Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tales of Beatrix Potter (1971)

          I’m sure there’s an appreciative audience out there for this elaborately costumed ballet movie based on beloved children’s stories, but I’m not among that audience. To be clear, I have no difficulty applauding the great care with which every aspect of the picture was made. The costumes are detailed and imaginative (in addition to being faithful to the elegant illustrations found in the source material); the dancing is graceful and strong; and the filmmakers employ detailed sets and unobtrusive special effects to make fantastical situations look as “real” as possible. However, even the simplest description of this movie explains why it’s a hard sit for general audiences—Tales of Beatrix Potter features virtually nothing but ballet dancers dressed in animal costumes, jumping and pirouetting through such gently whimsical scenes as a goose trying to lay eggs while a fox tries to help himself to the feast. One wishes to envision a world in which today’s young children would find this sort of thing delightful, since the movie exposes wee viewers to the sophisticated pleasures of classical music and dance, but it’s hard to imagine the novelty of ballet dancers in animal costumes sustaining the interest of anyone but preschoolers for the movie’s entire 90-minute running time.
          Speaking for myself, I barely made it through five minutes before I was bored out of my mind, even though I was amazed by how beautifully the dancers of the Royal Ballet moved when burdened with cumbersome costumes that include gigantic masks. Similarly, I was impressed by certain clever flourishes by choreographer Sir. Frederick Ashton, like the bits in which dancing mice use their tails like ribbons for interconnected group movements. (FYI, the movie is periodically broken up by wordless vignettes of Beatrix Potter, played as a teenager by Erin Geraghty, imagining her animal stories as a reprieve from everyday boredom as a well-to-do youth in the English countryside.) At the risk of repetition, I should stress that my inability to engage with this picture shouldn’t necessarily be misinterpreted as a criticism of its quality. Tales of Beatrix Potter is quite well made, and there’s a gentle charm to moments such as a waist-coated frog dancing in glee because fresh rainfall has created an outdoor playground for him. Still, I cannot with good conscience say that I found Tales of Beatrix Potter even remotely interesting.

Tales of Beatrix Potter: FUNKY

1 comment:

Clay Poupart said...

I remember seeing bits of this as a child and being fascinated, then bored when seeing a tiny bit of it as an adult. It's visually beautiful, but I can't understand why the producers thought a totally silent ballet was the way to go (and I like the ballet). Imagine the same exact film with even just a storyteller voice-over narration (if only to more clearly separate the episodic plots) and I'd bet it would be more accessible.