October 26, 2002
If one reads most or all the features that I have written, on The Walter Tetley Web Page, it’s fairly easy to ascertain that the Fractured Fairy Tales are right near the top of my favorite Jay Ward cartoons. These unorthodox fairy tales are truly the “jewel in the crown” of Ward and Scott’s work. I don’t think that I would have ever developed the love that I did, for Rocky, Bullwinkle (and their entourage of friends), Hoppity Hooper, George of the Jungle and his pals, had the Fractured Fairy Tales been excluded. Usually when I tuned into Rocky and Bullwinkle—-even if the main part of the show was pretty good—–the show never really did begin until Edward Everett Horton began narrating those twisted Grimm Brothers tales! For me, Rocky and Bullwinkle were like the “warm-up band” on their own show—-with their “supporting characters”, on this side-show, as the main reason why I went to the “concert”!
During one of Rocky and Bullwinkle’s five seasons, Ward and Scott gave up on the Fractured Fairy Tales and produced Aesop and Son episodes instead.
Though the format of Aesop’s fables was similar to the Fractured Fairy Tales (even the new narrator was similar to Edward Everett Horton; Charles Ruggles was born in 1886, just like Horton—-and ironically they also both died in the same year), I was always so disappointed whenever I saw the opening scene with the chisel in Aesop’s hand, rather than the fairy with the huge story book. I would always wait “with bated breath” hoping for a fractured fairy tale; not an Aesop’s fable (and I would groan to myself when I realized:’ No—-you won’t get your wish today; not on this show!!’). For me there was no comparison. I’ll admit a few of the fables were pretty good…….but just a few of them.
If I could use only one word to describe these fairy tales, I would choose CHARM. If I could choose only two words, I would choose CHARMING JEWEL. They appealed to me because they were part of folklore and fantasy. They appealed to me because many of their stories took place in a world long lost to us (as long ago as Medieval times). The Fractured Fairy Tales were probably the most artistic and creative part of Jay Ward’s endeavors. How do I count the ways that I loved these quaint stories? Let me make a meager attempt to try to count the ways. I don’t know if I could ever do these creations justice, but I will try.
I loved that so many of the stories were full of castles, drawbridges, knights, kings and horses—so many beautiful horses with flowing manes (OK; so most of the animated horses weren’t that great; but I did use my imagination, too, when I watched these tales). I loved the woodland and meadow scenes—- I loved the densely wooded forests; many of which were ENCHANTED, MAGICAL forests. I loved the open meadows with thick green grass and many colorful, pretty flowers (and sometimes there would be a river or lake close by). I also loved some of the forests when they were made to look more ominous, by casting them in a darker light (both the trees themselves, and the eerie, gloomy sky around them).
I loved the “antique”, even “gaudy”, surrealistic colors that the animators sometimes used to paint the buildings and castles of small villages in a given tale. This would sometimes set the town and the buildings apart from the characters in the story; almost make the people look real and the town and the buildings look more like a separate fantasy (not every town scene was like this of course; I am recalling a few specific episodes). I loved one episode in which the animators took great pains to sketch a gingerbread house for Hansel and Gretel—-complete with candy shingles (of course this gingerbread house was ensconced deep in the forest, all by itself).
I liked the occasional appearance of an old-fashioned spinning wheel. When I was a boy, we had a spinning wheel in the attic of our first house. This was an heirloom dating back to at least the 19th Century. It was passed down from some of my German ancestors (we called them Pennsylvania-Dutch, rather than German, where I grew up). Because Mom never used the spinning wheel, or ever took it out of the attic, that heirloom held a kind of “mystique” for me. So it was neat to see it in a Jay Ward cartoon.
I loved the stories with witches, dwarfs, queens and frogs. One of my favorite Fractured Fairy Tales, of all time, starts out: “Once upon a time there was a year that was a very bad year for witches…….They were everywhere: big ones, little ones, ugly ones……….”. The beginning of that tale even showed the year 1960 (when the cartoon was made), and flashed back to circa 1100 A.D. (that was a neat way of evoking a very special mood—-along with the gloomy backdrop of the opening scenes).
Another unique thing about the Fractured Fairy Tales: unlike most of Jay Ward’s cartoons there were no recurring characters. You might see the same fairy tale spoofed two or three times—–but it was always basically the same story line and the characters did not come back in “to be continued” plots. I loved this! I loved this in the same manner that I loved some of the old Warner Brothers cartoons which had a few stories with non-recurring characters. Just as I liked many of these Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes characters, who appeared once, better than the Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig characters, I also liked Jay Ward’s “one-time Grimm Brothers characters” better than most of the rest of his animated heroes. I guess you could say that it made them special, that you only got to spend five minutes with them, and that was it.
These reproductions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales would have been nothing, however, without the great voices. As much as I have extolled the virtues of their animation, anyone who views them today will admit that much of the animation was somewhat primitive (although there is some charm, even in that, of course). There were so many character voices in these stories that I loved. I’ll try to list just a few of my favorites:
- Kings, played by Daws Butler, which almost invariably sounded like Cap’n Crunch (I adored that voice)
- Witches and Grannies, played by June Foray: no one can do witches or sweet old ladies like her; they are always so PERFECT
- Grouchy, nasty mothers-in-law played by June: I’ve said a lot about this on the Walter Tetley Web Page already; if you have ever heard this voice, it pretty much speaks for itself.
- Dim-witted fools or henpecked husbands, played by Daws Butler: usually they sounded just like Jinx the Cat from Hanna-Barbera (and he used this voice for cats in these fairy tales a lot too).
- Adorable, sweet, little boys, that tugged at your heart strings, played by Daws: again, he used the same voice that he used in many of Hanna-Barbera’s “toons”—-Elroy Jetson, Augie Doggie and Lambsy, for example.
- The Prince, played by Daws: he almost always used the same voice—-it was usually a character only in his 20s or 30s. Jay Ward and Bill Scott used to laugh and call it “the fag prince” (according to Keith Scott, in his book, The Moose That Roared). I happened to think it was a GREAT British accent; one which I copied “to a T”, in a Christmas play (and was later told by a few friends, had they not known me, they would have thought I was English!!).
- Ogres played by Daws: I later read in Keith Scott’s book that this was supposed to be Daws’ imitation of Jackie Gleason. I’m glad that it did not sound exactly like Jackie Gleason. This mean and gruff voice,
“sans Jackie’s personality” was perfect for ogres and ugly villains.
- Paul Frees—-because Paul Frees did very few voices in the Fractured Fairy Tales (according to Keith Scott, Paul only filled in when Bill Scott had a cold and could not perform), this made the few fairy tales, that he did do, very special for me. These particular voices that he did were not “extremely” great. Nevertheless, it was still neat to hear him those few rare times. In one episode he played a frog, which a witch turned into a prince. In another, he played a wacky king, who sampled a great variety of pies——-including——-A TOBACCO PIE!!! (yes; you read that correctly!).
- Edward Everett Horton: The name speaks for itself—-he had a charming, beautiful, almost musical
grandfatherly voice—-perfect for narrating fairy tales to children.
If you weren’t already a Fractured Fairy Tales fan before reading this, I hope that maybe you will be someday. If you thought they were “just OK”, I hope maybe you will reconsider that thought, and reevaluate them if you get a chance to view them again. Finally I will say, though some of these “bastardized versions” of the Grimm tales were not very good, MOST of them were great entertainment (There were 91 fairy tales; you can’t help but have at least one or two “lemons”). A few of them really surprised me, as being just as good as the original, IF NOT BETTER. Sleeping Beautyland is a perfect example of that.
If you could package all 91 Fractured Fairytales into 2-hour videos, you would need three videos to do it (they are roughly 5 minutes a piece; that’s 455 minutes). I’ll be the first in line to buy all three, if that day ever comes! The great thing about these 5-minute stories is that they sometimes pack in a LIFETIME before they are over! I so often walk away from these tales, feeling richly blessed (and as if I were departing with my own “crown jewel”!).