Eric Metaxas has written a garrulously funny adaptation of the old story about Jack, his poor mother, their dry cow, the magic beans, and the giant or the ogre, as the malevolent, strapping fellow is called here.
Jack and the Beanstalk is narrated by Michael Palin (Monty Python, A Fish Called Wanda), with illustrations by Edward Sorel. Palin pulls off the neat trick of making it seem as if he's the first person who has ever told this story and that he's making it up as he goes along.
Jack climbs the beanstalk and finds his way into the home of an ogre who holds captive a goose that lays golden eggs. Well, this ogre is also married. The wife hates her husband, and she tries to help Jack hide from the ogre.
Thus, after this meanie yells the standard warning, ''Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman!,'' Palin reverts to the screeching, old-harpy voice he used to employ when dressed in drag during his Monty Python days. ''Nonsense, dearie,'' Palin-as-wife natters, ''unless of course it's the scraps of that English boy you had for yesterday's dinner.''
Jack and the Beanstalk does without animation; instead, the camera pans across Sorel's drawings. Grown-ups familiar with the artist's advertising work or his regular cartoon in The Nation will recognize his marvelously intricate yet rough-edged style.
Decorated with pretty folk music strummed on electric guitar by the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, Jack and the Beanstalk is a video fairy tale that's just about perfect. A