Robin Williams inaugurates this new series of Showtime stories for children by narrating an adaptation of an old Russian folktale, ”The Fool and the Flying Ship.” It’s an odd little story about a clever Russian peasant boy who is not as handsome as his two brothers. Ridiculed as a mere fool, he hopes nonetheless to win the hand of the czar’s daughter by building a flying ship to impress the Russian ruler.
The czar does indeed think the flying ship is pretty neat, but he further tests the Fool by asking him to perform a series of impossible tasks, such as eating 1,000 loaves of bread. Need I add there’s a happy ending?
The Fool and the Flying Ship is an aimless, not exactly classic, tale, but Williams is wise enough to take full advantage of the story’s loose narrative. He gives each character a different Russian accent, sounding most often like Rocky & Bullwinkle’s Boris Badenov, and tosses in asides that I doubt were in the original Russian text: ”So time passed,” Williams says at one point, ”not a lot, not a little — what am I, a watch?” A bit later he notes the czar was ”having borscht without any sour cream, which is a meal that you shouldn’t have — God forbid — ever.”
Williams’ narration is a hoot, and it’s enhanced by the Klezmer Conservatory Band’s raucous European folk music and Henrik Drescher’s exuberant drawings. As was true of Showtime’s Storybook Classics series, The Fool and the Flying Ship is presented in a limited-animation style in which the camera pans across an illustration. This static quality can be tedious to the viewer, but not this time: Drescher, a well-established illustrator of children’s books (Poems of A. Nonny Mouse), creates pictures teeming with brightly colored, gleefully exaggerated figures. His characters’ noses dangle from their faces like warty cucumbers; their limbs bend at impossible angles and snake out at the viewer. Drescher’s drawing is as blunt and cartoonish as Williams’ narration, and together they make The Fool and the Flying Ship a lot of silly fun. A-