Shakespeare: The Animated Tales

Season 1 Episode 1


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  • Overall, I wouldn\'t recommend this program...(NOTE: this review is rather long)

    Recently I heard that there was actually an animated version of \"Macbeth\". Apparently it was part of a series of adaptions of Shakespeare\'s works, called \"Shakespeare: The Animated Tales\". I\'m not sure of the actual release dates for these programs, but judging by the year the video tapes were put out it was sometime in the early 1990\'s.

    Anyway, despite the fact that the \"Macbeth\" tapes are going for around $20 used, I decided to purchase a copy just so I could see it.

    So, the program opens with some sort of narrator telling the viewer that there was war in Scotland and that \"nothing was as it seemed\", whilst smoke clouds and various objects float outward. Then we see the three witches, who morph continuously throughout the scene into monstrous-looking shapes. That alone could be enough to give a person nightmares, but this is just the beginning.

    After the witches are done talking about when they will meet again, the title screen appears on a blue and red checkered background. Once this fades out we are immediately shown the intense battle from which Macbeth and Banquo emerge victorious. This continues for a little less than a minute, then finally it ends and Macbeth (I think) raises a banner. The reason I say \"I think\" is because at times it is rather hard to discern who is who in this extremely fast-paced program.

    The narrator then says that news of Macbeth and Banquo\'s victory soon reached King Duncan, but it did not please him because his former friend the Thane of Cawdor was among the traitors found. So Duncan says \"with his former title greet Macbeth\", as he did in the play. So Cawdor\'s medal (?) is ripped from his neck so it can be given to Macbeth.

    So we cut to the scene on the heath. The witches appear and disappear for a few seconds, and then...enter Macbeth and Banquo. The funny thing about Banquo in this version is that he appears to be a drummer (at least that\'s what it looks like to me). He\'s supposed to have been a fellow warrior who fought next to Macbeth, but here he carries a drum and two drumsticks. I guess the witches\' line \"A drum, a drum! Macbeth doth come!\" could imply that one of them was playing a drum, but still, I\'ve never really thought of it that way. Banquo does have the best character design, but that\'s not really saying much. His closeups are absolutely hideous, though.

    And I wanted to point out something really annoying about Macbeth. It always seems that he\'s staring out into space with glazed eyes! Seriously, he looks like this all through the 20 minutes that this show runs. He hardly shows emotion or any real expressions.

    Anyway, when the two walk up to the heath, Banquo (of course) points out the witches. And so, in this scene we get to see more of those creepy Weird Sisters (not that that\'s a good thing, which it isn\'t). They tell Macbeth that he will be Thane of Cawdor and King . . . I guess he is shocked but he doesn\'t really show it. Then Banquo asks if they can tell him his future. And so, we get the only moment I can really call \"cute\" . . . once Banquo asks this, the witches get really close to him and tell him his prophecies, causing him to be rather frightened and he cowers. Yes, rather cute, I think.

    The witches disappear, and Macbeth and Banquo are left alone to briefly discuss the prophecies. Then a messenger on a horse rides up and tells Macbeth he is now Thane of Cawdor. So Macbeth (still expressionless) speaks an aside.

    Then we see Duncan declaring Malcom as the Prince of Cumberland. Expressionless Macbeth has another aside (\"The Prince of Cumberland, that is a step. . .\")

    The narrator tells us that Macbeth rushed home to tell his wife the news, and had already sent her a letter detailing his encounter with the Weird Sisters. So we are introduced to Lady Macbeth. She is first shown reading the letter Macbeth sent (as in the play). Oddly, and creepily, one of the witches appears on the paper she is holding, and repeats the prophesy. And so Lady Macbeth says, without even moving her lips (!), her line from the play (\"Glamis thou art, and Cawdor too . . .\") whilst a transparent image of (Expressionless) Macbeth is placed over her face.

    (Expressionless) Macbeth arrives home and hugs his wife, telling her that Duncan is coming to their castle and leaving the next day. However, she tells him that \"never shall sun that morrow see!\" and to \"look like th\' innocent flower, but be the serpent under\'t\". Then a bird caws and she says a line that she was supposed to say before Macbeth got there: \"The raven himself is hoarse that croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements\".

    And so Lady Macbeth walks out and plays the sweet hostess. She escorts Duncan inside the castle. Then we are shown (very briefly) a feast set up for Duncan and everyone else. Then Lady Macbeth begins her \"Spirits who tend on mortal thoughts . . .\" speech a bit too late. She was supposed to say it right before Macbeth arrived.

    Later, the still-expressionless Macbeth ponders on murdering the King. He says to Lady Macbeth that he should be protecting Duncan, not holding the knife that would kill him. She asks him if he is afraid. He wonders what would happen if they failed in their attempt, and she scoffs at that (\"We fail?\"). She tells him to \"screw his courage to the sticking place\" and they won\'t fail.

    And so, the (still-expressionless) Macbeth orders a servant to tell his mistress (Lady Macbeth) that when his \"drink\" is ready that she strike a bell (what this line actually means is that this will tell her that when it\'s a good time for Macbeth to murder Duncan, she will ring a bell to signal him to do so).

    Macbeth stares out into space for a moment (as usual) and then a dagger floats down before him. There is a glaring error in the way the dagger is pointed. Macbeth clearly states in the play that the handle is \"toward my hand\". In this version, the dagger is pointing downward, so the handle actually isn\'t toward his hand.

    Macbeth goes to kill Duncan. Strangely, every time a murder occurs in this show, a skeletal jester (!?) appears and beats on a drum. I really have no idea why; perhaps it\'s supposed to be symbolic or something, but it\'s very weird.

    Lady Macbeth is waiting for her husband. She jumps at a sound and realizes that it was just an owl shrieking. She says she drugged the guards, and that if Duncan didn\'t look like her father as he slept, she would have killed him. Just then, Macbeth returns, carrying two daggers dripping with blood (this is emphasized greatly by close-ups of the drops falling on the floor).

    Repeating the words he heard in his mind (\"Glamis hath murdered sleep . . .\"), but giving no mention of how he heard them, Macbeth stares at the daggers. Lady Macbeth tells him that he was supposed to leave them in the chamber, and to go and smear the grooms\' faces with blood. She then decides to take them herself and leaves.

    While she is gone, Macbeth stares (how many times must I repeat that?) at his hands. He says that by looking at them they pluck out his eyes, and asks if all Neptune\'s great ocean could wash the blood off of them. But before he can answer that question (as he does in the play), Lady Macbeth returns and urges him to come with her and retire to their chamber. And so they do.

    So. . . enter Macduff! And he\'s announced by some. . . guy who floats out through the wall and back (!?). Yes, and Lennox is there too. Macbeth walks out in his nightshirt and they all greet each other. Macduff, of course, asks if the King is stirring and Macbeth answers \"Not yet\". Macduff says that Duncan commanded him to \"call timely upon him\". Macbeth offers to take him to him.

    Well, Macduff discovers Duncan\'s body and when he announces it we get a very quick shot of Macbeth staring out into space again. . . then everything is chaos. Men are running, the children are crying (although I thought the only child in the castle at the time was Fleance . . . oh well). Macduff announces to Malcolm and Donalbain that their father is murdered, and they ask who did it. Macbeth walks up and lies, saying that it appeared that Duncan\'s guards did it.

    Malcolm and Donalbain whisper to each other about where they will go (for some reason, Donalbain is huge compared to Malcolm). So, they gallop off to England and Ireland on their horses.

    Duncan\'s body is carried away on a stretcher. Macbeth stares down at the crown, and makes to reach for it . . .

    Then the camera pans down on some stained glass images, and we see Macbeth being crowned. Banquo begins his soliloquy from the beginning of Act 3, and we see Expressionless Macbeth with the crown on his head. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, now King and Queen, walk up to Banquo and ask him to attend their feast. Macbeth asks Banquo the questions about how far he will ride that day, is Fleance going with him, etc.

    Actually, I was wrong about there being only one cute thing in this entire program. In this scene, we get to see Fleance, and they show him as a very cute little boy. I do have to give them that.

    Anyway, Macbeth tells Banquo not to miss the feast, and he says he won\'t. And so he and Fleance leave (or get smaller and fade out, but whatever). . .

    Expressionless Macbeth talks about how he knows Banquo is suspicious of him. And then the skeletal jester beats the drum again. Macbeth talks to the murderers. They leave, and Lady Macbeth approaches him, telling him to be bright and jovial among his guests that night. He then tells her that he has scorpions in his mind, and that she knows that Banquo and Fleance still live. She asks what will be done, but he tells her that she should not know of it.

    Then, for some reason we are quickly shown a fish, (what appears to be) a dog and a bird getting stabbed and/or decapitated. And so, the feast begins. Then a murderer approaches, and tells of what happened.

    In a flashback, we get to see Banquo\'s murder. I really don\'t like how they showed this. Banquo and Fleance are riding on their horses, Fleance in front of his father. The murderers swoop down, Fleance notices them, and quickly rides away. Thus, it appears that he abandoned Banquo instead of fleeing when he told him to (as in the play). Another thing about this scene is that they really aren\'t supposed to be riding horses at this point. They had already got off their horses and were walking toward the castle when they were set upon by the murderers. Maybe I\'m being a bit too picky about this, but Banquo is my second favorite character from the play (with Macduff being my favorite).

    So . . . the murderers grab Banquo and kill him. Blood rushes out of him, then one murderer callously kicks his body over. And so, the flashback ends. Macbeth tells the murderer at the door to leave. Of course, Lennox asks Macbeth to sit, and he asks \"Where?\". Then the Ghost of Banquo appears, and it seems he is . . . made out of blood . . . not simply covered in it. He points accusingly at Macbeth. Macbeth, who now seems to be showing at least some emotion on his face, tells the Ghost that he can\'t say he did it and to never shake his gory locks at him.

    Ross tells everyone to get up because \"his highness is not well\", but Lady Macbeth insists that they sit because Macbeth is often like this, so everyone sits back down. She then whispers to Macbeth, asking him if he is a man. At this he calms down, and wishes love and health to all, and to Banquo, whom everyone misses . . .

    Upon saying that Macbeth sees the Ghost of Banquo in his wine glass (!) and screams for it to leave. He spills the wine, which causes Lady Macbeth to ask everyone to go.

    Once they are alone, Macbeth asks Lady Macbeth what time it is. She responds that it\'s nearly morning. He tells her that he will go to the Weird Sisters the next day. He walks out of the room.

    Cut to the scene with the (still creepy-looking) witches going about the cauldron, chanting their famous line \"Double, double toil and trouble . . .\" Macbeth enters, and asks them what they are doing. He also demands that they tell him what he wants to know. One of the creepy witches asks if he\'d like to hear it from them or from their masters. He tells them to \"Call \'em. Let me see \'em.\"

    The First Apparition ascends from the cauldron, telling Macbeth to beware Macduff. The Second Apparition tells him that no one of woman born shall harm him. The Third Apparition tells him that he will never be defeated until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. I\'d also like to add that these apparitions (at least the first two) are very, very creepy and strange, like nearly everything is in this show. Of course Macbeth scoffs about Birnam Wood, and the \"None of woman born\" prophesy reassures him, and he doesn\'t understand why he should fear Macduff.

    Macbeth asks if Banquo\'s descendants will ever reign as kings, but oddly in this version, once the witches say that he should \"Ask to know no more\", they simply disappear. He doesn\'t demand that they come back, and he doesn\'t see the line of kings. Odd that it was left out.

    Well, then we jump to the scene where Lennox relays the news that Macduff has fled to England. And so, the skeletal jester beats the drum again. Macbeth is angered by Macduff\'s actions, and plans to kill everyone in his household. The scene with Lady Macduff and her son is left out, but I guess I can understand why (due to time constraints). We do get to see them in a small sequence wherein the shadowy murderers leap upon them.

    In England, Macduff has just heard the news of the murder of his family, and is in disbelief. I\'m not sure if the person who tells him is Ross or Malcolm, but it appears to be Malcolm (!). Malcolm/Ross tells Macduff to convert grief to anger, and that their army is ready.

    Suddenly, we cut to Lady Macbeth, who is now sleepwalking. Oddly, neither the Doctor nor the Gentlewoman is ever seen watching her.

    Malcolm, Macduff and the army are in Birnam Wood. Malcolm tells everyone to cut down boughs to hide behind. Macbeth is looking out from the battlements of Dunsinane, and hears a cry. Seton tells him that Lady Macbeth is dead. And so, here comes Macbeth\'s big, dramatic speech.

    A servant walks in and reports that he saw Birnam Wood begin to move. Macbeth then sees the Third Apparition in his mind, repeating its prophesy.

    Macbeth goes out and starts fighting the army. He is successful in killing a few men, but wonders to himself, \"What\'s he that was not born of woman?\" Suddenly the screen flashes to Macduff\'s face, then Macbeth continues \"Such a one I am to fear, or none.\" At this moment, Macduff shouts his challenge. Macbeth turns and tells him to get back, because his soul is \"too much charged with blood of thine already\". He tells Macduff that he has a charmed life which must not yield to one of woman born.

    Macduff, of course, replies that he really wasn\'t born of woman (\"Macduff was from his mother\'s womb untimely ripp\'d.\") At this, Macbeth says he will not fight with him, but Macduff says, \"Then yield thee, coward!\", but in this version he doesn\'t describe what would happen to him if he did (\"And live to be the show and gaze o\' the time . . .\")

    Still, Macbeth says he will not yield, and will fight to the last (\"Lay on, Macduff!\"). So, their fight begins. Right before Macduff delivers the final blow, Macbeth sees a vision of Lady Macduff and her son. That\'s the only added-in visual in this version that I find rather poignant. And so, Macbeth\'s head is shown on the pole (or perhaps Macduff\'s sword-tip) and Macbeth\'s line \"Out, out brief candle!\" is repeated. And we fade out . . .

    The narrator (at least I think it\'s the narrator) walks up and tells us that once Macbeth and his wife were dead, the darkness was lifted from Scotland. He also says a line spoken by the Old Man in Act 2, Scene 4 of the original play (which wasn\'t included in this version); \"God\'s benison go with you; and with those that would make good of bad and friends of foes!\".

    And the credits begin. All in all, this isn\'t really that good a version of the play. With a running time of 20 minutes a lot of good scenes are cut. The characters (in my opinion) look very ugly, especially (like I said before) in close-ups. And if this was really intended for children, they failed miserably. Everything is shown in a graphic and especially gory manner, suitable for the story itself but not for a children\'s video release. Overall, I wouldn\'t recommend this program.

    NOTE: Wow, I can\'t believe how long this review has gotten. I guess it\'s because I\'ve basically described everything that happens in this show, but still.


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