August 18, 2003

My Week with Jim Henson’s The Storyteller Day 1: Hans My Head Hurts

Filed under: Feature — Tags: , , — Danny Horn @ 8:27 pm

storytellerdvdJim Henson’s The Storyteller: Brilliant work of art, or over-rated mess? Place your bets.

It’s about time we straightened this out, what with The Storyteller DVD set coming out next week. Now, I don’t trust myself around Creature Shop productions, so I’ve asked my friend and Deputy Web Monkey, comedy writer Kynan Barker, to lend me a hand here.

You may remember that Kynan and I did My Week with Christmas Vacation last December, when Kynan was visiting the States. He’s back home in Australia now, so watching TV together gets a little tricky. All this week, we’re doing Instant-Messenger chats while we watch the same episodes — pretty much like your standard internet chat room, except we keep our clothes on. So call your dog, grab a seat by the fire, and prepare yourself. By the end of the week, things could get a little Grimm.

Danny
Before we start, here’s the backstory.

Kynan
Okay.

Danny
It’s 1987, and Jim Henson wants to be taken seriously. Fraggle Rock is ending in this amazing, gorgeous way, and nobody’s paying attention. Labyrinth was pretty, but it didn’t really impress anybody. So now he’s at that stage in his career where he’s tired of being the Comedy Guy, and he wants to be a serious, important Artist. Comedy Guys always go through this. Usually at this point, they start making movies about the Holocaust.

Kynan
Well, we’re Comedy Guys. What are you going to do when you get to this stage?

Danny
Open a donut shop.

Kynan
Oh, I was going to say donut shop.

Danny
I called it first. You have to do the Holocaust movie.

Storyteller: “When people told themselves their past with stories… explained their present with stories… foretold the future with stories… The best place by the fire was kept for… The Storyteller.”

Kynan
And now people just watch TV, which is why you see all those panhandling storytellers.

Danny
This is from an early German folk tale.

Kynan
Let’s give it up for the Early Germans!

Danny
Gotta get up pretty early in the morning to fool the Early Germans.

Kynan
So the first character you meet is John Hurt’s nose —

Storyteller : “A story! Imagine a cold night, and a dark night. A night like this one…”

Kynan
Whoa, I didn’t even have time to make a joke about it, he’s already started the story.

Danny
Yeah, there’s no downtime.

Kynan
Just “a long time ago, in a galaxy far away.” Uh, right. I’ll make my own cup of tea, will I?

Danny
He saw us coming. Can’t get a word in edgewise.

Kynan
It hasn’t worked. We’ve just talked over the whole set-up. What’s happening?

Danny
The farmer’s wife wants a baby, and she wants one so badly that she doesn’t care what kind of baby she gets.

Kynan
Just as well. That farmer’s not winning any beauty pageants.

Wife: “I want a child… I don’t care if it were a strange thing, made of marzipan or porridge, or ugly as a hedgehog.”

Danny
Oh, I wish they’d do the porridge baby. Hans My Balanced Breakfast.

Kynan
Nobody in fairytales ever has babies in the traditional way. The traditional way didn’t even start until the 19th century. Before then, it was all wishes and foundlings.

Storyteller: “Now, to say you wouldn’t care when you want something is a dangerous thing… Ears twitched that shouldn’t be listening… and no sooner said than done, she got her wish, the Farmer’s Wife! And she thinks it’s the baths she took, or the sleeping upside down — but in fact, of course, it’s the saying you wouldn’t care what you got what gets you jiggered!”

Danny
Now that is a freaky-ass worldview. The universe waits around for you to say something stupid and unlikely, and then that comes true just to spite you.

Kynan
That’s actually the story of your last presidential election, isn’t it?

Kynan
My god, would you get a look at that hedgehog baby. That is without doubt the ugliest baby I’ve seen on TV.

Danny
Are you kidding? That’s the cutest character on the show so far. Look at the farmer! Look at John’s nose!

Kynan
Merchandising wasn’t a high priority on this show, was it? They should have released a series of Storyteller Noses.

Danny
Gosh, look at this. The people in this town are so judgemental. You have one demonic gene-splicing mutant freak baby, and everybody gets all up in your business about it.

Kynan
Why do the kids have to call Hans “grovelhog” to be mean? They could just be matter of fact about it. “Hey, Hans, ever notice you’re a weird snuffling porcupine beast?”

Danny
Again, I don’t see the issue. Hans has washboard abs, and the clearest skin in the tri-county area.

Kynan
Why is he worried about school bullies? He might be a weird snuffling porcupine beast, but if anyone gives him any trouble, he’s got the world’s biggest chicken to peck the crap out of them.

Danny
Is it me, or is the giant chicken completely unmotivated? There’s no explanation for where that comes from.

Kynan
All the Early Germans had giant roosters. That you can take for granted. The talking hedgehog, he’s the weirdo here.

Storyteller: “Hans heard them — but he wouldn’t answer. He lay there all night, with his rooster for company, and thought and thought, until he thought a hole in the ground.”

Kynan
That’s nice. That’s good writing.

Danny
It is. The story doesn’t make sense, but you can’t beat this show for cool metaphors.

Hans: “Father, I want some of your sheep, and some hens, and some pigs… I know which ones I’d like, and they’d be happy to come with me. I’m going away, to somewhere where I can’t hurt anyone, and no one can hurt me.”

Danny
Man. It’s bad enough when your kid leaves home. But when the hens and pigs want to leave too, then you’re just not a very good farmer.

Storyteller: “Twenty years later, a king got lost in a great forest.”

Kynan
Twenty years later? Is this a new story?

Danny
Time flies when you’re watching The Storyteller.

Storyteller: “The king heard a sound, which was a bitter sound and a sweet sound all at once, which began like hello and ended like goodbye… and he followed the sound until he came to a clearing.”

Danny
Damn, where did the hedgehog get a huge castle like that? He left home with some sheep and hens and pigs.

Kynan
He must have invested in the Early German internet boom.

Danny
Hang on, the Dog’s interrupting.

Dog: “I know this story, and you’re telling it all wrong! Hmph.”

Kynan
The Dog’s voice gets me every time. I keep waiting for him to clear his throat.

Dog: “What happens is, the king wants to give the grovelhog a reward for all his help… Then the hog thing says, give me the first thing to greet you when you arrive in your kingdom.”

Danny
This is like the Dog’s drum solo. He gets one big bit of narration per episode, it’s in his contract.

Dog: “So the king says yes, and the hog says, I’ll collect my reward in a year and a day.”

Kynan
That hedgehog is a shrewd negotiator.

Danny
No wonder he got the castle. He’s read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Hedgehogs.

Kynan
So the king’s daughter greets him first, and now the princess has to marry the hedgehog. What is it with fairytales, that princesses and babies always seem to be commodities? Prizes to be exchanged for, you know, promises and favors.

Danny
I know, apparently the princess is a “thing.” This kingdom needs a Ms Magazine.

Kynan
And now the Storyteller’s a character in his own story. I didn’t realize those Early Germans were such postmodernists. He’s come to check up on how his characters are doing.

Danny
So this is a year and a day later now? That makes, what, twenty-one years so far. Apparently stories in Early Germany didn’t have a time limit.

Guard: “Your majesty, a huge army appears at the gates! Not men, but animals, sire!”

Danny
Hey, it’s a regime change. The king needs an Information Minister. “The animals are NOT at the gate! We have defeated the animals utterly!”

Kynan
“Do not believe the Storyteller’s lies! The princess is going to marry Harrison Ford!”

Storyteller: “It was the most unhappy wedding party you ever saw.”

Kynan
I know there’s a joke in here somewhere, but the only one I can think of involves Lisa-Marie Presley.


Kynan
How exactly are we supposed to feel about Hans at this point? Yes, he’s had a rough life, but he’s forcing this girl to marry him.

Danny
Yeah, but at night he turns into a buff naked guy.

Kynan
Okay, so now I know how YOU feel about Hans. How am I supposed to feel about him?

Danny
That’s also completely non-motivated, by the way. His mother didn’t wish for a baby who was a hedgehog by day and a buff naked guy at night.

Kynan
Maybe this isn’t the same story. John switched reels on us.

Danny
By the way, that’s Jason Carter, playing Buff Naked Hans. I don’t know if you know him. He was on Babylon 5, but usually he was wearing clothes.

Kynan
And knowing Babylon 5, also a couple pounds worth of blue prosthetics. Maybe I’d recognize him if he was wearing his gills and eye stalks.

Danny
So every night, Hans turns into Buff Naked Jason Carter — but all the princess wants to do is fondle the coat of quills.

Kynan
That’s the Early Germans for you, they had weird priorities.

Hans: “Which would you have for a husband — the man, or the creature?”

Princess: “I have a husband, sir. And he is what he is. No more, and no less.”

Hans: “Then forgive him, madam, if he returns to his skin. For I am enchanted and cannot leave it. But if you say nothing of this for a third night, then loyal love will break the spell forever.”

Danny
Whoa whoa whoa, what spell? This wasn’t an enchantment, this was his mom’s wish. They keep making up new rules every three scenes. Am I the only one paying attention to the plot?

Kynan
Hey, look at her mom’s hat. Wicked Queen on the half shell.

Danny
Okay, never mind. So the princess breaks her promise, she throws the quills into the fire, and Hans burns up and runs away. The take-home message so far: Always follow the Buff Naked Guy’s instructions without question.

Kynan
And then the princess has to wear out three pairs of iron shoes to find him. There’s another merchandising idea: Iron Shoes.

Danny
And look! Now Hans can turn into a bird, too! What the hell? It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Hans My Hedgehog.

Kynan
And apparently if the princess hugs the hedgehog, it turns him back into Naked Hans, which she should have tried three pairs of iron shoes ago.

Danny
They keep changing what the story’s about. The Storyteller is just flipping through the fairytale book and reading bits at random. These Early Germans are slippery little guys.

Kynan
Yeah, they were always a step ahead of the Late Germans.

Danny
By the way, what happened to the giant rooster? We lost him somewhere. I wonder who he ended up marrying.

Kynan
You know, I remember this show being disorienting, but I figured it was because I was watching it at 7am here, and I was just tired from getting up early to watch them. Turns out it IS disorienting. I don’t know what we’re looking at half the time. A shadow on the wall? A broken dinner plate? There was even a weird jump-cut where we were looking at the dog from two different angles at once.

Danny
But it did settle down eventually. I got kind of involved in the story there towards the end.

Kynan
What, when Buff Hans started strutting in front of the fireplace?

Danny
Yeah, there was that.

Kynan
Still, confusing as it was, at least it’s a happy ending.

Danny
Well, maybe. What if Hans turns into something else now? There might be a whole other problem by bedtime tonight.

Kynan
Especially if he turns into porridge this time. What a disappointing wedding night that would be.

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Tomorrow’s story: Sapsorrow – “This is just like When Harry Met Sally, except Sally has live mice in her hair.”



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