The classic tale of the helpless orphan Pip and his anonymous benefactor is brought to life in this high quality entertaining animated feature for your kids and family. These legendary characters have stirred the imaginations of the young and old from the moment Dickens created them.Written by
Awkward but fascinating animated version of Dickens' tale
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1983) takes Charles Dickens' sprawling narrative of Pip, a young man plucked from a working class upbringing and propelled by an anonymous benefactor into the freewheeling life of a gentleman, and gives it a highly condensed 69-minute animated treatment. I watched this the same day I watched the animated version of A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1984, also reviewed on this site), made by the same Australian company, Burbank Films. EXPECTATIONS has better animation and design, with more fluid character animation and richer background work detailing the village where Pip is raised and the sights of Victorian-era London where the action shifts. We see the dramatic graveyard where Pip has his fateful initial meeting with the escaped convict Magwitch; the rude house he lives in with his resentful sister and her gentle blacksmith husband; the looming darkened interiors of Miss Havisham's crumbling mansion, where Pip has been hired to "entertain" the reclusive old spinster and where he meets the enchanting but elusive heartbreaker Estella; the streets and rooming houses of London in the mid-19th century; and, finally, a harrowing adventure on the river where Pip and his friend Herbert try to help Magwitch escape his pursuers by rowing him out to board an outgoing steamer. There is one great animated sequence in the midst of it all that offers a montage of London nightlife of the era as experienced by Pip and Herbert.
The animated TALE OF TWO CITIES has a more cohesive and linear narrative that lends itself somewhat better to this kind of Classics Illustrated abridgment. EXPECTATIONS' greatness as a novel has less to do with the sequence of events than with the multifaceted character interactions Pip has over the course of his life and what he learns from each encounter. It's his development as a man that matters most. The storyline, such as it is, is all over the place and any attempt to condense it is inevitably reduced to a collection of highlights--"greatest hits," so to speak--that play out like excerpts from a much longer, more complicated narrative. It's as if someone outlined a key sequence of the book every few dozen pages and the reader only read those passages. You can't help but feel you're missing something. The end result must seem truly bizarre to the young viewers for whom the film is meant and who are presumably unfamiliar with the book. "Who ARE these weird people and why do they act like that?"
It's not helped by some of the most unwieldy voice acting I've ever heard. The actors all seem to be vying with each other to create the most eccentric Dickens character they can come up with, without realizing that the unusual demands of creating a voice for an animated character require a certain amount of modulation and consistency among the characters. A good voice director would have toned everything down and kept the dialogue understandable.
TWO CITIES is the better production and the one I'd recommend more enthusiastically to those looking for animated versions of classic works to show to young viewers. Yet EXPECTATIONS is the oddly more compelling one and the one I'd most recommend to animation buffs curious to see how such a sophisticated work is translated into animation. Although the artists are clearly laboring over something designed for children's TV slots, they seem to have been a little more inspired by the material and fill it with subtle but consistently interesting touches throughout. Also, they don't water the material down or evade the crueler aspects of life in that time. Quite a few characters die, sometimes in violent and unexpected ways. Adult fans of unusual animation may find this one strangely rewarding.
The VHS tape I have of this film, from UAV (United American Video), came with a 20th Century Fox logo and not a single production credit. It does, however, boast an endorsement from the National Education Association. Burbank Films apparently did a whole series of other animated adaptations of Dickens, although I have yet to locate copies of any others aside from TALE OF TWO CITIES.
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