“When I say ‘rare’ I mean just let it look at the oven in terror then bring it out to me!”
When I first saw The 10th Kingdom miniseries back during its original run in 2000 I absolutely loved it. I bought and still own the VHS which included a CD of the soundtrack as well as the novelization. Now as these things go I have re-watched it however at this point it’s been years since I’ve seen it so I was anxious to revisit it and see if it holds up after all this time.
The 10th Kingdom has so many through-lines over the almost eight hour runtime that to try and detail them all would not convince anyone to watch the miniseries. Realizing that any attempt on my part to go into the intricacies of the plot is an exercise in futility I’m just going to give you the broad strokes of the miniseries. The show focuses on a handful of main characters we follow over the course of the five parts of the miniseries. We have Virginia (Kimberly Williams-Paisley, According to Jim), her father Tony (John Larroquette, The Librarians), Wolf (Scott Cohen, Necessary Roughness), Prince Wendell (Daniel Lapaine, Moonshot), Relish the Troll King (Ed O’Neill, Modern Family), and finally we have the Evil Queen (Dianne Wiest, Life in Pieces).
The Evil Queen is the one who starts off our story. In the 4th kingdom of a land comprised of nine kingdoms which contain all the descendants of the fairy tales we love such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, the Evil Queen breaks out of Snow White Memorial Prison with the aid of the Troll King. She times her escape to coincide with a visit from her step-son Prince Wendell, who she bewitches so that he becomes trapped in her dog’s body. But Prince Wendell breaks free and through a series of twists and turns makes his way to New York City which becomes known as The 10th Kingdom. There he meets Virginia and Tony and that trio returns to the land of the nine kingdoms in an attempt to get away from the trouble that has befallen them since Prince Wendell arrived. That trouble comes in the form of the Troll King’s three children and Wolf. Both parties are tasked by the Evil Queen with retrieving Prince Wendell because if he isn’t under control then the Evil Queen’s plans to take over the entire land will be for naught. Virginia and Tony must try to find their way back to our world while Wendell must find a way to become human again.
So that’s the gist of the story. There are plenty of characters and plenty of side trips and subplots which make up the miniseries but that’s the guiding through-line for the five parts. This is a family-friendly escapade with silly overtones to just about everything though there are some adult things. There are sexual innuendos which are glossed over in throw away lines, off-screen lovemaking, and references to cutting and suicide which are presented as story beats and likely won’t be caught by younger viewers. But what will be noticed by younger kids are the cursing and murders. When I say cursing I mean specifically the word hell and The 10th Kingdom‘s own version of the f-word, namely the phrase “Suck an elf!” which litters the landscape, usually spoken by a troll. An impressionable youngster may well pick up this phrase and begin using it. Though not overly violent there are some on-screen deaths and attempted murders as well so keep all these things in mind.
I don’t recommend binge-watching The 10th Kingdom. For one thing there is no feature to allow you to watch all the parts on one of the two included Blu-ray discs without interruption as one long movie a la The Lord of the Rings series. At the end of each of the five parts you are taken back to the root menu. I’m pretty sure the DVD release allows you to watch all the parts on a particular disc without interruption but as I only own the VHS I could be wrong so forgive me if I am. Regardless I don’t know why allowing me to watch more than one part conjoined isn’t an option here. Since this was originally a television broadcast the fade-to-black moments which precede commercial breaks are still included so whenever you see one you have a natural break in your mind so to see too many of them would signal a stop. Plus each part of the miniseries replays the introduction with the theme song so it’s yet another natural new beginning. With the intro credits before every part is not like this was restructured as one full movie with the commercial breaks taken out so it doesn’t really lend itself to the kind of mindless watching that you can get into with say the auto-play feature on Netflix. With this there is no auto-play feature you have to physically tell the Blu-ray player you want to move on and sure that’s just pressing a button but there’s still a moment when you’re taken back to the menu and it just seems like there’s a nice break. Each part is about an hour and a half long so you can easily get through the parts I just don’t think it’s necessary to watch all five at once.
I do recommend The 10th Kingdom: 15th Anniversary Special Edition (Blu-ray). There aren’t a lot of family-friendly fantasy films with this type of scale out there and it’s well-done. The only successor I can readily call to mind in terms of a family-friendly grand adventure film is another miniseries, Galavant, which is a musical so it offers a bit of a different feel. The 10th Kingdom stands as an example of a sort-of goofy family film with hints of adult undertones. I enjoy the imagining of fairy tale descendants, a trend which has definitely been popular through the 2010’s. The cast is vast and talented and there are enough characters that I daresay it’s impossible not to find one you connect with. Scott Cohen’s Wolf steals the show with his scene-chewing, the trolls constantly amuse (especially anything in relation to the Bee Gees) and John Larroquette’s portrayal of Tony demonstrates a broad range of emotions. However I’ve always had a soft spot for Snow White (Camryn Manhein, The Practice) which is only reinforced by this most recent viewing. But I think my favorite part of The 10th Kingdom is just how reluctant our heroes really are. For at least 75 percent of the miniseries all Tony and Virginia care about is getting back to New York. They’re sidetracked by their own vices and foibles and they don’t commit to saving the nine kingdoms until well into the story. The 10th Kingdom is a story of growing up and facing who you really are and of finding and accepting your place in the world (whichever one you live in). It’s well-acted, well-written and well shot.
Speaking of well shot in terms of the visuals some of what probably stands out the most are the special effects. Some are incredibly dated while others still hold up really well. The Beanstalk Forest and the opening titles probably have the most obvious examples of effects that don’t work quite as well however they aren’t bad they’re merely dated. They call attention to themselves merely because you can easily see how they could be made better. But in terms of the rest of the photography there’s a lot to like here. The base video is a 1.78:1 aspect ratio transfer and it’s very clean, very crisp. The audio is a bit of a disappointment only because one of the two special features is the isolated score track and so you think if that was going to be a special feature on the Blu-ray that they would go ahead and upgrade the audio but no it’s still a Dolby Digital 2.0 track which definitely can sound hollow and lack some of the richness that you would expect from a Blu-ray soundscape. It’s clear neither audio nor visual tracks were remastered however aside from occasionally dated material you’re not really going to complain too much.
So I just mentioned one of the special features is the isolated score track and the other is a behind-the-scenes featurette detailing the making of The 10th Kingdom which lasts about 45 minutes. I might be wrong but I believe earlier DVD releases also contained a gag reel? There are no special features on the VHS tapes so forgive my confusion. Honestly I’m disappointed with the special features. Not only is this the first time The 10th Kingdom is being released on Blu-ray it’s also the 15th anniversary of the film. You’d think that would warrant a little more fanfare in the special features department at least.
I came into this movie with a lot of love for it and left with a hefty amount of residual affection remaining.