Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (2001) Jessica Sowards January 2, 2015 Muppets 101, Reviews, TV During the fall of the formerly great empire Blockbuster, I was able to scavenge several cheap DVDs among the ruins. Chief among my prize discounted finds was Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story. I had never heard of this version of the classic tale, but had to scoop it up when I saw Jim Henson’s name stamped above the title. At first, I thought it was an episode of The Storyteller that I had not heard of. After further inspection, I saw that it was made after Jim Henson’s death and was not linked to any of his shows. I shelved it and did not give it a second thought for a few years. After watching my annual marathon of Christmas movies, I was a bit wiped out and decided to watch something completely different. I pleasantly surprised and glad I did! Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story originally aired as a miniseries on CBS in 2001. Not only was it coproduced by the Jim Henson Company, but it was written by Brian Henson, Bill Barretta, and James V. Hart, with Henson also taking on the director’s seat. Most of us know the story. Jack traded a cow for magic beans instead of selling it. A giant beanstalk sprouted out of the beans. Naturally, Jack climbed the beanstalk and found a giant on the other end with a goose that lays golden eggs. The mean ol’ bully of a giant wanted to eat Jack, so he killed the giant, stole the goose, and headed back down the beanstalk where he lived happily ever after. Henson’s version of this fairytale takes on a more humanist — or should I say giantist — view. In this adaption, billionaire Jack Robinson (Matthew Modine) has been living with the threat of the Robinson Curse in the back of his mind. No Robinson male has ever lived beyond 40 years old. The curse haunts him as do nightmares of him and his father trying to outrun a giant. While construction for his current business venture, a themed casino, is underway, crews unearth what appears to be the skeleton of a giant. After further inspection of the skeleton, it appears that the giant had been murdered. Enter in the mysterious and beautiful, Ondine (Mia Sara) who cryptically questions Jack and leads him to question his family’s past. His elderly aunt, Wilhelmina (Vanessa Redgrave) tells Jack that the story of Jack and the Beanstalk is true. She admits that Jack (J.J. Field) was his ancestor and that he must right the original Jack’s wrong in order to break the curse. Jack returns to Ondine’s world with her to stand trial by a court of giants where she reveals that the giant, Thunderdell (Bill Barretta), was a kind and generous creature. She explained that the golden goose, Galaga (Brian Henson), along with a magical harp (Rachel Shelley) were required to keep that land green and alive. Without them, the land would die and its inhabitants would be miserable and starve. Ondine and Jack return to Jack’s world. One week in Ondine’s world is the equivalent of 7 years in Jack’s world. While he was away, his father’s former partner, Siggy (Jon Voight) has Jack pronounced legally dead and has secretly been forcing the golden goose to lay 15 eggs a day! Aunt Wilhelmina also reveals that she is plagued by her own curse for she was the original Jack’s mother and she was forced to watch her son along with each of his descendant die prematurely. Although it was made for television, it has all of the workings of a feature film. The grade A cast is magnificent and an impressive group for television. I am not a fan of Matthew Modine. Most of the time, he looks like he is just gazing around and watching everyone else act, but it works in for this role. He possesses the right balance of charm and boyish good looks to play a dashing and oddly naïve CEO. Anyone else, except for maybe David Arquette would seem too cynical and worldly. Vanessa Redgrave adds to the literary feel to the show. You just expect Redgrave to pick up a worn leather bound book and start reading. The ever youthful and doe eyed Mia Sara has a sprite-like, other worldly aura that surrounds her, making her a perfect addition to this cast just as she did for 1985’s Legend. For those of you collecting Muppet trivia in order to amaze your friends, she would later marry Brian Henson in 2010. This would be Richard Attenborough’s final television role and one of his last roles before his death in 2014. Production was based at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, England. Not only was this where The Muppet Show was filmed, but the Jim Henson Company also filmed The Great Muppet Caper, The Dark Crystal, Dreamchild, Labyrinth, The Tale of the Bunny Picnic, and The Storyteller there. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop branched out into computer animation to create most of the visual effects for this production. The most significant and impressive special effect was the character of the magical harp. At first, Henson wanted a person in costumer to portray this character, but in order to achieve a more magical visual, CGI effects were used. Henson wanted a sleek, magical harp that seamlessly came to life and The Creature Shop was able to deliver. CGI was also utilized to convey both a world of color, beauty, and bounty as well as a malnourished, dying world at different times at the top of the beanstalk. The writing is great. This miniseries is not something children should watch alone, but it is something great for parents and children to watch together. It would make a nice companion to The Storyteller, Labyrinth, and Dark Crystal. Even though puppetry is barely utilized in this show, it has close ties to the Muppets. Bill Barretta performs Pepe the Prawn and has taken over performing many of Jim Henson’s characters like Dr. Teeth, The Swedish Chef, and Rowlf the dog. He also produced It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas. James V. Hart also contributed to the screenplay for Muppet Treasure Island. Alluding to the themes of his father’s works, Brian Henson conveys the idea that everything is connected. In Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock, three worlds (Doc’s work shop, Fraggle Rock, and the Gorg’s garden/home) were all connected. What happened in one place affected the others. The best example of this was the episode “Let the Water Run.” In this miniseries, the original Jack infiltrates the other world, robbing them of the harp and golden goose. This slowly kills their world. Meanwhile, the Robinson’s enjoy a rich and wealthy life generation after generation. This idea of man robbing the resources of faraway lands also serves as a metaphor for mankind robbing the natural resources and destructing the environment and nature, another theme found in many of Jim Henson’s works spanning from skits and songs on The Muppet Show to The Sound of the Cloud Forest. Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story somehow snuck by even the most die-hard Henson fans, but it is worth a closer look. Perhaps it is easily forgotten due to a case of poor marketing or the saturation of too many adaptions of one story. Although it was made for the small screen, is surpasses most cinematic feature films in special effects, acting, and writing. It is definitely worth a viewing. I give it 4.5 out of 5 rubber chickens! See larger image Jack and the Beanstalk – The Real Story New From: $39.99 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.