25 Animations of Great Literary Works: From Plato, Dostoevsky & Dickinson, to Kafka, Hemingway & Bradbury

Over the years, we’ve fea­tured a large num­ber of lit­er­ary works that have been won­der­ful­ly re-imag­ined by ani­ma­tors. Rather than leav­ing these 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, the Russ­ian ani­ma­tor 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 The Meta­mor­pho­sis of Mr. Sam­sa (Car­o­line Leaf’s sand ani­ma­tion from 1977) and also Orson Welles’ nar­ra­tion of the Para­ble, “Before the Law.” The lat­ter film was made by Alexan­der Alex­eieff and Claire Park­er, who 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”.)

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) here.

Emi­ly Dick­in­son’s poet­ry is wide­ly cel­e­brat­ed for its beau­ty and orig­i­nal­i­ty. To cel­e­brate her birth­day (it just recent­ly passed us by) 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.

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 sev­er­al years ago. 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.

Oth­er nota­bles include: a two minute take on Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Mas­ter and Mar­gari­ta; a 1977 exper­i­men­tal adap­ta­tion of The Rime of the Ancient Marinerwhich mar­ries the clas­sic engrav­ings of Gus­tave Doré to an Orson Welles nar­ra­tion of Coleridge’s poem; and “Beer,” a mind-warp­ing ani­ma­tion of Charles Bukowski’s 1971 poem hon­or­ing his favorite drink.

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Spike Jonze’s Stop Motion Film Haunt­ing­ly Ani­mates Paris’ Famed Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny Book­store

Piotr Dumala’s Art­ful Ani­ma­tions of Lit­er­ary Works by Kaf­ka & Dos­to­evsky

A Beau­ti­ful­ly Hand-Paint­ed Ani­ma­tion of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1999)


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