With its all-pervasive magic, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is probably the Shakespeare play best suited to animation. That makes the misfired adaptation that kicks off HBO’s new series “Shakespeare: The Animated Tales” a major disappointment.
In condensing this complex play to 30 minutes, this animated film will only confuse children and frustrate adults. What’s more, its style of animation is neither especially attractive nor particularly suitable to the material.
Like the rest of the series, “Dream” was produced in Moscow with a group of British actors providing the voices. Leon Garfield’s adaptation mixes snippets of Shakespeare’s dialogue with a far more prosaic voiceover narration.
It does manage to tell the entire story of the play, in an extremely condensed way. The quartet of Athenian lovers who get lost in the forest, the mechanicals rehearsing their play, the fairies Titania, Oberon and Puck–all interact just as they do in the original.
But in condensing the material, the film robs it of much of its charm, most of its poetry and all of its comedy. The plot rushes by so furiously there’s no choice to enjoy the ingeniousness of Shakespeare’s tale.
The style of animation is flat and uninteresting; faces tend to be angular and lacking in detail. One would think, given the play’s title and atmosphere, that the animation would be softer and rounder, less literal and more dream-like.
There are some clever moments in which the fairies literally fade into the foliage. But there are some misfires as well. Titania’s lips are, for some reason, colored green; they inexplicably change to purple in the final 10 minutes.
(Future episodes of the series are done in different styles of animation, including stop-action puppetry and painting on glass plates.)
One wonders exactly who the intended audience for these programs is. Children will be confused and, no doubt, turned off by the onslaught of information given in the first three or four minutes, when every character is introduced. Literate adults probably will find it insulting to sit through an illustrated comic-book version of Shakespeare, while few others will bother to tune in.
The only genuinely enjoyably part of the program is Robin Williams’ typically witty introduction, which manages to link Shakespeare with “Mr. Ed” while doing neither a disservice.