Screen faves David Warner and Cloris Leachman turn out for this amazing rendition of the classic Grimm fairy tale, "Hansel and Gretel," greatly influenced by the renowned operatic version. The tale is that of two poor, near starving German peasant children, Hansel and Gretel, who live in the woods with their bitter mother and woodcutter father (Warner). Cast out one day by their mother for wasting what little food they had, Hansel and Gretel wander far into the forest in search of berries to redeem themselves at home. The small children leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way back, but these are quickly eaten by the birds, and the children soon become lost. The next morning, as their parents search for them unsuccessfully, Hansel and Gretel come to a little cottage in the forest made entirely of gingerbread and candy. The two are thrilled and quickly begin eating when they are interrupted by the lady of the house, an ugly old woman named Griselda who seems quite sweet and eager to feed the waifish pair. However, later that night in the gingerbread house, Gretel discovers the truth about Grandmother Griselda. She is actually a witch with wicked plans to devour the children! The next day, Gretel finds herself the slave of the old witch, as they work hour after hour in Griselda's kitchen cooking up cakes, pies, and other goodies with which to fatten up poor little Hansel!
"Hansel and Gretel" sits among the best of the nine wonderful Cannon Movie Tales, which are among the best live-action fairy tale films available to date. Sticking more closely to the original stories than the usual fare, "Hansel and Gretel" and the other Cannon tales mix in simple but fun-filled songs with fantastic casts and writing that blends realism and fantasy seamlessly. "Hansel and Gretel" is a particularly sweet and simple entry into the Movie Tale film series, but Cloris Leachman (and her wonderful musical number) brings a scary yet humorous bite! It's so terrific that these childhood favorites many of us remember from the Disney Channel's 1980's and early 90's glory are finally available on DVD (most of them at least). The DVDs include trailers (not sure if these films ran anywhere theatrically), and most (including Hansel and Gretel) are presented in fullscreen format. The Cannon Movie Tales are mostly family fun, though be warned that some can have their scary moments (for example, "Red Riding Hood," my favorite, is done as a werewolf story that at times may be a bit frightening). The other Cannon Movie Tales, all of which I highly recommend, are: Rumpelstiltskin, The Emperor's New Clothes, Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Puss In Boots (starring Christopher Walken!), Beauty and the Beast, The Frog Prince, and Sleeping Beauty. Those last two have not yet been released to DVD, and I have yet to see Rumpelstiltskin at any retail stores, though Amazon seems to carry it. I wish to get them all, but currently only own my favorites: Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Puss In Boots, and Hansel and Gretel. Fairy tale fanatics should own all these films, and I also highly recommend my top favorites, the Disney animated versions. Also, for a scarier version of Snow White, pick up the outstanding, "Snow White: A Tale of Terror," starring the beautiful Monica Keena. More recommendations: Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre collection (also best known from the Disney Channel airings), Shrek and Shrek 2, The Slipper and the Rose (for a live-action Cinderella), Ever After (another live-action Cinderella), The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996), Peter Pan (2003), The Wizard of Oz, Return to Oz, and Rodger's and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1965) among others!