Animation junkies: Why wait months for the annual program of Academy Award-nominated shorts to come to town? Two decidedly grown-up packages of animated films open this weekend in limited release.
In the Halloween vein, “Extraordinary Tales” opens at the AMC Hoffman Center in Alexandria, featuring five short films inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales of horror. Each has been rendered differently by Raul Garcia, an animator who has contributed to 26 feature films, including “The Lion King.” Although Garcia’s anthology is being distributed by GKIDS, the company known for disseminating such classy children’s programming as “From Up on Poppy Hill” and other Studio Ghibli titles, I wouldn’t advise bringing very young children to this show, unless your progeny have a precocious taste for the morbid.
Four of Garcia’s “Tales” are adaptations of well-known stories from the Poe canon: “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Masque of the Red Death.” The fifth short, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” is based on a more obscure — but no less ghoulish — Poe title. Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro does the narration for “The Pit and the Pendulum,” with Bela Lugosi providing an ancient, heavily accented and rather scratchy accompaniment to “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which the late actor is known to have performed live in the 1940s.
Rendered in a black-and-white style that is said to have been inspired by the comic-book art of Alberto Breccia — but which seems to also owe a debt of gratitude to Frank Miller’s neo-noir “Sin City” — Garcia’s “Tell-Tale Heart” is my favorite short of the bunch. An animated female incarnation of Death (voice of Cornelia Funke) introduces each of the five tales, in interstitial clips that are framed as conversations between her and Poe, reincarnated in the form of a raven (Stephen Hughes). “Your obsession with death,” the Grim Reaper tells the author, “is, to my ears, like a sweet love song.” I couldn’t agree more.
Opening at the AFI Silver is the “Animation Show of Shows.” Now in its 17th year, the annual program of animated shorts began as an industry showcase, but as the audience for animation has grown, the films have begun to find their way into mainstream theaters.
This year’s eclectic package includes 11 titles from artists around the world, including offerings from Ireland, Iran and Russia. Singer Amanda Palmer makes an appearance in “Behind the Trees,” narrating a strange tale based on a voice memo she recorded in the middle of the night after an encounter with her sleep-talking husband, writer Neil Gaiman. But my favorite is something called “World of Tomorrow,” a mind-bending story by cult animator Don Hertzfeldt, rendered in digital stick figures that make “South Park” look like “Fantasia.”
Like “Trees,” it centers on dialogue between two people: a small child (Winona Mae) and her fully grown clone (Julia Pott), speaking to each other through the miracle of time travel (and animation). Kids won’t get it. Heck, I may have to watch it a few more times before its Möbius strip of a story line starts to make sense.
Extraordinary Tales (Unrated, 73 minutes). At AMC Hoffman Center 22 and available on iTunes and on-demand video. Contains morbid themes, brief nudity and sensuality.
The 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows (Unrated, 97 minutes). At AFI Silver. Contains some mature thematic material, but nothing offensive.