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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Once Upon a Mattress is a good-humored fairy tale Disney remake -- and previously a 1950s Broadway musical -- with some cheeky jokes and a "wicked" queen. The movie stars Tracey Ullman as Princess Winnifred and Carol Burnett as Queen Aggravain -- Burnett played Princess Winnifred in the original Broadway version. Some flippant sexist remarks poke fun at the traditional roles of female fairy tale characters. But there are few real stereotypes other than the down-trodden king and the self-satisfied knight. The queen is controlling and condescending, babying her son although he is clearly in his 40s -- but this is played for laughs. There is one joke about deafness, with a character shouting unnecessarily at a mute character. There is very occasional use of mild language, such as "idiot," "bloody," and "shut up," and "God” is used as an exclamation. Lady Larken (Zooey Deschanel) becomes pregnant after a "romantic picnic" and there is a discussion about what is expected on a wedding night -- the conversation is mimed. Overall a strong cast, plenty of humor, and a good heart make this solid family entertainment.
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What's the story?
ONCE UPON A MATTRESS is set in a fairy tale kingdom where manipulative Queen Aggravain (Carol Burnett) disapproves of every potential bride for her middle-aged son Prince Dauntless (Denis O'Hare). Unfortunately, the rest of the kingdom are also banned from marrying until the prince weds, which leaves Lady Larken (Zooey Deschanel) in a spot of bother -- she's already pregnant! Her beau, Sir Harry (Matthew Morrison) sets off to find Prince Dauntless the perfect bride, returning with the feisty Princess Winnifred (Tracey Ullman). But will she gain the queen's blessing by proving she is a "real" princess?
Is it any good?
This made-for-TV Disney reboot of the fairy tale classic The Princess and the Pea is simple, silly but nevertheless entertaining family fare. The scheming queen -- effortlessly played by Burnett (Annie) the original Princess Winnifred in the 1950s Broadway musical -- is kitschy and camp, while the obviously fake scenery and props give the whole movie the feel of an intentionally amateur dramatic performance. O'Hare is endearing as Prince Dauntless, a man-child completely under the thumb of his mother, while Ullman as the incorrigible Princess Winnifred or "Fred" brings a burst of energy to the story.
There are rousing musical numbers, slapstick comedy, and a solid cast, including Elf's Deschanel and Glee's Morrison. So although Once Upon a Mattress lacks the quality of a theatrical release, it just about delivers on entertainment -- feisty, fun, and farcical. Even tweens and teens might find themselves having fun ... in between the occasional eye roll.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about gender roles in Once Upon a Mattress. How does the movie play with gender stereotyping in fairy tales? Do you think the way princesses were traditionally depicted differs to books and movies today? Talk about which princess characters go against the gender stereotype and how.
Talk to your kids about how much influence parents should have over their children's choices. Can parental advice and support ever go too far? Think about the benefits and challenges of arranged marriages in real life.
If you were a princess -- or prince -- what kind would you be? How would you use your wealth and power?
- On DVD or streaming: December 18, 2005
- Cast: Carol Burnett, Tracey Ullman, Denis O'Hare
- Director: Kathleen Marshall
- Studio: Disney Efx
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Fairy Tales, Music and Sing-Along
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 87 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: May 13, 2020
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