Shakespeare: The Animated Tales. I admit that the title of
this collection made me raise my eyebrows, especially when I learned
that the "tales" are all 25-minute pieces. Bite-sized
Shakespeare! Is this a respectable, if off-beat, handling of the
Bard's work, or is it yet another concession to the limited attention
span of the MTV generation?
The twelve tales that are presented here represent a broad
cross-section of Shakespeare's work. We get tragedies (Macbeth,
Othello, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Romeo and
Juliet), comedies (A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You
Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night),
history (Richard III) and two that don't easily fit in a genre
(The Tempest, A Winter's Tale). Each is animated by
different artists, with techniques that range from cel animation to
stop-motion puppets to paint on glass. The result is a truly varied
assortment of miniature plays.
It's no easy task to condense plays that would have run close to four
hours in the original to a mere twenty-five minutes, and the tales
here display varying degrees of success in making the adaptation.
Some, like Romeo and Juliet, work reasonably well with the
story pared down to its fundamental elements, while others, like The
Tempest, end up feeling confusing and fractured. Not
surprisingly, it's the stories with the strongest basic narrative
impulse that fare the best here.
You might ask what's left that can be rightfully called "Shakespeare"
when the play is condensed this far. In fact, the makers of
the Animated Tales have shown quite a bit of respect for the
original material. While the voiceover summaries of key plot and
character points (which are essential, since so much is omitted) have
been written specifically for these tales, all the actual dialogue
within the tales is the genuine article, taken directly from the
plays. That's what makes these little pieces work to the extent that
they do: it's bite-sized Shakespeare indeed, but it's still
As for the overall effect... well, as someone who loves Shakespeare,
I think I'll stick to full-length adaptations of his work. These
little pieces are interesting more in their ambition, and as a
showcase for their animation, than as actual, successful short films.
However, they're probably just the ticket for educators or parents
who are interested in exposing young viewers to the greatest
playwright in the English language; they're reasonably accessible for
a younger audience without being patronizing. It's always a good
thing to be familiar with stories that provide so many cultural
references, and it's likely that someone who was intrigued by one of
these stories might go on to watch longer versions or read the
original. Adult viewers who are aficionados of animation will also
find this set of interest, since it showcases quite a diverse group
Shakespeare: The Animated Tales is a four-disc set, with three
tales on each DVD. Each disc has its own plastic keepcase, and all
four fit inside a paper slipcase.
All the tales appear in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which I'm assuming
is the correct ratio. The image looks quite good overall, with a
clean print that's free of noise or flaws for the most part, and that
features bright, vibrant colors. Some compression artifacts do crop
up at times, but on the whole the tales look quite nice.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack varies in quality from one tale to the
next. Some sound perfectly fine, with reasonably clear dialogue,
although it's never as crisp as I'd wish it to be;. Other tales have
distinctly sub-par sound quality, with the voices sounding muffled,
dialogue being difficult to understand, and volume levels
fluctuating. English captions for the hearing impaired are included
as an option.
There are no special features on this set.
you're looking for a collection of bite-sized Shakespeare stories,
this is it. While the extreme brevity of the tales means that the
filmmakers pretty much have to butcher the plays, the end result is
surprisingly respectful of the Bard's work, as his original dialogue
is used even if the story is compressed until it begs for mercy. Some
of the stories fare better than others, but on the whole it's not a
bad resource for teachers or parents who are interested in exposing
younger viewers to a great playwright. There's also some appeal here
for viewers who are fans of animation, as the tales showcase the
talents of a variety of Russian animators. Rent it.