Remember the fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea," where a queen refuses to allow her son to marry until he can find a real princess. One rainy night, when a weary female traveler arrives at the palace door, the queen orders her servants to place a single pea under a pile of mattresses stacked to the ceiling. The next morning, the guest complains how badly her back hurt while sleeping – aha! A true princess at last, as she was able to detect the pea through all that bedding.
Once Upon a Mattress, starring the legendary Carol Burnett as Queen Aggravain, is the television film version of the beloved stage musical based on this fairytale (Burnett played the princess during the original run of this show in the late 1950s). In a subplot, two other residents of the castle, Sir Harry and Lady Larken, wish to marry as well, and when Sir Harry returns with a Princess (hilariously played by comedienne Tracey Ullman) suitable for Queen Aggravain's son, the real fun begins.
This production is marked by lavish costuming, set design, and engaging production numbers. In true Disney fashion, every stop has been pulled out to enjoy a full 90 minutes of family fun. That said, the jokes and the plot itself may be lost on the littlest members of the family, as it really is an adult fairytale. There is nothing offensive, however, that parents would need to be concerned about, except for the fact that Lady Larken is pregnant out of wedlock. This small fact may well be lost on children under the age of seven.
Carol Burnett, as she was in the film version of Annie, where she played the drunken, scheming Miss Hannigan, is an absolute scene stealer. She plays over-the-top better than just about any other actress out there, although in Tracey Ullman she may have met her match. The rest of the all-star cast is rounded out by Tom Smothers of The Smothers Brothers fame, Zooey Deschanel (The Good Girl),Spin City's Michael Boatman, and Denis O'Hare (Garden State). Fans might also be interested to know that this 2004 production was actually the third time Once Upon a Mattress has appeared on television, and Burnett has appeared in all three, although in the prior two (1972 and 1964) she played the Princess.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Once Upon a Mattress, is absolutely, positively stunning. The colors are crisp and bright, and the sets and costumes are nothing short of amazing. The entire effect is almost surreal, especially since many Disney releases are animated, and perhaps live-action films are not subject to as much scrutiny in terms of picture quality as their animated counterparts. At times this production almost feels like an elaborate cartoon, thanks to the superior quality of the picture.
Once Upon a Mattress features Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, which sounds terrific, especially during the many musical numbers. Coupled with the excellent picture quality, the sound makes for a truly comprehensive, enjoyable experience.
Disney DVD releases have become synonymous with quality special features, but don't expect as many as are included on Disney's animated special edition releases like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
The most significant special feature on this disc is the 7-minute "Making Of" featurette, which gives great background about the history of the stage production and its evolution into a telepic. The major cast members all appear to give the requisite interviews about how much they loved working with one another (honestly, it would be so much fun to have interviews where cast members roll their eyes and talk about what really goes on behind the scenes!). The one disappointment about this featurette is that it is not so much a "Making Of" as a retrospective. I would have loved to have heard more than just brief mentions of the costuming and set design, as they truly are an integral part of the entire experience. The other two special features, "Between Takes" and the rehearsal-to-film comparison do little to add to the overall experience and come off as mere filler to round out the disc, much like an extra track on a CD.
This film is a must-own for your family's DVD collection, as rare is the film these days that can be truly enjoyed by all members of the family, although keep in mind that very young children may have difficulty being engaged by the plot. Once Upon a Mattress is sure to garner requests for repeated viewings. Make it the next addition to your DVD wish list.