I almost completely gave up on this television mini-series after sitting through the first 2 episodes. The plot didn’t grab me, the dialogue was horrible, the acting was equally bad, the visual effects were revolting, and you know you’re in for mediocre television when you have John Larroquette starring. However, despite everything going against the series, The 10th Kingdom succeeds in eventually drawing you into its story and I found myself thoroughly enjoying it (I even came to tolerate Larroquette).

The 10th Kingdom refers to modern day Earth, specifically New York City. The story begins with a restaurant waitress (Kimberly Williams) who lives in a shitty apartment and barely making ends meet with her dad (John Larroquette), who is a janitor for the building they reside in. One night, Williams encounters a golden retriever in Central Park who is being chased by a pack of goblins and a werewolf. She hides the dog and she and her dad soon discover that the dog, goblins, and the werewolf came from another dimension. This dimension is where the other kingdoms are located and they are fairy tale kingdoms that were once ruled by Snow White, Cinderella, and other fairy tale princesses. The kingdoms have been passed down to the princesses’ heirs, who continue to rule them. However, they are now being threatened by the Evil Queen (Dianne Wiest), who has just escaped from prison and she now seeks her revenge on the 9 Kingdoms. The girl and her dad end up being transported to these fairy tale kingdoms and with the help of the werewolf and the dog, they embark upon saving the kingdoms from the Evil Queen.

I dig modern takes on classic fairy tales and I have frequently found them to be well written by people who not only know their fairy tales, but they have a deep interest in them. A good example that comes to mind is a comic book series written by Bill Willingham called Fables. The series deals with various characters from fairy tales and folklore who have been forced out of their kingdoms by a villain who has conquered their realms. The characters have traveled to our world and form a clandestine community in NYC. Its a great comic book series and The 10th Kingdom reminded me very much of it. This series, instead of remaining in New York, spends most of its time in the fantasy realm. I was expecting to see familiar settings taken from the classics, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the series’ creators decided to use a bit more creativity and come up with something more fresh. So we get a land thats all about romance. Its like a Valentine’s Land. There is also a village where the Peep Family (of Little Bo Peep) lives. The creators don’t limit themselves only to the fairy tales that have been covered by Disney.  They wisely use the entire pantheon of fairy tales and nursery rhymes to create the world of The 10th Kingdom.

Considering we spend all 9 episodes of the miniseries with the girl and her dad, the success of the show depends largely on making them likable. Casting Kimberly Williams (Father of the Bride) as the heroine was a great choice. She is not only naturally beautiful, but she has the classic look of a Disney princess. Her character spends much of the time being bitchy and angry, which is intentional and you discover why as the series progresses. In the hands of the wrong director or actress, the character’s constant negativity could have easily come off as being annoying, but Williams does a beautiful job in making us not only like her character, but sympathize with her in the end. Amazingly enough, I also found myself warming up to John Larroquette (TV’s Night Court). When I think of TV sitcoms and bad made-for-TV movies, I usually think of Larroquette. Its not that he’s a bad actor, but he’s never done anything to impress or even slightly amuse me. He’s always been the sort of actor who gets by on his charms and who’s mostly popular with my parents’ generation. Again, I was surprised by how much I grew to like his character here. Both characters develop an interesting arc that, over the span of 9 episodes, you see nicely paced. Another character that spends most of the series with the 2 main leads is the werewolf character, who is infatuated with the girl. At first, I was immediately annoyed by his performance, but by the end of the series, he easily turns into one of my favorite characters.

Speaking of favorite characters, Dianne Wiest easily turns in the best performance in this series. This shouldn’t come as any surprise for anyone familiar with Wiest’s body of work. To some of you, she may be best known as the mom in The Lost Boys and Edward Scissorhands. If these are the only 2 films you know her from, then you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. If you haven’t already seen these films, please make sure to check out her excellent performances in Bullets Over Broadway, Hannah and Her Sisters, and The Birdcage. I rank her up there with the likes of such actresses as Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Cate Blanchett, and Judi Dench. Unfortunately, Wiest has not had the fortune to be cast in as many good films as the aforementioned actresses, but she still remains an extremely talented performer and this miniseries is a testament to that. Here, she plays the Evil Queen who, we discover, has a big secret.Wiest relishes every single scene and easily steals every moment she is in. In fact, I wouldn’t have minded and would have much preferred to have the entire series revolve around her character.

As I watched The 10th Kingdom, I kept wondering how much better it would have all looked had it been made today or at least with feature film quality visual effects. I think the limitations of technology really limited the show’s creators from fully exploring the fantastical qualities the show’s premise was capable of. However, its a pretty good indication of how good the story was by how inconsequential the bad effects were over the course of the show. I also think that given that this is a TV show, I’m not going to exactly expect to see the type of quality I would see in a feature film.

To sum things up, if you’re into fairy tale type fantasy stories or you’re a fan of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or shows similar to it, try checking this show out. Its 3 DVDs and its about 6 to 7 hours in total. I know this sounds long, but once the show picks up after the 2nd episode, you will find yourself wanting to see more.

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