What Dreams May Come, whatever its dramatic failings, at least offered an audaciously gorgeous CGI environment in which Robin Williams found himself literally immersed in paintings. Something akin to that painterly technique is utilized in the charming animated shorts comprising Painted Tales: Volume 1. While the narration used in both of these stories by necessity makes for a somewhat static storytelling format, the ingenuity of the visual presentation more than makes up for it.
"In Winter Still: A Claude Monet Story" posits the French Impressionist in a reworking of the Oscar Wilde tale "The Selfish Giant." In this version, Monet's pastoral garden is a place of wonder and beauty to which the neighborhood children are drawn as if by magic. Unfortunately the garden's selfish caretaker doesn't like the tots trampling his topiary handiwork and forbids them to return. That keeps winter in perpetual residence in the garden, leaving Monet in a funk. Needless to say, things work out just fine in the end, with a mysterious boy providing the key to a Monet masterpiece.
While there's an overall impressionistic look to this piece, it's not an outright mimicking of Monet's style, despite scenes that feature water lilies and other Monet standards. It's a charming and lightweight look at an artist's muse, painted in respendent colors that evoke a magical realm of childlike wonder.
"Almond Blossoms: A Vincent Van Gogh Story" is not quite at the level of "In Winter Still." Narrated by a rather petulant sounding young girl, whose manner may strike some viewers as rather off-putting, this go-'round is based on O. Henry's "The Last Leaf," where a girl's ailing mother predicts she'll die when the last leaf falls off of a tree outside her window. In this version, the girl's father has been tending to Van Gogh after his "ear episode" (it's not made clear if the father treats illnesses of the body or the spirit), and the girl befriends the "red headed madman." When her mother falls ill, Van Gogh's selfless act provides a symbol for the mother's struggle toward health.
The art in this episode is more openly evocative of Van Gogh's than "In Winter Still"' is of Monet's, but there's little of the layered paint look or vicious brushstrokes evident throughout, making it look as impressionistic in its own way as the other short included in this set.
While both of these shorts are, indeed, quite short (10 and 11 minutes, respectively), no doubt they took terabytes of computer storage to create. While some of the animation moves a bit clunkily, overall the visual presentation is gorgeous, with an amazing three dimensionality and astounding use of color. Hopefully there will be more volumes of this appealing new effort, though one wonders how the artisans at Auryn are going to make Edvard Munch kid friendly.
This is an astounding looking DVD, despite the odd choice of "windowboxing" the full frame image inside what looks like a torn piece of paper. Detail, color and contrast are all superb. Because of the unique animation style, it's difficult to tell if in a couple of very brief instances (a night scene in the Van Gogh episode, for example) we're experiencing digital noise or simply an absence of "pigment" (so to speak).
The DD 2.0 is sweet and understated, with source music from such stalwarts as Faure combined nicely with the omnipresent narration. Fidelity is just fine throughout, with no dropouts or noise. No subtitles are available.
The only extra, if you're charitably inclined, is text biographies for each of the painters. There really could have been more on this DVD, despite its bargain price.
Painted Tales should enchant most children and will most likely delight adults who enjoy unusual visuals. Highly recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet