For this edition we’re examining anthology animated films of the decade… well, sort of, as far as the definition of anthology goes. Short Peace is composed by 4 different shorts from 4 different directors, whereas The Prophet uses the different segments for different poems in support for the main storyline, and Extraordinary Tales are based on short stories by Edgar Allan Poe that are directed by the same director. Anthology films usually fall in pitfall for inconsistency, as some shorts are better than others, and for thematic and tonal incoherence, but at the same time these films offer multi-perspective with fresh takes on its particular themes. It has a degree of freedom that regular feature-length films don’t have. We will take a look at those mid-2010s titles, again from 3 different continents, to see whether they work as a collective piece. Enjoy.
Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (2014)
First thing that you need to know about The Prophet is that it’s a passion project of Salma Hayek. She helms Lion King’s director Roger Allers as the chief director, then reaches out for 8 different animation artists to interpret Kahlil Gibran poems. It’s an ambitious project but unfortunately its reach far exceeds its grasp. On the plus side, the shorts produced by many talented artists such as Nina Paley, Tomm Moore and Bill Plympton are a delight. If you have seen any of their works it’s easy to tell apart their sections given they bring their singular styles to their segments, which for me remains the film’s biggest strengths. Even the lesser known directors manage to weave beautifully the poetic languages of Gibran’s words into stunning animated sequences, and the fact that they are vastly different in styles add to the richness of the source materials.
Unfortunately, it’s the main overarching story that fails to grab viewers’ attention and connect these shorts in a more coherent fashion. First, Roger Allers brings too many Disney-esque slapstick quirks that don’t mesh well with this style of story. The story, in addition, is full of contrived plot and self-exposition dialogues, especially from the main girl’s Mom (which is voiced by none other than Hayek). Considering the main story is taken in a period of a day, you can feel how they cram too many big moments in there.Third, although Allers nails the art style, his use of CG movements stick out like a sore thumb. Lastly, Almitra’s personal development is inconsistent since the plot moves so fast. She’s silent for a good chunk of screen-time, but when she finally talks, it rings false somehow. Quvenzhane Wallis does a sloppy job of voicing her, and it shows. At the end, I still recommend The Prophet, it’s flaws and inconsistent but the magnificent shorts outweigh its shortcomings.
(2 / 4)
Extraordinary Tales (2013)
Extraordinary Tales is an interesting anthology project. And it isn’t even a true “anthology film” in a sense that all the shorts are directed by the same person. After his first work got halted half way through, Raul Garcia worked on Allan Poe’s short Tell-Tale Heart as a way to put his mind off the other project, and it kept growing from there. There’s a lot to admire about this film that serves as a homage to Allen Poe, the horror genre and to the animation general, although sadly the film never reaches its full potential. The decision to use a different look and design for each segment, for example, makes this a fastinacing ride from start to finish. From a B&W Sin-City-esque look, to an oil-painting feel of the last short or 50s comic pulp style, each of the style is inspired from Garcia’s favorite artists, and this is the case where the styles become the substance of its stories. In addition, the narrations provided by horror masters such as Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Guillermo Del Toro add a nice touch to these shorts.
But while it’s interesting in concept, the execution sadly doesn’t capture the full spirit of Allen Poe’s works or leaves a bigger impact on viewers. The prime example of this is the story-line that connects all these shorts, about Allen Poe in the form of raven and Death in the form of a lady statue (yeah you read it right). It’s interesting to look at but the conversation sounds superfluous and empty and it doesn’t gel the shorts together strongly. In addition, I only find the third short “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” and the last story “The Masque of the Red Death” deliver the thematic weight. By staying too true to the source material, these shorts have pacing issues and they all end in ambiguous fashion, which feel more frustrating and half-baked than suggestive.
(2 / 4)
Short Peace (2013)
Short Peace is the most thematically uneven film out of this pack, but at the same time it’s the most visually striking. All the shorts are loosely connected by the theme “Japan” and these stories take place in different eras in Japan history. The theme feels pretty weak for me, especially the last short doesn’t really gel with others. The film starts strong with the first two stories, and a nice sweet short prologue that highlights the unique aspects of Japan, and most of all the visual arts are gorgeous, stylish and rich with textures. Both “Possessions” and “Combustible”, and to some extent, “Gambo” display strong visual storytelling with so much creativity and these first two shorts could rival any other standalone shorts in terms of production values. Indeed “Possessions” was nominated for Oscar animated shorts that year. “Gambo” suffers a bit from straightforward plot that doesn’t give the chemistry of the cast a necessary fuel, and “A Farewell to Weapons” is just a level below everything else. At the end, I’d recommend Short Peace the hardest out of these three films. It’s inconsistent but when it hits, it hits high marks. Parasols and fire never look much better than this.