Edgar Allan Poe may have been the master of the short story, but that doesn’t mean his works translate well into full-length movies. It’s difficult to extend a short story into a movie without stretching out the narrative and adding elements not in the original tale, although as long as Vincent Price is in the movie it probably doesn’t matter.
Extraordinary Tales is an attempt to tell Poe’s stories in their original short story format. It’s an animated anthology of five tales written and directed by animator Raúl García. Each tale is told in a different animation style with a different narrator for each (except for the last tale which has no narration and just a line of spoken dialogue). The movie is distributed by GKIDS (Guerrilla Kids International Distribution Syndicate), who distribute adult and family-oriented animated films from around the world. After watching the excellent Song of the Sea earlier this year, I appreciate the work that GKIDS is doing in bringing more animated films as an alternative to the traditional Disney-type fare that seems to be prevalent.
The first tale was The Fall of the House of Usher and narrated by the late Christopher Lee. This was one of Lee’s final performances, and out of all the tales, I felt this was the best narrated one. If anything it made me miss Lee even more with that unmistakable voice. I liked the animation style even though it felt a little too digitized, but Lee’s strong narration really carries this story through.
The second tale was The Tell-Tale Heart, with a black and white animation style inspired by the comic artist Alberto Breccia. The narration was taken from an old recording by Bela Lugosi from around the 1940s, and my one problem with this tale was that the recording sounded so scratchy it was hard to fully understand the narrator. While I liked the idea of using Lugosi’s voice, the recording really could have been cleaned up better instead of sounding like a very scratchy record.
The third tale, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar was narrated by actor Julian Sands. The animation is styled after old printed comic books (complete with the look of halftones), and gives a nod to Vincent Price in one of the characters. I’m wondering why this particular story was used in the movie since it’s not one of Poe’s more familiar tales, but I still enjoyed it.
Following this was The Pit and the Pendulum. This is a great story to read but is too edited in this film. It’s narrated by Guillermo Del Toro, but for some reason the sound quality could have been better. It was kind of difficult to understand what he was saying with the score playing in the background. If this tale could have been made longer it really would have had more tension to it.
The final tale was The Masque of the Red Death, and this tale had no narration and just the score. The animation felt like I was watching a beautiful painting and I liked that it was a mostly silent tale with just the score. This was one of the stronger tales in the anthology where the animation and the music worked together well. It made me wish the other tales hadn’t been so heavily narrated, and maybe that’s why this seemed so refreshing.
I’ve loved Poe’s stories since as long as I can remember. You can feel the moodiness within his prose. I love how he can tell a story from the point of view of an unreliable narrator. While I enjoyed watching Extraordinary Tales, I felt the film overall was far from perfect. With a running time of 73 minutes, I felt each tale was too short to allow one to become fully immersed in it. I would have preferred maybe four tales that were longer in length and more in-depth as opposed to the five shorter tales. As a result, the film seems to give more of a taste of Poe’s works as opposed to being able to really appreciate the stories. But on the other hand, to a younger viewer, this film is a good introduction to Poe’s stories, and I can see this film encouraging someone not familiar with Poe to read more of him. I know I certainly wanted to read some Poe after I was done watching this. And considering how many stories Poe wrote, I’d like to see more animated tales, please.