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Faerie Tale Theatre (full name: Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre) is an hour-long live-action children's show that aired on Showtime from 1982 to 1987, though it was actually produced over 1982-85. It was one of the first television shows that, with the exception of an early Clip Show, was released episode by episode on VHS; the last few episodes 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", "Rip Van Winkle", and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" to more obscure ones like "The Snow Queen" and "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers". Many episodes were directed by such luminaries as Tim Burton and Francis Ford Coppola, and -- owing to Duvall's professional and friendly associations with many name Hollywood performers -- often featured an All-Star Cast.

The entire series is available to view on Hulu.

Tropes used in Faerie Tale Theatre include:


  • Acting for Two
    • "The Tale of the Frog Prince": Robin Williams plays the title character and the witch who cursed him to begin with.
    • "Hansel and Gretel": Joan Collins plays both the evil stepmother and the wicked witch.
    • "Rapunzel": In the first part of the story, Shelley Duvall and Jeff Bridges play Rapunzel's ill-fated parents; in the second part, they play the now-grown Rapunzel and the prince she falls in love with.
    • "The Pied Piper of Hamelin": Eric Idle plays Robert Browning in the framing device and the Piper in the fairy tale itself.
  • Adaptation Expansion: "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", "The Three Little Pigs", 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".
  • All-Star Cast: The concept of the show arose from Duvall, during the Popeye shoot, musing on what it would be like if her co-star Robin Williams played the Frog Prince. The very first episode was indeed, "The Tale of the Frog Prince", with Williams as the title character and the witch who placed him under the curse in the first place, and Teri Garr as the princess. From there, every episode has at least a name performer in the lead, and usually a substantial contigent of A and B-list stars in the supporting roles.
  • Art Shift: 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: "The Little Mermaid"; the episode is notable as the last major adaptation of the work prior to the Disney version and its Happily Ever After ending.
  • 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.)
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Lampshaded in "Sleeping Beauty".

 The Pink Fairy: What is your problem, Henbane? One silly dish dome?

Henbane: It's the principle of the thing!

  • 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. (Browning telling the poem to a young boy is the Framing Device.)
  • 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. Every time she looks in one of her mirrors, it turns black, which causes a Villainous Breakdown.
  • Large Ham: Henbane from "Sleeping Beauty" and the Genie of the Lamp from "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp" are just two examples.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In Cinderella. The stepmother and stepsisters try to weasel in on Cinderella's marriage to the Prince by relying on the fact that the Prince is now her son-in-law. The Fairy Godmother turns them into rabbits.
  • 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.
  • Real Life Relative: Mary Steenburgen played the title role in "Little Red Riding Hood", with then-husband Malcolm McDowell as an Alex-like Big Bad Wolf.
  • Scenery Porn: Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp and Beauty and the Beast are both prime examples of this.
  • Sliding Scale of Adaptation Modification: Anywhere from 2 to 5 depending on the episode.
  • Spin-Off: Shelley Duvall's Tall Tales & Legends, which aired on Showtime from 1985-87 and concentrated on American folk characters such as Johnny Appleseed.
    • After this came Nightmare Classics, which retold horror stories like The Turn of the Screw.
  • 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.
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