Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Mixed Bag That Is Storytelling: The Storyteller

The Good: Good acting, Nice puppeteering, Some decent stories
The Bad: Not all for children, Use of medium
The Basics: Every night, the Storyteller sits down and tells a classic folk tale reimagined by the Henson workshop over nine wonderful episodes.

The Storyteller was a short-lived series put out by Jim Henson's production company in 1987. Fantasy often gets underrated and largely, The Storyteller was swept under the rug by network television. It is, however, now available on DVD and it has a great deal to recommend it.

The idea behind The Storyteller is rather simple: a gnarly old storyteller sits down by the fire each night (in this case, each episode) and tells the audience a story, usually by telling the story to his dog. As he tells the story, it is acted out by the mythical characters in the tale.

Stories in The Storyteller include:
"Hans My Hedgehog" - The tale of a hedgehog who was raised by human parents who is ostracized by the community and flees into exile. Later in his life, he saves a king who awards him his daughter in a Beauty And The Beast-style story,

"The Three Ravens" - A wicked stepmother story wherein the new bride of the king sees the princes as threats to her power so she turns them into birds, a spell that may only be broken by the princesses three continuous years of silence,

"The True Bride" - The story of a girl who flees an abusive troll with the help of a white lion only to learn that her betrothed is under a spell from another troll. With the help of the white lion and her own cunning, she must thwart the trolls and win back her love,

"The Soldier and Death" - A charming tale wherein a soldier manages to bring peace about and end death, with intriguing consequences,

"Fearnot" - The story of a young man who is incapable of feeling fear (though he desperately wants to), so he goes on a quest to discover what being scared is all about,

and "A Story Short" wherein the Storyteller himself tells the story of how he became an entertainer to a king by coming up with a story a day for a year to pay for his trespassing.

There are also three other stories.

The common thread throughout the series is the storyteller and his narration of each story feels like all of the good things you might have remembered about your parents reading to you at night. And if they never did, well, this is a chance to have that experience. With visuals.

The cool thing about The Storyteller is that each tale is told using an array of live action (actors) characters as well as puppeteered creatures. So, for instance, in "The Soldier & Death," death is a small puppetted creature the soldier is able to capture and put in a sack. The puppet work is remarkably well done.

The wide array of guest stars makes each story come alive, as well. Amusingly enough, with the success of The Lord Of The Rings, the back of the DVD box boasts the participation of both Sean Astin and Sean Bean. They give wonderful performances in their episodes and it is refreshing to see them in other things. Other guest stars who appear in The Storyteller include Miranda Richardson (who I like from Blackadder) and Jonathan Pryce (from Brazil).

The Storyteller himself is played by John Hurt and he is wonderful in the role. His performance never overshadows the tale he is telling, which allows for the programs to flow rather well. Hurt, however, has an amazing voice that is both soothing and expressive, making him an idea storyteller.

The only drawback of the DVD set is that if one sits down and watches them in a single sitting, the show takes on a repetitive feel. Outside that, the tales are universal folk tales (many of which are compiled from multiple stories in order to make up a half hour program each time) that are brought to life with a magical sense of realism through the use of the puppets and actors.

However, some of them get strangely creepy or suggestively graphic and they may scare younger viewers. But then, who said storytime was just for children?

For other works on HBO, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
True Blood - Season Four
Six Feet Under
Da Ali G Show


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all that I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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