sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the movie. I'm not much of an outdoor person and certainly not a winter outdoor person but I do like to look at snow when its fresh and white before being trampled over and seeing how beautiful Norway looks in this film, I don't think I would mind it as much. One thing that might throw you off if you do watch The Polar Bear King is that the dialogue is completely dubbed over by American voices I believe if not by the actors themselves speaking English. Most of the actors in the film are Norwegian, Swedish, German or even combinations of the three so for American audiences of children to understand the story you could have it narrated completely (half of the story is actually narrated) but it's always nice to have fairy tales acted out.

Since I discovered this movie when I was about out of elementary school going into middle school, I don't mind the dubbing so much but to find a non-English version with English subtitles might be a nice find and bring out the true beauty of the tale. As an adult, I still love The Polar Bear King for the story and the cinematography but the witch and the "polar bear" are the only aspects that may make me a tad embarrassed.  The actress who plays the witch, Anna-Lotta Larsson, seems to be having a ball but because of the dubbing I don't know if it's really her voice spouting out those over-the-top lines of dialogue. Sometimes translating one language to another isn't easy so I can't tell if it's the Swedish-born Larsson speaking her lines in English making the translation sound so cheesy or if the English speaking actress dubbing over her lines is just over-acting because she's the villain.

The polar bear puppet which ironically was created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop may look okay to a child's eye but now as an adult I can tell how fake it looks with no offense to all things Henson I grew up with. Also when the "bear" speaks it can throw you off a little because it does have a gruff voice but again because of dubbing it might not be that bad in the original. The rest of the cast and their dubbed over performances are not as jarring to me and I actually think they translate well before I even knew this film was dubbed I always assumed they did sound that way. Actor Jack Fjeldstad who plays the princess' father was actually a well-celebrated and respected Norwegian actor and the actress who plays the heroine, Maria Bonnevie, is a Swedish theatrical actress. Bonnevie was only 18 when she made her movie debut in The Polar Bear King and she does look the part of a Nordic princess but not just a pretty face either in showing the strength behind her blonde locks as well.

The last character of note of course is King Valemon and the actor who plays him Tobias Hoesl, a German actor. I mention them both because well I feel sorry that we don't get to see more out of Tobias because well I admit he is quite handsome and sadly, that's all I can say about him. Most of the movie his face is shrouded in shadow because that's just how the story goes as well as being that his character is a bear most of the time. Since the film is dubbed, I can't judge Hoesl's vocal performance either but I seriously want to cling to the fact that maybe he did dub his own voice in English because the voice of King Valemon when he is human is perfect to a romantic like me.

So is The Polar Bear King an Oscar caliber high fantasy film? No but it is a good film to watch with your family because the story is simple to follow. It is beautifully filmed and the costumes are nice. It may not be appropriate for really young children and at times the acting may be over the top but you can blame it on bad dubbing or the story being lost in translation due to trying to decipher the script to English-speaking audiences. In my own personal opinion, The Polar Bear King gets high marks for taking on a less known fairy tale with a strong female hero and having her save the prince or in this case king for a change. In short do I feel silly for enjoying this movie and fairy tales in general? Answer: No not at all and maybe that is the real reason I love fairy tales because of the romance and fantasy because it appeals to me on a level that just refuses to grow up and throw away those rose-tinted glasses of childhood and The Polar Bear King is no exception.

NEXT TIME: Sticking with the fairy tale theme but going in a whole other direction a more musical one if you will involving The Slipper And The Rose

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Kiki's Delivery Service

Hey loyal followers I know it's been months since my last post but I was in the processes of moving to a different state and a new home so I had a lot on my plate. Now I'm settled in and back to blogging so I'll continue with the film I promised would be next...

Welcome to what is a first for me: blogging about an animated film. Being a fan of all things film, I especially enjoy movies of the animated genre because I have discovered that no matter a person's age these types of movies bring people together. The movie I will be taking about is a type of animation I have developed quite a love for though not really a type but the country from which originates is the most beautiful I have ever seen: Japan. I have learned to enjoy plenty of Japanese anime since I have gotten older but the animation that has come out of this country that I enjoy the most has been brought to us by Studio Ghibli. In the past I have stated that I have only three favorite directors but I am now correcting myself: I have four favorites and Hayao Miyazaki is my number four. When it comes to animation directing, Miyazaki really is a genius and I enjoy his films immensely including today's film: Kiki's Delivery Service.

In Japan this film was released in 1989 and the English dubbed version was released in 1998 with an all-star voice cast that includes Kirsten Dunst, Janeane Garofalo, Debbie Reynolds, Matthew Lawrence and the late Phil Hartman. I have never tackled how to rate voice acting when I usually talk about a film's cast but we will get to that later first of course as always...

What's The Plot?
Kiki is not any average 13 year old growing up in Japan (face it are any Japanese teens normal in anime?) she just happens to be a witch. She fits the stereotype of flying on a broom and having a black cat but even her cat isn't ordinary as he can talk and Jiji always has something sarcastic to say. Since she has now reached the age when witches can live on their own for a year, Kiki leaves her small village and heads of to the bigger cities of Japan.

Reaching the seaport town of Koriko, it seems our little witch is not any different than other 13 year old girls her age as she must deal with her own insecurities and other adolescent worries such as popularity and acceptance among her peers and dealing with boys or one boy in particular named Tombo who is obsessed with flying and gets on Kiki's last nerve from time to time. To support herself, Kiki starts working at a local bakery run by the very pregnant but pleasant Osono and her silent husband and uses her ability to fly to start delivering baked goods throughout the city (but you probably already knew that from the title right?) Being on her own and far from home, can Kiki keep up her studies to be the best witch she can be or will the pressure of wanting to just be a normal teenage girl end up affecting her magic?

It's a relatively simple plot found in most anime geared towards girls but Kiki's Delivery Service is also enjoyable for a male audience thanks to characters like Tombo and of course in the English dub, Jiji voiced by Phil Hartman. Qualities that bring in the audience not based on gender are of course the beautiful animation of not just the people but the backgrounds of the town of Koriko. Miyazaki and his animation team visited Stockholm, Sweden to give the town more of an eastern European look which the book (yes this was based on a book and adapted by Hayao Miyazaki himself) is set outside of Japan in a non-described or named European town. You can see the influence Stockholm the animators as the town does have that old world look to it but also combines the beauty of Japan and even 1950s or 1960s America.

Now I have watched Kiki's Delivery Service with the Japanese language track and enjoyed it but when it comes to discussing the characters I will be using the English actors since that is the version more people will probably watch or have seen that come across this blog post. Kirsten Dunst voices Kiki and I think she does a pretty good job because she does have a very young and energetic voice and I have always loved Kirsten Dunst because she handles drama and comedy quite well. Being about 15-16 when she voiced Kiki, Kirsten Dunst was still a teenager and I think that helps being closer to the character's age to bring out the real emotions that girls in their teen years can relate to. Janeane Garofalo voices the character Ursula, a young painter that Kiki meets and well I enjoy her very much because unless you know who it is you are pleasantly surprised by how mature and calm you can find her voice when you don't picture the Queen of Snark behind it.

Matthew Lawrence as Tombo is cute and somewhat annoying which means as an actor Matthew is doing his job and like Kirsten he has a young and energetic voice which fits the character. Matthew was about 17-18 voicing Tombo so also still a teenager and not too much of a stretch to relate to the character just through the actor's voice. Debbie Reynolds voices another character, one of Kiki's customers, and voice acting superstar Tress MacNeille provides the voice for Osono. Saving him for last, I absolutely love Phil Hartman as Jiji with his normal quick-wit, sarcastic style that was smarmy when needed to be but still smooth and charming in a loveable kind of way. His voice over on Kiki's Delivery Service was his last movie role before his untimely and tragic death and I won't spoil it for you but when you don't get to hear his voice anymore it is truly a very sad moment if you were truly a fan of his acting.

We still miss you, Mr. Hartman

I could talk more in depth about Kiki's Delivery Service but I feel I would spoil it for you and when it comes to animated films, you need to see them and hear the voice acting to truly enjoy it. I hope you give Kiki's Delivery Service a chance and if not still try to check out as much Studio Ghibli or Hayao Miyazaki films you chance upon. It should be worth noting that I may be bringing up more of these films anyway so why not try and beat me to the punch maybe?

NEXT BLOG: We leave behind animation but we still maintain a world of fantasy and talk about a film from my childhood that I wish to share with you all: The Polar Bear King