The Cannon Group, 1986
Starring Aileen Quinn, Helen Hunt, John Paragon, and Clive Revill
Directed by Jack Hunsicker
Music and Lyrics by Kenn Long
This was Cannon's first foray into what they called "The Cannon Movie Tales," low-budget musicals based around famous fairy tales. Sixteen movies were planned; nine were eventually released. I've covered three of these movies already, with varying results; how does the first made and released hold up now? Let's start in the bedroom of little Princess Zora (Quinn) awakening to what she hopes will be a wonderful day and find out...
The Story: Zora is upset because no one in the castle will take her seriously, especially her haughty and spoiled older sister Henrietta (Hunt). Her uncle the King (Revill) constantly scolds her for not behaving like a princess and forgetting her promises. No one in the castle knows who the true princess of the land is. It could be her or Henrietta...and Henrietta has no desire to let her little sister take over as ruler.
After she's made fun of for her outrageous feathered cape at dinner, she hurries outside to a pond. While playing with her favorite golden ball that she believes brings her good luck, she wishes fervently for a friend. That "friend" appears in the form of a very tall frog in a velvet coat named Ribbit (Paragon), who retrieves her ball for her. She promises to be his companion, and he teaches her how to dance and act more like a princess.
Jealous and incensed, Henrietta and her mousy friend Dulcey (Seagull Cohen) kidnap Ribbit and hide him in a hole where he can't get water. Dulcey, however, is having second thoughts, especially once she sees how devastated Zora is that her new pal doesn't appear. It'll take Zora's courage and her determination to keep that promise to save both of them and prove that a "real princess" is one who keeps her promises no matter what.
The Song and Dance: Charming little confection with Quinn doing well as the bubbly tomboy who learns what it means to be a real princess. Hunt has one of her earliest roles as the scheming and snobbish Henrietta, and Revill plays a far more benevolent ruler here than he did in Rumpelstiltskin. Paragon is also quite funny as the towering amphibian (when you can get past the almost scary costume).
Favorite Number: Zora kicks things off with "This Is My Lucky Day" in her room as she describes how she's glad to have something to talk to, even if it's just her golden ball. The king reminds his niece that "A Promise Is a Promise" with the help of his advisers in the throne room. Ribbit tells Zora about how it feels to be a "Too Tall Frog" after they've first met. They sing about their "Friendship" in a touching duet the next evening, after he's taught her how to dance.
What I Don't Like: This is another one that unnecessarily padded out a thin story. I would have preferred the unseen witch who cursed the prince as the villain over the dull Henrietta and Dulcey. There's also the fact that Zora clearly states she's 12 and a half. Girls were allowed to marry that young going as far back as medieval times, but for many people nowadays, her relationship with Ribbit may go into some uncomfortable territory.
It's also very obvious that this is a low-budget production, even more than with some of the later films. The frog costume is ugly - even for an amphibian - and more than a little scary nowadays, especially for the young children this is intended for. The sets and costumes look even cheaper.
The Big Finale: Charming and fairly harmless if you can get around the dated production and costumes.
Home Media: Streaming and cable seems to be the only place to find this at the moment. The cable movie channel Starz has on subscription.