Fantasy, drama, romance, comedy, adventure, epic – these are just some of the words used to describe The 10th Kingdom, a five-part miniseries with an undeniable appeal that yet seems to defy definition. Originally aired in 2000 in two-hour installments on NBC, this miniseries harnesses the childhood thrill and awe of the classic Grimms’ fairy tales and adapts them for more modern, more mature viewers. Even 15 years after its debut, The 10th Kingdom still appeals to that childlike desire to dive into a fantasy world, taking familiar stories and characters and revamping them in a relatable and charming way.
The 10th Kingdom muses over the question of what comes after “happily ever after” — two centuries after, in fact. Unrest has grown in the nine magical kingdoms since the golden years of the five women who changed history: Snow White, Cinderella, Queen Riding Hood, Gretel the Great, and the Lady Rapunzel. The Evil Queen (Dianne Wiest) seeks to take control and escapes her prison by casting a spell that makes Snow White’s grandson, the spoiled and whiny Prince Wendell (Daniel Lapaine), switch bodies with a dog who, in the process of escaping the queen’s grasp, stumbles upon a magic mirror that transports him to the mysterious 10th Kingdom: New York City.
Pursued by a trio of bumbling (and hilarious) trolls and a wolf-man (Scott Cohen), the princely pooch finds help in the form of an average girl, cynical and world-worn waitress Virginia (Kimberly Williams), and her clumsy, hapless father, struggling janitor Tony (John Larroquette). These two ordinary folks get quickly swept into a distinctly unordinary adventure that takes them on a journey through the fantasy kingdoms, where they encounter revamped and more adult versions of classic tales such as the Big Bad Wolf, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Little Bo Peep.
Just as the miniseries renews centuries-old fairy tales for 21st-century viewers, adding intrigue, sexuality, and real-world concerns, this 15th anniversary Blu-ray release revitalizes the magical visual effects, including the enchanting and Emmy Award-winning main title sequence that morphs the New York cityscape into a fantasy world filled with giants and fairies. Special effects, including invisibility from magic shoes, journeys through magic mirrors, and mischievous green smoke from a magic bean, all support the narrative rather than distract from it, adding to the illusion and sense of wonder.
The ambitious project, filmed in more than half a dozen European countries, although most directly inspired by Grimm’s fairy tales, also has other strong influences, merging a Lord of the Rings-style epic in which the characters literally walk across Europe with a Wizard of Oz-style quest to return home from an adventure in an unfamiliar world. Its grand scale in terms of length and scope is impressive but does not overwhelm the narrative, which is still somehow intimate and familiar, revolving around the relationship between a girl and her father and their parallel quests to rediscover themselves and their deep love for each other, despite their faults.
That these characters are flawed is what makes the narrative so accessible and engaging. Tony is greedy and gutless, but he slowly learns from his often disastrous mistakes as this cowardly lion turns into a brave hero and protector, willing to do anything for his daughter. Virginia is cynical and closed off, repressing her true feelings about her mother’s disappearance and unable to come to terms with her loneliness or realize her potential. Yet the people she meets along the way teach her that she is more special than she realizes, reawakening the childlike joy and wonder that had been stifled by growing up.
Larroquette is aptly exasperating and endearing as Virginia’s bungling and unlucky father, while Williams is relatable and charismatic, both charming and emotionally raw. West is softly menacing, which makes the Evil Queen even more mysterious and threatening, while Ed O’Neill’s (Modern Familiy, Married… With Children) hardness as her gruff, callous, and equally ambitious co-conspirator, Relish the Troll King, serves as a striking foil.
The Troll King’s three numskull children, Burly (Hugh O’Gorman), Blabberwort (Dawnn Lewis), and Bluebell (Jeremiah Birkett), offer possibly the most entertaining scenes of the entire series, which mix Three Stooges slapstick, asinine interpretations of the real-world objects, people, and behavior they encounter, and goofy obsessions with shoes, the “Brothers Gibb”, and their song which “concerns a deadly fever that only strikes on Saturdays”. The remarkable chemistry among the trolls is a credit to the actors’ ability to maintain sibling-like affection and feuding, despite the delightfully ridiculous nature of their dialogue, mannerisms, and appearance.
The true stand-out performance comes from Cohen, who seems to embrace the simultaneously silly and dangerous nature of a half-wolf engaged in an inner battle between his animal instincts and his human affection for Virginia. This struggle is encapsulated in his session with a bewildered psychiatrist in which he confesses, “I don’t know whether I want to love her, or eat her!” Cohen’s gradual evolution from an excitable, ravenous, and insatiable wolf into a gentle, dreamy, and hopelessly romantic Prince Charming is appropriately comical as well as undeniably endearing.
Even 15 years later, The 10th Kingdom remains a relevant and enchanting reinterpretation of classic fairy tales for a modern audience, and even though it may seem like it is meant for kids, viewers of any age can find themselves engrossed by its ability to merge adult interests and humor, real emotion, and childhood wonder.
Although the Blu-ray only includes the same making-of featurette as previous releases, the enhanced visual quality makes this already stunning series appear even more vibrant and magical. Even with over seven hours of material, this miniseries is entrancing all the way through, and it’s a must-see for viewers of all ages.