The BBC has a lot of credibility with American audiences for mysteries, literary costume dramas, and Britcoms, but we really haven’t considered animation one of their comparative advantages. Yet, they have amassed an impressive record of Oscar nominations and festival play for their animated adaptations of the books of Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo’s Child, Room on the Broom). Now, two of the animators who collaborated on the Donaldson specials have turned their talents towards an author with a much wider American readership: Roald Dahl. Originally broadcast on consecutive nights, Jan Lacheur, Jakob Schuh, and (co-director) Bin-Han To’s Revolting Rhymes (trailer here) has since been rolled into one, but it is still short enough to be shortlisted for the best animated short film Academy Award.
In this fractured fairy story collection, the Big Bad Wolf will be the Hans Conriedian teller of tales, as well as the ominous villain up to no good. He starts his night by introducing himself to a kindly elderly woman enjoying a cup of coffee before she babysits for Little Red Riding Hood. As you might expect, there is some bad blood between her and the Wolf. However, for her to truly understand what actually happened, the Wolf must also tell the intertwined stories of Snow White and the Three Little Pigs.
In part two, the Wolf’s schemes successfully earn him entry into Red’s flat, but to buy time, her two children convince him to tell them a story, sort of employing the Scheherazade strategy. In this case, it is the stories of Beanstalk Jack and Cinderella that were in fact interrelated.
The Donaldson films were cute and sweet, but Revolting Rhymes are really funny, very much in the tradition of Fractured Fairy Tales. It should definitely appeal to fans of Shrek, but it is not as desperate to prove its hipness. While nowhere near the level of Studio Ghibli lushness, the animation is pleasingly colorful, lively, and faithful to the spirit of Quentin Blake’s illustrations.
The Revolting Rhymes bind-up also boasts an absolutely marvelous voiceover performance from Dominic West. It is safe to say his rich, commanding voice makes the Wolf quite a charismatic predator. Rob Brydon returns to voice assorted goofy characters, while Gemma Chan and Rose Leslie bring out the personalities of besties Snow White and Red.
There is no question RR is the best BBC animated special to make it into Oscar contention. It is consistently witty, not infrequently morbid (mostly in a kid friendly way), but always tied to tradition, just as you would expect from Dahl. Very highly recommended, Revolting Rhymes is on the Oscar shortlist and available on DVD.