The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)

*. Before the advent of CGI you never heard a lot of talk about a “realistic” style of animation. That wasn’t the point. A cartoon or animated film wasn’t supposed to look real, but either be fantasy (as with much of Disney’s production), comedy (with anthropomorphic talking animals), or done in some other exaggerated artistic style. Computer animation, on the other hand, is supposed to look real. It’s highest praise is to have audiences not be able to tell the difference.
*. The stories of Edgar Allan Poe are a good fit for animation, not just because they’re short (“The Tell-Tale Heart” only runs to five pages in the edition I have sitting beside me), or because they deal with fantastic subject matter, but because they have the crazy or expressionistic quality of subjective points of view. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is a tale told by a madman, whatever his protestations to the contrary, and so its world is distorted when we see it through his eyes.
*. The clearest indication in this film that this is the killer’s view of the world is that we never see his face, and the events mainly appear from his own perspective. As the intro titles tell us: “This story is told through the eyes of a madman.” I think perspective is behind the scruffy and obscure style of animation as well, which doesn’t flow in imitation of a normal film but rather consists of quick pans up and down or across what are static images. Another example is the way the screen goes completely dark for 45 seconds (in an 8-minute short) while the narrator stands in the darkness of the old man’s bedroom. We are not a witness to the event, but in the young man’s shoes.
*. James Mason is a counterintuitive bit of casting that works. He’s not the kind of voice I’d normally associate with the hyper, nervous acuity of the story’s narrator but he captures the sense of earnest and thoughful confusion well. Plus, who needs an excuse to listen to James Mason? This is a rich film visually, but I’d enjoy it almost as much hearing it on the radio.

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