voice casts: Joss Ackland, Frances Tomelty, John Shrapnel, Amanda Root, and Roger Allam
directors: Stanislav Sokolov, Nikolai Serebriakov, Maria Muat, Natalia Oplova, Yuri Kulakov, and Aida Ziablikova
reviewed by Tom Johnstone
Shakespeare: The Animated Tales harnesses the considerable talents of brilliant Russian animators, the acclaimed children’s author Leon Garfield, and the voices of a number of well-respected classical actors, to produce condensed versions of the plays almost worthy of both RSCs – the Royal and the Reduced Shakespeare Company. These adaptations are remarkable faithful to the originals, and preserve a surprising amount of the texts. Many of them elucidate and clarify the plays with beautiful animation. For example, The Taming Of The Shrew’s notorious dramatisation of the subjugation of Kate by Petruchio cannot be taken at face value when seen as a play within a play, and its framing device as a story told to a drunkard, who receives short shrift when he attempts to put Petruchio’s methods into practice in the local hostelry, is given due prominence in this animated version.
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The comedies and romances like Shrew and The Tempest are animated with stop motion puppets. This seems particularly appropriate with these two. The shrewish Kate is turned into a Stepford wife doll by the end, while The Tempest’s Prospero manipulates his foes like marionettes. While Caliban resembles a punk troll, Ariel is particularly impressive. The spirit’s default setting is a fey angel, which turns into something more sinister when called upon to mete out retribution to the men who double-crossed Prospero.
By contrast, the tragedies are animated in two dimensions. In Macbeth, they take the form of vivid, almost garishly coloured cartoons, heightening both the bloody murder scenes and the bizarre supernatural encounters with witches and ghostly hallucinations. Hamlet on the other hand is rendered in muted, sombre pencil shadings, which convey the sense of dream-like unreality in the Danish court. All the tragedies, including Julius Caesar with its famous assassination scene, are imbued with lashings of crimson, animated gore, so it’s not suitable for young children. However Shakespeare: The Animated Tales are excellent learning resources for older students struggling with the Bard, as well as exquisitely beautiful works of art in their own right.