The Other Side of Animation 62: Extraordinary Tales Review

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Something I have noticed from certain movies of 2016 is that they had plots that either weren’t substantial enough for a single movie, like Batman: The Killing Joke, too much is crammed into one movie, or it should have been a miniseries. That last example was very apparent with films like Free State of Jones and Warcraft. To me, if a story isn’t substantial enough for a feature-length film, then maybe don’t stretch it to feature length with something that could make or break the story. If a story has too much to follow and too much information in it, then maybe make it a four-to-six episode miniseries. Or, if you want to tackle multiple short stories or poems, but don’t want to make a single one of them feature-length to keep the writing at its best, then maybe make an anthology film. This is where Extraordinary Tales comes in. This spooky anthology film is set around five stories/poems by the famous author, Edgar Allen Poe. It originates from the director Raul Garcia, who’s work experience includes being in the animation department of multiple Disney films from the 90s, and the director of the film, The Missing Lynx. It also boasts big names of horror talent, including Bela Lugosi (archive recording), Roger Corman, Guillermo Del Toro, and the late great Christopher Lee. So, how does this film do in paying tribute to one of history’s most gothic and death-obsessed writers? Well, let’s find out shall we?


The film’s set-up takes place in a graveyard where Poe, voiced by Stephen Hugues, has taken the form of a crow to look around at the location where he was buried. He encounters Death, voiced by Cornelia Funke, who he has been obsessed with, but also fears. Poe talks to Death about how he doesn’t want him or his work to be forgotten, and how he fears about the affliction of dying. It’s pretty much a set-up for the short films, which are all uniquely animated versions of The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Masque of the Red Death.


So, what’s good about the anthology film? Well, the animation is striking and unique. It’s all CGI animation from overseas, which is usually a call for concern, but each of the stories has a different art style. It makes them stand out, and match the creepy atmosphere of each set-up. You have The Fall of the House of Usher with its pencil-shaded polygonal look, The Tell-Tale Heart’s striking black and white aesthetic, the colorful underground comic style for The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar, and the painted look of The Masque of the Red Death to name a few.  I don’t know how many viewers would find these stories “scary” due to like comedy, horror and what is scary is subjective if ever rarely agreed upon, but a lot of these shorts are unsettling and eerie. Like, you can feel the dread of death looming over you as you watch these shorts. It also tackles them pretty differently from the paranoia of death, the many ways one could die, trying to escape it, or trying to hide away from it. It’s a neat idea.


The actors they hired to narrate the stories/voice characters in the stories are great choices. Of course, my favorite one is the late Christopher Lee narrating and voicing the characters in The Fall of the House of Usher. Guillermo Del Toro also does a great job, and it is rather interesting to hear him narrate a story. I also find it fascinating that they got an archive recording of famed horror icon Bela Lugosi reading The Tell-Tale Heart. It’s pretty cool to hear him read the story. I think the one short that stands out the most is the last one, The Masque of the Red Death. It has no narration and is all visual storytelling. Heck, Roger Corman, the king of schlock himself, only gets one line in this story. To me, for being not much of a Poe connoisseur, I feel like the short films got the vibe and the tones down to a T. However, that is just me, because there are always going to be those people who prefer the written version over the film version.


As usual, I do have some complaints. As it is for most anthology films, some of the shorts are stronger than others. While I think they each stand out in their own unique way, I think The Tell-Tale Heart is my least favorite due to a technical issue I have with the archive recording. It’s cool that they obtained the recording of Bela Lugosi reading this story, but it’s very hard at times to hear him. The English DVD that I bought doesn’t come with English subtitles. It’s hard to hear some of the narrators in some of the stories, like The Pit and the Pendulum. It’s great that Netflix has this film (as of October 17th, 2016), and you can watch it with subtitles. It feels like the sound mixer needed another look-through before saying the job is done. Who knows, maybe that is the best they could do with the archived recording, but watching this on a high volume or with headphones or closed captions would be best. I also think the set-up for the short films could have been stronger. All Poe does is talk about being forgotten, when he won’t be. I mean, I get that feeling of a proud legacy being left behind the passage of time, but they could have just showed the shorts and be fine, or find a better way to combine the setting and shorts.


In the end though, GKids brought over another great movie with striking visual styles, and a more mature tone. If I had to pick where I would put it terms of the library of GKids films, I would probably put it in the upper middle area. It’s a great movie, but some technical issues and the divisive nature of adaptations will probably result in your experience being different than mine. Even then, I would highly recommend checking this movie out if you want some creepy animation. Well, next week, let’s go back to the goofy side of horror with a DC animated film that I actually liked?! That’s scary. Next time, we look at Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. Beware the dark, and beware the goofy 60s Batman!

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation: Memories Review

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After 10 reviews of nothing but European and American animated films, I am finally talking about one of my favorite animated films, Memories, from the land of the rising sun, ramen, anime, and Godzilla. This series of short films is by famous animator Katushiro Otomo, the mind behind famous and popular animated films/manga like Akira, Neo Tokyo, Robot Carnival, Steamboy, and Short Peace. The three short films that we are going to review today are based on short stories that Otomo himself has written. Let’s dive in and check out these three individual short films.

The first film up is Magnetic Rose, directed by Koji Morimoto, who is also well known for his work on games like Catherine, and anime like First Squad, Mind Game, and one of the segments in The Animatrix. The screenplay was helmed by one of my favorite animation icons, the late and always great Satoshi Kon, who worked on Tokyo Godfathers, Perfect Blue, and Paprika. The story revolves around a four-person team in a salvage freighter, as they are traveling around in space. Upon finishing one job, they get an SOS, and head to this graveyard of salvage, into what looks like a giant metal rose. Of course, as they go inside, the SOS might be more dangerous than they thought.

The second film is called Stink Bomb, which is directed by Tensai Okamura. He is mostly well known for doing storyboards for a lot of well-known anime like Samurai Champloo, Wolf’s Rain, Soul Eater, and worked on films like Neo Tokyo, Ghost in the Shell, and Jin-Roh. Stink Bomb is a black comedy revolving around a young lab technician named Nobuo Tanaka. Including him and everyone in his town, a serious cold breakout has been doing a number on poor Nobuo. Instead of doing the sensible thing and going home, one of his coworkers suggests he try a new prototype pill in their boss’s office. After taking the pill and resting his eyes, Nobuo wakes up to find everyone dead. This alerts the Japanese Government and, unknowing to Nobuo, the “experimental pills” Nobuo took caused a gas to permeate from his body that kills anyone or anything within a certain distance.

The final short is called Cannon Fodder, which is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo himself. The story is about an entire city that does nothing but prep cannons, and fire said cannons at an unknown enemy.

So, what is so great about these three short films? Well, each film has their own vibe, and are grand in scale in their own ways. Magnetic Rose is obviously everyone’s favorite due to how much of a complete story it is. At first it starts out as an atmospheric sci-fi tale, but then two of the crew members, Miguel and Heintz venture forth inside the location of the distress call. It then turns into a ghost story, with the giant metal rose-like location housing multiple European architectural pieces, holograms of the European countryside, and a large portrait of what is apparently the owner of said abandoned structure. I won’t spoil what happens in this short film, but it’s truly one of the best examples of not only animation, but anime.

Stink Bomb is just an epic black comedy with well executed animation and rather humorous sequences. Seeing so many soldiers and people run to the hills, because of one oblivious and uninformed idiot who took a pill that just happened to make him the symbol of death, is hilarious. It’s like the epic comedic scale you saw in the first Blues Brothers movie. The poor guy took an experimental pill that turned him into a walking cloud of death, and he is unaware of it all. Like I said, what makes this short film work is that it’s a huge epic black comedy. It is definitely a very humorous tale with some top-notch animation.

Unfortunately, the weakest, but most visually impressive short of the three is the one directed by the Otomo himself, Cannon Fodder. It’s an anti-war message, since the people in this city have been fighting for so long that they honestly don’t know what they are attacking. Granted, they do a lot to build up this short’s universe, and how everything works, and the many positions and jobs these people have. What it lacks in length and story, it makes up with personality. Some parts can be dramatic, like how the only person on the deck to fire the cannons is the one who pulls the trigger, and if your loading team messes up, they have to stand right by the cannon that could potentially blow up on them. It’s an interesting world, but there isn’t enough time spent in it to match the first two animated shorts.

Let’s get back on track with the positives! Like I said, the animation in all of these shorts is grade A quality. Even after 10 years, it holds up incredibly well. Even if Cannon Fodder is the weakest of the three shorts, it’s the most visually striking, with animation that looks like something out of the most talented artist’s sketchbook with its grungy, but at the same time, bright colors. The music in all three shorts is fitting, with ambient epic scores for Magnetic Rose, quirky off-beat music for Stink Bomb, and mechanical/military sounding music for Cannon Fodder.

Memories is a work of art, and one of the highest caliber pieces of animation to ever come out of Japan. Sure, you could argue that Stink Bomb and Cannon Fodder are more like visual experiences, since their plots are not as in-depth as Magnetic Rose, but I feel like that is being unfair to the other two shorts. All three offer varying and uniquely different experiences, and they all work in their own right. My only real complaint is that we never got an English dub of the three, but in the long run, it probably doesn’t matter. I would love to see what company would grab this, and what English-speaking actors they would choose, but they would have to make sure they put in perfect performances to match what is happening on the screen. If you haven’t picked this film up yet, you should. It’s easily one of the best anthology films around, and easily worth your time. Well, how about we move onto another ambitious piece of animation for the time of its release, with Fritz the Cat? Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials