Red Riding Hood (1989) – By Jonathon Pernisek

 Looking back, one of my favorite childhood pastimes was watching Faerie Tale Theatre, a series of videos hosted by Shelley Duvall. Each modestly budgeted episode adapted a popular fairy tale and boasted the talents of some genuine A-list actors, including Alan Arkin, James Earl Jones, and Robin Williams. The stories are still a fun way to pass the time, for kids and adults alike, so if you have some extra cash on hand you might want to pick up the box set of recently released DVDs. I mention them only because Red Riding Hood, released by Cannon as part of their series of Movie Tales, pretty much misses the high mark set by Faerie Tale Theatre.

On the surface there seems to be a lot of material worth mocking, namely the studio behind its making, its cast (which includes Craig T. Nelson and Isabella Rossellini), and the fact of its being a musical. And at first the riffing came quite naturally, but over time I managed to settle in and realize the film only had a few noticeable problems. Its biggest hurdle lies in stretching out the thin story of Little Red Riding Hood over the course of ninety minutes, and try as they might the filmmakers simply cannot do so without a good portion of padding. The original story of a girl, her grandmother, and a wolf expands to include an evil king and his goodly brother (both played by Nelson), a villager who is almost killed only to be saved in the nick of time, and the addition of an overly complex back story for the iconic wolf. These additions, while necessary, only serve to make us wait for the inevitable conclusion, and as such they’re not very interesting.

Occasionally a nice atmosphere of chilling dread is created, especially when Rocco Sisto goes into full-on lecher mode while luring in his hooded target, leading me to think small children could be frightened by some of the darker scenes. This menace is circumvented by the other performances on display, however, including Nelson’s turn as the evil king. You haven’t seen ham until you’ve witnessed the bulging eyes, craned neck, and twisted fingers of Nelson, who has no intention of ever reigning in his choices. No one else in the cast is nearly as silly, but that’s only because they’re too busy being dull. Riding Hood, here referred to as Linet and played by Amelia Shankley, appears to have been sapped dry of life, and Rossellini couldn’t care less as her mother. Helen Glazary has an out because she gets to play the mystical grandmother, thus making her slightly more appealing, but even her delivery tends to be a bit glazed. After a while you start to wonder if this movie was made specifically to put kids to sleep.

Then there are the songs, which like the various subplots only exist to grind the main story to a screeching halt. While they’re all pretty awful, each one manages to be unique in just why it grates on the eardrum. Shankley can’t carry a tune to save her life, resulting in the putrid ballad “Lost in the Woods.” Shankley makes her solo all the stranger by adding an obvious sexual undertone to the scene, playfully flirting with a woodsman while jazzy saxophones play on the soundtrack. Later on she gets another try at the mike in a duet with the wolf, but in a bizarre turn her vocals are dubbed by another performer. I use the word “bizarre” because in the credits Shankley’s listed as being the singer, but her voice is clearly that of a talented adult.

Other songs include Nelson’s “Man Without a Heart” and Rossellini’s “You Won’t Be Here in the Morning,” both of which prove neither needs to start touring the karaoke lounges of our fair world. While the above are all worthy examples of lyrical and song writing gone horribly wrong, the worst of the bunch is unbelievably not mentioned in the credits whatsoever. I’ll wager a guess and say the title of this banished number was “Deep in the Green and the Blue,” if only because the cast said this phrase about a hundred times as they awkwardly danced around an open field. The lyrics of “Blue” are unbelievably bad, putting to shame anything I’ve heard from Paint Your Wagon or even Superman: The Musical. It’s no wonder someone forgot to include this ditty when push came to shove, since I can’t imagine anyone wanting to claim it as their own.

Though there are a few random moments of merit to be found in Hood, which has the ability to tread into the darker side of fairy tales, the sappy singing and decidedly mixed levels of acting talent place this feature firmly in the land of mediocrity. Stick with my promotion for Faerie Tale Theatre and know your in good hands, because it seems as if Cannon was incapable of making a quality product in its heyday.