A while back, I and my fellow Wesleyan blogger Jocelyn Spencer were having a little chat (as we often do to avoid politics) on the subject of unimaginably awful films, and the scarring effect they can have on the human psyche. And believe me, it was encyclopedic. Oh, we hit all the old stand-bys: Manos the Hands of Fate, the Wicker Man, Nukie, Star Trek V, Battlefield Earth, every Disney sequel ever made, you know the drill. But then we started getting into the realm of the obscure, and I mean really, obscenely obscure. And wouldn’t you know it, I just managed to recollect a cinematic abomination so terrible that its very description made her eyes go wide with both horror and curiosity at the same time. For those of you who are curious about that description, here it is:
What if I told you that Hallmark – you know, the greeting card company – commissioned a series of faerie-tale cartoons in the 80’s which were drawn by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (the team behind such classics as the Flinstones, Jetsons and Yogi Bear), and which featured Olivia Newton John as an environmental aesop-spouting hostess? And what if I also told you that these films featured some of the worst songs ever written (damn you, late 80’s/early 90’s fixation on animated musicals), and a Satanic talking Teddy Bear voiced by one of the actors from the Rugrats? Ladies and gentlemen, meet Timeless Tales, a 12-part series so horrible it could only have been conceived by Dr Facilier’s “Friends on the Other Side.” Except they’re better animated. Yeah.
Fortunately, while the original series had 12 parts, only three of them survive in any discoverable form (IE on Youtube), so I really need only explain the horrors of those. They are, in alphabetical order: Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin and Thumbelina. Now, Jocelyn already penned a review of Rapunzel, and far be it from me to invalidate her suffering, so you’ll just have to hope she resubmits it to this site. But Rumpelstiltskin and Thumbelina…aye, there’s the rub. Oh ye Gods, give me strength as we venture into the bottomless pit of suffering offered by these two orifice-stretching blasphemies.
First, at the risk of impinging on some of what Jocelyn’s already written, it behooves me to explain the premise of the series. Olivia Newton John’s character, if it even is a character (we never get a name), lives in a picturesque little white house, where she seemingly does nothing whatsoever other than sit in her living room chair and opine about how much she loves various Faerie Tales while foreshadowing the tale we are about to witness. Well, nothing other than allow children to randomly break into her house, sneak into the dusty, health code violating attic up a creaky and unstable flight of stairs and read aforementioned faerie tales out of a magical book totally free of supervision of any kind while she sits serenely downstairs next to her copy of the Yellow Pages, whose section on good civil defense attorneys is probably more dog-eared than Lassie. To make matters worse, after the camera cuts into the aforementioned attic (which, judging by the way the show is shot, it does by breaking a hole in Olivia’s ceiling), we come across a Teddy Bear which appears to be possessed by the demonic aspect of Phil and Lil from Rugrats. This abomination, besides having the ability to talk and move, apparently possesses demonic laser-beam eyes so powerful that they can cut through the 4th f******* wall! Seriously, the bear actually talks directly to the camera as though it were a person. Judging by the fact that said “person” can apparently jump-cut through Olivia Newton John’s ceiling, the bear must either be talking to some sort of evil, voyeuristic Poltergeist (whose eyes, for some reason, we’re supposed to look through), or it can see directly through the fourth wall into our very souls. Ave ave versus Christus.
Anyway, once the aforementioned children enter the attic, engage in some truly cringe-inducing childlike banter (the boy uses the word “radical” like it’s an actual synonym for “cool” without a speck of irony) and find the almighty book of Satanic hymns…I mean faerie tales…we’re off into our stories. Rumpelstiltskin and Thumbelina, in this case. Now, one problem with this series that doesn’t manifest itself as visibly in these stories, but which manifests itself nonetheless, is the tendency by the screenwriters to give actual names to figures whose names were left ambiguous by the original authors of the stories. For instance, in Rumpelstiltskin, “the Miller’s daughter” gains the name “Gisella,” and in “Thumbelina,” the Mole who hungers for our heroine’s affection is given the name “Mr. Budgenaught.” Done right, this would be useful shorthand – as Barry Manilow can readily attest, it gets awfully awkward to just refer to a character as “the Mole” – but it’s not done right. For one thing, the names are horridly awkward, almost without exception. For another, the choice of who to name is completely arbitrary – the Mole gets named, for instance, but not the woman who raises Thumbelina. The Miller’s daughter gets named, but not her father or the King who abducts her. But perhaps most embarrassingly, some characters get different names from their canonical ones in the stories. This only happens in Rapunzel, where the Witch (whose original name in most folklore is “Mother Gothel”) gets saddled with the much-worse option of “Scarlotta,” but seeing as Jocelyn didn’t mention it in her review, I think I’m safe. And yes, I know, I’m a fantasy nerd. But these movies suck.
Now, without getting into the particulars of either story, which are botched enough for five reviews, let me just sketch out the two biggest general (and horrific) problems with the way these stories are told. For one thing, the characters are hideously unlikable. Both Thumbelina and the Miller’s daughter are such blatant caricatures of Damsels-in-Distress, I think even Wahhabi Mullahs would find them degrading to women. And their antagonists are even worse – every single one of Thumbelina’s would-be suitors has a voice like nails on a chalkboard, and none of them get even one real dimension. The Toad is just your generic Brooklyn mobster (though without an accent), and the Mole sounds like a senile English Squire. Rumpelstiltskin, meanwhile, sounds like Gilbert Gottfried on Helium, and to compound the annoyance, he only speaks in rhyming couplets. And it gets old.
And then there’s the songs. I’m not sure how I can ever begin to describe the horror of these affairs, so I’ll just hyperlink one here. Watch it and weep with horror, for I have already done so. I’m not sure what else I can say without making this review novel-length, so I’ll leave it there. Next time, be prepared for a review of something more well-known, but no less horrific – a film that probably managed to scar half of us for life with its heartrendingly inappropriate emotional dynamics, and the other half with its Diabetes-flavored depictions of forest life: That’s right. It’s time for the horror…