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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Hans Christian Andersen: My Life as a Fairytale (2001)

"What's going to happen to us? We can't eat books!"
- Hans' mother (Geraldine James)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: March 04, 2003

Stars: Kieran Bew, Emily Hamilton, Flora Montgomery
Other Stars: Geraldine James, Caroline Harker, Mark Dexter, Simon Callow, James Fox
Director: Philip Saville

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief, mild violence)
Run Time: 02h:53m:58s
Release Date: February 18, 2003
UPC: 707729137207
Genre: family

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

As it's a Hallmark Channel biography of the renowned early 19th-century Danish writer, I'm sure Hans Christian Andersen: My Life As A Fairytale is less a study of the cold, hard facts than a light and breezy look at his rags-to-riches life. That's all well and good, because what has been done instead here is to reveal Andersen (Kieran Bew) to be a wild-eyed man-child whose overactive imagination would literally cause him to seamlessly meld real life with fantasy. He's like a variation of Tom Hulce's Mozart from Amadeus, a creative type who isn't bound by the same constrained outlook on life as everybody else around him.

The story starts off with Anderson's life as a carefree young adult, as he heads off for the big city to strike out as a writer after the sudden death of his father. As the childlike Andersen, Bew is all saucer-eyed at the breadth and scope of Copenhagen's hustle and bustle, and is naïve enough to not fully understand the goings on at the brothel he takes a cheap room in. He is eventually taken in by the family of kindly Jonas Collin (James Fox), who wants the boy to learn "a sensible trade." Collin's young daughter Henrietta (Emily Hamilton), who is afflicted with a cane and nasty limp, becomes Anderson's closest friend, and when beautiful American operatic star Jenny "The Nightingale" Lind (Flora Montgomery) becomes the focus of Andersen's romantic affections, the stage is set for a touching love triangle to unfold.

Along the way we are given glimpses by director Philip Saville of the little sparks of reality that would eventually become the basis of some of Andersen's best known works, including The Little Matchgirl, Thumbelina, The Princess and the Pea, The Little Mermaid, and The Snow Queen. The blending of fantasy and reality is handled smoothly, with people from Andersen's life doubling as characters out of his fertile mind, and the screenplay by Kit Hesketh-Harvey turns the basis of these stories into imaginative links that parallel and expand on events in the writer's life. This technique of floating in and out of Anderson's imagination might seem obtrusive and gimmicky to some, but it seems to work fairly well here.

All is not absolutely perfect, however. Most of the acting is of the broad, theatrical variety, with plenty of exasperated double takes and overly dramatic ham-handed line reads. The segments where we are inside one of the stories actually seem the most natural in comparison to the fictionalized 19th-century Europe sets, and the clean, pressed costumes of the cast would sometimes take me out of the narrative and remind me this was just a frilly costume drama. Still, this Hallmark production was geared largely toward children, and even with the long runtime what surprised me the most was how quickly and deeply this story hooked my eleven-year-old daughter.

I have no idea how closely this story parallels the real life of Andersen, nor do I know if he ever became close friends with Charles Dickens (a scene-stealing performance by Simon Callow). Was there really an adorably loyal Henrietta Collins? I suspect there may have been some literary fact-fudging done here, but that's likely to be expected in most made-for-television bios; the merging of fantasy and reality is the real charm here. Even the violent brutality of Anderson's The Little Mermaid which, contrary to popular opinion, is not the happy-go-lucky musical that Disney would have you believe, is not glossed over by Saville.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The disc is presented in a fairly vibrant 1.33:1 full-frame transfer, with sharp, detailed colors and fleshtones that look natural and lifelike. The source print is clean, with no noticeable flaws or blemishes.

A solid transfer from Hallmark and Artisan.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This isn't a booming sound mix by any means, but the 5.1 Dolby Digital track does offer a dramatically broader sound field than does the 2.0 stereo track. On the 5.1 mix, rears aren't used often, but the three front channels are used to create a fuller and deeper stage than stereo can offer. Dialogue is clear, and never overshadowed by score elements.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Dinotopia, Snow White, Stranded, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow Queen, Hallmark Channel Originals
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: In a film about Hans Christian Andersen, it would have been a nice extra to have included a list of his books and writings, but instead all Artisan really offers on this release is A Look Behind the Scenes (05m:00s). This glorified Hallmark commercial includes a couple of soundbites from director Saville, a few behind-the-scenes shots, and mostly consists of just recapping the story.

A batch of Hallmark trailers is also included, as well as 27 chapter stops.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

It's hard to imagine that a nearly three-hour made-for-television film about an early 19th-century writer would so completely enthrall my eleven-year-old daughter Sammie, but this one certainly did. And hey, I liked it, too. The narrative cleverly intertwines Andersen's flights of fantasy into his everyday life, and there is a simple, surreal beauty to these segments that gives the story a wonderfully off-kilter edge.

Worth a rental, especially for those young, creative writing types in your family.


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