Highly condensed animated version of Dickens' story
A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1984) is an Australian-made (Burbank Films) animated adaptation of Charles Dickens' famous novel about a circle of characters caught up in the French Revolution. It was clearly made for television, with regular fade-outs accompanied by fanfares to signal commercial breaks. It's cheaply-made, with obvious short cuts designed to cover up the lack of spectacle, e.g. crowd noises in court scenes where we don't actually see the crowds. There are an awful lot of close-ups, too, to keep from having to animate more complicated group shots. It packs a lot of incident from the novel into a very short running time (72 minutes), playing out as if it were an animated version of Classics Illustrated.
Still, it's generally very well done, with excellent character design and background art, even if the animation itself is somewhat limited, and enough of the key touchstones from the narrative to keep us engrossed throughout. We are treated to such scenes as the following; Dr. Manette being reunited with his daughter, Lucie, in England after years of imprisonment in the Bastille; Charles Darnay being acquitted of a charge of spying in English court, thanks in part to the efforts of one of his attorneys, Sidney Carton; growing discontent in France, especially after a little boy is run over and killed by a carriage carrying a Marquis who happens to be Darnay's uncle; Jerry Cruncher and his midnight trips to the cemetery to do some grave-robbing-for-hire; Monsieur Defarge and his ever-knitting wife slowly laying the groundwork for a revolutionary movement in France; Darnay's courtship of Lucie Manette and their subsequent marriage; the storming of the Bastille by an enraged populace; Darnay's trip to France to try to win the release of an old family servant only to be arrested and imprisoned himself; and Sidney Carton's fateful trip to Paris to try to change Darnay's destiny. The scene of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 is quite action-packed for such a low-budget animated film, showing enough that needs to be shown to convey the necessary excitement and commotion.
I had been trying to find examples of serious animated features done in the west when I came across the Vestron Video edition of this film in a VHS bargain sale. I remember lots of animated adaptations of classic books appearing in children's television slots on syndicated TV here in the U.S. back in the 1970s and '80s, but I didn't pay any attention to them back then and they're quite hard to find now. It was only after I began seeing Japanese animated adaptations of well known works of western literature (e.g. CALL OF THE WILD, LITTLE WOMEN, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES) and seeing how they gave these works the proper respectful treatment, particularly in the areas of character development, character design and background detail, that I began to be curious about any counterparts done as children's animation in the west. While A TALE OF TWO CITIES is shorter than it ought to be, it doesn't water down its subject or take out any of the story's rough edges (e.g. the endless march of the Revolution's victims to the guillotine). It seems well cut out for the job of inspiring youthful readers to want to seek out the actual book themselves--or at least be a little more enthusiastic when assigned to it in school.
Burbank Films did a whole series of animated adaptations of famous English-language literary works, including quite a few other Dickens novels. I've seen one other, GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1983), and have reviewed it on this site.
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