Once Upon a Mattress
Not Rated; Directed by Kathleen Marshall; Starring Carol Burnett, Tracy Ullman, Dennis O’Hare, Zooey Deschanel, Tom Smothers
In 1959 a new comic star appeared off-Broadway in the musical “Once Upon a Mattress.” In this musical that humorously retold the fairy tale, “The Princess and the Pea,” Carol Burnett wowed audiences as Princess Winnifred, who has to prove to a suspicious queen that she really is a princess and worthy of Prince Dauntless’s hand in marriage. Recently, Disney broadcast an updated television version with Carol Burnett, but this time she plays the domineering queen.
Carol Burnett had reprised her role in two TV versions – one I saw in 1972. I was glad to know that Disney decided to do a new version. Of course, their updated version of “Cinderella” with Brandy was a mess, so I was wary. It also didn’t seem promising that Mattress was filmed earlier this year and finally aired less than two weeks ago. Not only that, the DVD hit the shelves two days later. Hmmm…not quite a show of support from Disney, is it?
The story? Lady Larken (Zooey Deschanel) and Sir Harry (Matthew Morrison) are in a fix. They can’t marry due to the law of the kingdom – no one marries until Prince Dauntless (Denis O’Hare) is wed. Unfortunately, his mother, Queen Aggravaine (Carol Burnett) is determined to keep her son single. The queen creates fiendish tests for every candidate who wishes to marry her son and none have succeeded. Larken can’t wait any longer – it seems virtuous Sir Harry was not so virtuous and Lady Larken is expecting a bundle of joy (so much for a Disney family film). A qualified princess must be found and found soon. Sir Harry sets off to find one and returns with Winnifred (Tracy Ullman). Does she stand a chance against the queen’s machinations?
It’s a breezy little musical with lots of humor. The music is pleasant, and several numbers succeed even with the boring orchestrations. Several songs were cut for this television version, but aren’t missed and a new song is added for Carol Burnett’s character. What holds this musical back is the filming and one important piece of casting. Director Kathleen Marshall, a choreographer and director from theatre, doesn’t use the camera effectively. Musicals on TV are touchy things. Do you film it like a play where you can catch all the action or try to make it more movie-like, but being hindered by the small screen lose a lot of options? Director Marshall didn’t come up with a successful compromise.
All the cast do well and many have good voices, with Zooey Deschanel quite a pleasant surprise. The hardest part to cast is the part that made Carol Burnett a star – Princess Winnifred. I adore Tracy Ullman, but she didn’t shine in the role. Of course, I can’t think of anyone other than the younger Carol Burnett who can do real justice to the role.
If you’re a fan of musical theatre, you may enjoy the DVD, but there’s no guarantee. After all, I am a fan and I was disappointed.