Sunday, April 15, 2012

TV Series Review: Jim Henson's The Storyteller

I'd heard a few people recommend this series in the past year, most recently the fairy-tale webcomic Erstwhile likes to include recommendations to other works which are adaptions/re-tellings, and found out that convientely enough it was streaming on Netflix. I haven't actually seen any works involving Jim Henson's puppets except for The Muppets (to my knowledge anyway and I think I'd remember something like this) but this seems like as good a place as any to start.

Jim Henson's The Storyteller

Summary: Join and old storyteller and his dog as they retell old tales, happy and sad alike, around the fireplace

The Good: The series is on the short side, clocking in around six hours all told and each episode is a bit under a half hour, and I thought that the pacing worked well and that none of the tales were compressed or overly drawn out (I'd imagine the length also probably helped this reach a wider audience of younger viewers, it feels more like an All-Ages show than one strictly for children or adults). I've read a number of fairy tales over the years so it was nice to see some old ones reappear (such as Stone Soup which was a staple of my childhood) as well as ones I didn't know (such as All Fur, funny enough it's also the same tale Erstwhile is currently adapting). The stories are from all over Western Europe, with one or two coming from Russia of course, and that diversity also let each tale feel distinct. Best of all there were no attempts at shoehorning in a morale at the end of each story, while some had an unstated lesson in them some of them were just stories and sometimes that's what they need to be, just tales told around a fire. 

The Bad: A story told in tv or movie format has two very important aspects to it, audio and video (aside from plot, although occasionally some directors seem to think that one is optional) and I'm always more drawn to the visuals of a story than the audio. So when I have a story where the visuals aren't as strong, which was mostly due to the aging which I talk about below, I have much less incentive to actively watch the video instead of simply playing it in the background and I really had that problem here. The stories were interesting, just nothing that demanded a visual and audio medium instead of a text medium and I might have payed more attention in that area. This isn't a fault of the story per-say, it simply didn't grab me enough to make me want to see and hear every detail instead of just listening and popping in and out with the video.

The Audio: The show has the right balance between narration by the storyteller and letting the story progress on it's own and aside from the narration there was some background music but not a lot that stuck with me. A few did, most notably the music played with the ending credits, but perhaps in such a dialogue heavy show it's good that the music didn't overshadow the meat of the story.

The Visuals: The film itself has aged poorly and looking bad by any standard which is always a shame. The puppetry and costuming looked fine, although with the grain and small size of Netflix's viewer it would be nearly impossible to see strings manipulating the puppets or such anyway. It does take a little bit of time to get used to see puppetry instead of CGI, the movements are much more fluid than what CGI can make and that realistic motion almost makes them appear "too real" and in the process stand out even more. It's an interesting change of pace for someone whose so used to CGI and I'd love to show a few episodes of this to other people who also aren't familiar with Henson's works just to see their reactions as well.

An interesting show but I doubt I'll be checking out the other part of it, it seems a few years later the same crew make a second series focusing on Greek myths (which I do like, with a name like Helen you simply can't avoid them) but I don't feel like I'll get anything out of it. Ah well, both series are streaming on Netflix instant for those interesting in trying it out themselves.

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