"ONCE UPON A MATTRESS"
by Kevin Carr
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|| MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)
Carol Burnett as QUEEN AGGRAVAIN
Tracey Ullman as PRINCESS WINNIFRED
Denis O’Hare as PRINCE DAUNTLESS
Zooey Deschanel as LADY LARKEN
Matthew Morrison as SIR HENRY
Michael Boatman as THE JESTER
Tom Smothers as KING SEXTIMUS
Edward Hibbert as THE WIZARD
Directed by: Kathleen Marshall
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I’ve said before that the movie musical is dead. To be honest, that’s not entirely correct. A more accurate revised statement would be that the movie music in theaters is dead. The movie musical seems to be alive and well in the world of made-for-TV movies.
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One of the more recent examples of this is “Once Upon a Mattress.” Based on the fairy tale of “The Princess and the Pea,” this story comes from an Off-Broadway musical that emerged in the 1950s. This version tells the story of wimpy Prince Dauntless (Denis O’Hare) whose overbearing mother (Carol Burnett) won’t let him marry anyone but a genuine princess. The Queen is so controlling that she comes up with ridiculous and impossible tests to show any would-be bride to be unworthy of her son.
Of course, this really ticks off the other people in the kingdom, considering that by law, no one can marry until the prince does. It’s of particular worry to Lady Larken (Zooey Deschanel) because she’s learned she’s pregnant with the baby of the Honorable Sir Harry (Matthew Morrison). They make it their mission to find a genuine princess for Dauntless.
Soon, they find Princess Winnifred (Tracey Ullman), who comes from the swamp. She’s smelly and unrefined, but it appears she’s genuine – and Dauntless falls in love with her. The Queen is not to be overcome, so she plans a new test – letting Winnifred sleep on 20 mattresses to see if her delicate nature will detect a tiny pea at the bottom.
To be honest, this kind of musical really isn’t my cup of tea. The songs are cute, but they really only serve as filler for a fairly wispy story. The plot is told with tongue firmly in cheek, and they really don’t take themselves too seriously. That’s what saves the film.
“Once Upon a Mattress” has been performed throughout the country by high schools, colleges and community theatres countless times. Like “Fiddler on the Roof,” it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been involved in a production in some way. That is the strength of this adaptation, tapping into a relatively large audience of people with a personal connection to the play.
It’s interesting to note that Carol Burnett has come full circle in her career. Years ago, she played Princess Winnifred, and now she’s got the role of the Queen. The rest of the cast is definitely competent. I’m not a huge fan of Tracey Ullman, but for those that are, she’s in her glory.
I actually had more fun watching Zooey Deschanel, whom I’ve adored for years. Like Sarah Polly, she has this girl-next-door beauty that makes her compelling in pretty much anything she does – even if it isn’t that good. In many ways, I would have rather seen her as the young Princess Winnifred than the middle-aged Ullman. (To her credit, Ullman pokes fun at her age in the special features, so I respect her for that.)
The DVD includes a making-of featurette and an outtake reel. There’s also a rehearsal-to-film comparison of two songs from the movie to show the humble beginnings of the production numbers.
If you’ve been a part of a production of “Once Upon a Mattress,” you’ll probably really like this film. However, I’d only recommend it if you feel you’d like fluffy made-for-TV musicals.
Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (1.78:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions. English subtitles for the hearing impaired.