20 Animations of Classic Literary Works: From Plato and Dostoevsky, to Kafka, Hemingway & Bradbury

Yes­ter­day we fea­tured Piotr Dumala’s 2000 ani­ma­tion of Fyo­dor Dostoyevsky’s clas­sic nov­el, Crime and Pun­ish­ment, and it remind­ed us of many oth­er lit­er­ary works that have been won­der­ful­ly re-imag­ined by ani­ma­tors — many that we’ve fea­tured here over the years. Rather than leav­ing these won­drous works buried in the archives, we’re bring­ing them back and putting them all on dis­play. And what bet­ter place to start than with a foun­da­tion­al text — Pla­to’s Repub­lic. We were tempt­ed to show you a clay­ma­tion ver­sion of the sem­i­nal philo­soph­i­cal work (watch here), but we decid­ed to go instead with Orson Welles’ 1973 nar­ra­tion of The Cave Alle­go­ry, which fea­tures the sur­re­al artis­tic work of Dick Oden.

Stay­ing with the Greeks for anoth­er moment … This one may have Sopho­cles and Aeschy­lus spin­ning in their graves. Or, who knows, per­haps they would have enjoyed this bizarre twist on the Oedi­pus myth. Run­ning eight min­utes, Jason Wish­now’s 2004 film fea­tures veg­eta­bles in the star­ring roles. One of the first stop-motion films shot with a dig­i­tal still cam­era, Oedi­pus took two years to make with a vol­un­teer staff of 100. The film has since been screened at 70+ film fes­ti­vals and was even­tu­al­ly acquired by the Sun­dance Chan­nel. Sep­a­rate videos show you the behind-the-scenes mak­ing of the film, plus the sto­ry­boards used dur­ing pro­duc­tion.

Eight years before Piotr Dumala tack­led Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Pun­ish­ment, Dumala pro­duced a short ani­mat­ed film based on The Diaries of Franz Kaf­ka. Once again, you can see his method, known as “destruc­tive ani­ma­tion,” in action. It’s well worth the 16 min­utes. Or you can spend time with this 2007 Japan­ese ani­ma­tion of Kafka’s cryp­tic tale of “A Coun­try Doc­tor.” And if you’re still han­ker­ing for ani­mat­ed Kaf­ka, don’t miss Orson Welles’ Nar­ra­tion of the Para­ble, “Before the Law”. The film was made by Alexan­der Alex­eieff and Claire Park­erwho using a tech­nique called pin­screen ani­ma­tion, cre­at­ed a longer film adap­ta­tion of Niko­lai Gogol’s sto­ry, “The Nose.” You can view it here.

The ani­mat­ed sequence above is from the 1974 film adap­ta­tion of Her­man Hes­se’s 1927 nov­el Step­pen­wolfIn this scene, the Har­ry Haller char­ac­ter played by Max von Sydow reads from the “Trac­tate on the Step­pen­wolf.” The visu­al imagery was cre­at­ed by Czech artist Jaroslav Bradác.

In 1999, Alek­san­dr Petrov won the Acad­e­my Award for Short Film (among oth­er awards) for a film that fol­lows the plot line of Ernest Hemingway’s clas­sic novel­la, The Old Man and the Sea (1952). As not­ed here, Petrov’s tech­nique involves paint­ing pas­tels on glass, and he and his son paint­ed a total of 29,000 images for this work. (For anoth­er remark­able dis­play of their tal­ents, also watch his adap­ta­tion of Dos­to­evsky’s “The Dream of a Ridicu­lous Man”.) The Old Man and the Sea is per­ma­nent­ly list­ed in our col­lec­tion of Oscar Win­ning Films Avail­able Online and our col­lec­tion of 700 Free Movies Online.

Ita­lo Calvi­no, one of Italy’s finest post­war writ­ers, pub­lished Ital­ian Folk­tales in 1956, a series of 200 fairy tales based some­times loose­ly, some­times more strict­ly, on sto­ries from a great folk tra­di­tion. Upon the col­lec­tion’s pub­li­ca­tion, The New York Times named Ital­ian Folk­tales one of the ten best books of the year.  And more than a half cen­tu­ry lat­er, the sto­ries con­tin­ue to delight. Case in point: in 2007, John Tur­tur­ro, the star of numer­ous Coen broth­ers and Spike Lee films, began work­ing on Fiabe ital­iane, a play adapt­ed from Calvi­no’s col­lec­tion of fables. The ani­mat­ed video above fea­tures Tur­tur­ro read­ing “The False Grand­moth­er,” Calvi­no’s rework­ing of Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood. Kevin Ruelle illus­trat­ed the clip, which was pro­duced as part of Fly­p­me­di­a’s more exten­sive cov­er­age of Tur­tur­ro’s adap­ta­tion. You can find anoth­er ani­ma­tion of a Calvi­no sto­ry (The Dis­tance of the Moon) on YouTube here.

Emi­ly Dick­in­son’s poet­ry is wide­ly cel­e­brat­ed for its beau­ty and orig­i­nal­i­ty. To cel­e­brate her birth­day (it just passed us by ear­li­er this week) we bring you this lit­tle film of her poem, “I Start­ed Early–Took My Dog,” from the “Poet­ry Every­where” series by PBS and the Poet­ry Foun­da­tion. The poem is ani­mat­ed by Maria Vasilkovsky and read by actress Blair Brown.

E.B. White, beloved author of Char­lot­te’s WebStu­art Lit­tle, and the clas­sic Eng­lish writ­ing guide The Ele­ments of Style, died in 1985. Not long before his death, he agreed to nar­rate an adap­ta­tion of “The Fam­i­ly That Dwelt Apart,” a touch­ing sto­ry he wrote for The New York­er. The 1983 film was ani­mat­ed by the Cana­di­an direc­tor Yvon Malette, and it received an Oscar nom­i­na­tion.

Shel Sil­ver­stein wrote The Giv­ing Tree in 1964, a wide­ly loved chil­dren’s book now trans­lat­ed into more than 30 lan­guages. It’s a sto­ry about the human con­di­tion, about giv­ing and receiv­ing, using and get­ting used, need­i­ness and greed­i­ness, although many fin­er points of the sto­ry are open to inter­pre­ta­tion. Today, we’re rewind­ing the video­tape to 1973, when Sil­ver­stein’s lit­tle book was turned into a 10 minute ani­mat­ed film. Sil­ver­stein nar­rates the sto­ry him­self and also plays the har­mon­i­ca.

Dur­ing the Cold War, one Amer­i­can was held in high regard in the Sovi­et Union, and that was Ray Brad­bury. A hand­ful of Sovi­et ani­ma­tors demon­strat­ed their esteem for the author by adapt­ing his short sto­ries. Vladimir Sam­sonov direct­ed Bradbury’s Here There Be Tygers, which you can see above.  And here you can see anoth­er adap­ta­tion of “There Will Come Soft Rains.”

The online book­seller Good Books cre­at­ed an ani­mat­ed mash-up of the spir­its of Franz Kaf­ka and Hunter S. Thomp­son. Under a buck­et hat, behind avi­a­tor sun­glass­es, and deep into an altered men­tal state, our nar­ra­tor feels the sud­den, urgent need for a copy of Kafka’s Meta­mor­pho­sis. Unwill­ing to make the pur­chase in “the great riv­er of medi­oc­rity,” he instead makes the buy from “a bunch of rose-tint­ed, will­ful­ly delu­sion­al Pollyan­nas giv­ing away all the mon­ey they make — every guilt-rid­den cent.” The ani­ma­tion, cre­at­ed by a stu­dio called Buck, should eas­i­ly meet the aes­thet­ic demands of any view­er in their own altered state or look­ing to get into one.

39 Degrees North, a Bei­jing motion graph­ics stu­dio, start­ed devel­op­ing an uncon­ven­tion­al Christ­mas card last year. And once they got going, there was no turn­ing back. Above, we have the end result – an ani­mat­ed ver­sion of an uber dark Christ­mas poem (read text here) writ­ten by Neil Gaiman, the best­selling author of sci-fi and fan­ta­sy short sto­ries. The poem was pub­lished in Gaiman’s col­lec­tion, Smoke and Mir­rors.

This col­lab­o­ra­tion between film­mak­er Spike Jonze and hand­bag design­er Olympia Le-Tan does­n’t bring a par­tic­u­lar lit­er­ary tale to life. Rather this stop motion film uses 3,000 pieces of cut felt to show famous books spring­ing into motion in the icon­ic Parisian book­store, Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny. It’s called  Mourir Auprès de Toi.

Are there impres­sive lit­er­ary ani­ma­tions that did­n’t make our list? Please let us know in the com­ments below. We’d love to know about them.

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