Pantomime on film (& video)

For the November 2004 issue of SEMantics, it being the start of the pantomime season, I thought I’d look up in the Internet Movie Database a few facts about movies of pantomime stories. This is some of what I found...

Movies called Cinderella were released for the cinema in 1898, 1911, 1912, 1914 (with Mary Pickford in the title role), 1922 (an early Disney animation: of course, silent and in b/w = black and white), 1924, 1925, 1930, 1933 (animated b/w short), 1937 (in French despite an English title), 1950 (the classic Disney feature length animation), 1963 (strangely, no details of cast or anything else are given for this), 1974 (a Filipino version), 1977 and 1985 (both risqué adult versions), and 1991 (an animated short, with no famous voices). Movies made for TV appeared in 1957 (Julie Andrews as Cinderella), 1965 (Ginger Rogers as the Queen), 1969 (ballet to music by Prokofiev, with Frederick Ashton and Robert Helpmann as the Ugly Stepsisters), and 1997 (with Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother and Whoopi Goldberg as the Queen). Finally, two came out in 2000: one set in the mid 20th century, with Kathleen Turner as the wicked stepmother, and the other a celebrity pantomime with Frank Skinner as Buttons, Ronnie Corbett and Paul Merton as the Ugly Sisters, and Julian Clary as the Good Fairy.

Ever After (1998) is apparently a feminist version of the story starring Drew Barrymore as “Danielle De Barbarac”, a feisty Cinderella figure who doesn’t put up so easily as her traditional namesake with being pushed around, and Anjelica Huston as “Baroness Rodmilla De Ghent”, the wicked stepmother figure, plus a character named “Leonardo da Vinci”, and a king played by Timothy West.

The database reports the following movies on the same subject but in other languages: Aschenbrödel (1914); Aschenputtel (1922, 1955, 1990); Cendrillon , (1899, 1907); Cenerentola (1948); La Cenerentola (1981, 1983, 1987, 1988, 1995); Khrustalnyj bashmachok Zolushki (1960); Sinderella külkedisi (1971); Der Verlorene Schuh (1923); and Zolushka (1947).

What about Aladdin? Well, one silent was made in 1922. Dutch and British animated shorts appeared in 1936 and 1953, and there were other Aladdins in 1986 (Italian) and 1992 (the big Disney animation with Robin Williams doing the voice of the very prominent genie — the slave of the lamp — even in the songs). Thereafter came a Disney TV series 1993..95. Other TV movies were done in 1952, 1975, 1990 (directed by former Monkee — and Corky-the-Circus-Boy — Micky Dolenz) and in 2000 (a celebrity pantomime with the usual suspects: Julian Clary as “Genie of the lamp”, Paul Merton as “Spirit of the Ring”, Martin Clunes as “Abanezer” [sic], Patsy Kensit as the Princess, and Griff Rhys Jones as the Emperor.

I should point out that the IMDb is built up from input by the world-wide Internet public at large (including me: I have contributed a few small additions in the past) and so although all input is vetted by people who run the IMDb, somet1imes mistakes get in and there are gaps.

Information is treated very literally. One might, for example, ask how and why two celebrity pantomimes made for TV, and both starring certain comedians, appeared in 2000. This might conceivably be a typographical error; on the other hand it might be that one was released just after New Year (in January 2000) and the other in December 2000, for a later Christmas holiday period.

The IMDb is especially useful when you are not quite sure what you are looking for. When you type in a search criterion you get not only exact matches but also approximate ones. I looked up the career of Paul Merton. He chooses sometimes to be credited under his birth name, Paul Martin. He always says that he chose his stage name (a requirement when he joined Equity) because Merton was the part of London where he grew up; he attended the Jesuit-run Wimbledon College (1968..74?) as did I (1961..1968). But if you search on his stage name, the database also lists one Paul Martin (born 1899 in Transylvania, died Berlin 1967 — clearly a totally different person!) who was the director of 56 movies and writer of 19; and (a curious coincidence, this) we are told he was sometimes credited as “Paul Merton”!

© 2004..7 Ian P. Hudson

Revised January 2007 from an article first published in SEMantics Issue 169 November 2004