Manga Fairy Tales of the World: Narcissus and Echo [まんが世界昔ばなし: ナルシスとエコー] (1978)

Episode 87A, released on 05/31/1978, 11 min.; English dub

In this Japanese series also known as ‘Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi’ (produced from 1976 to 1979), each episode depicts a famous fairy tale from all around the world. The Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses is the source for this tragic tale of transformation.

The series was released under many names in English, including “Tales of Magic,” “Merlin’s Cave” and “Wonderful, Wonderful Tales From Around the World.”

Harpya (1979)

9 min.; Belgium; director: Raoul Servais; no dialog

Winner of the 1979 Palme d’Or for Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival

In this unsettling black comedy that verges on horror, a man on an evening stroll encounters a harpy and “rescues” it from an assault. He then takes it home with him where it begins to torment him by eating all of his food and eventually by eating his legs. After a near escape, the Harpy finds the man and assaults him, only to be “rescued” again by a policeman who intervenes.

Servais on this film: “Harpya was my first attempt to combine live action images with animation. The live actors had to be incorporated in graphical backgrounds, for which I had to invent my own technique at the time. The result was rather satisfying, but very time consuming, because it really was limited to a one person’s job. I guess Harpya will remain the only film ever made in this technique.”

Terry Toons: “Sour Grapes” (1950)

7 min.; dir. Manny Davis

This Terry Toon short was inspired by Aesop’s fable “The Fox and the Grapes,” and is a sequel of sorts to 1950’s “Aesop’s Fable: Foiling the Fox.” Watch as the trickster Dingbat entices Foxy Fox to read the fable, which says the fox tried “in vain” to get the grapes. This fires up the Fox and several classic hilarious gags ensue as he tries and fails to retrieve the grapes that Dingbat has nailed to the top of a tree. Unlike in the fable, he is successful at getting them in the end, only to find that the grapes are sour.

The Modern Cyclops [Der moderne Zyklop] (2002)

Germany; 11 min; director/writer: Daniel Nocke; Studio FILM BILDER

From the Studio FILM BILDER site: “Is the present-day Cyclops a dangerous monster or a sensitive artist? A group of German tourists express a variety of opinions. Mr. and Mrs. Petersen decide to find out for themselves, and experience a few surprises.”

Awards: Silver Prize in Animation, Expo Film and Video Shorts, New York, 2003 First Prize of the Jury, Film Festival Landshut, 2003 Second prize for short film, exground, Wiesbaden, 2003 Best animated film of the national competition, Filmfest Dresden, 2002 Third prize, Cinema Concetta, Ruesselsheim, 2002 Best short film, Filmfest Schwerin, 2002 First prize, category 5-10 min, Krok Festival, Moscow / St. Petersburg, 2015 Special Jury Mention, Countryside Animafest Cyprus, 2015 Special Mention, Animafest Zagreb, Croatia, 2015 Special Mention, Monstra, Lisboa, Portugal, 2015 “Short Tiger”, Filmförderungsanstalt Berlin, 2015

“Broken and Beautiful” from Don’t Eat the Pictures: Sesame Street at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1983)

PBS; one-hour special

The Sesame Street characters get locked inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art overnight while looking for Big Bird in this one-hour special. The narrative centers on an Egyptian prince named Sahu whom Big Bird and Snuffy meet in the Egyptian art exhibit. He seeks to be reunited with his parents in the form of a star but cannot answer the question posed to him each night by a demon: “Where does today meet yesterday?”

After discovering the answer is “a museum,” Sahu summons Osiris and undergoes the “weighing of the heart ” ceremony of the deceased (see second video). His heart is too heavy, but Big Bird intervenes, and Sahu is reunited with his parents as stars in the sky.

In the midst of this narrative the other characters explore the many exhibits of the museum. Oscar the Grouch discovers a gallery of Greek and Roman statues in their broken and fragmentary state. He sings “Broken and Beautiful” as a celebration of their beauty — the most beautiful trash he’s ever seen — and their value to him.


Venus [Венера] (1991)

2 min.; Russian; dir. Anatoly Reznikov; Soyuztelefilm; no dialog

A group of men attempt to make improvements to the statue of Venus de Milo. The efforts are unsuccessful and an act of nature restores the statue to its original, imperfect yet beautiful state.

Phaeton, The Son of the Sun [Фаэтон сын Солнца] (1972)

17 min.; Russia; dir. Vasily Livanov; produced by Soyuzmultfilm

The Greek myth of Phaeton is the basis for this atmospheric short about the structure of the solar system, which features a variety of animation styles. The subject matter melds the realms of science and myth, and reflects both the prominence and ambition of the Soviet space program during this period.

Cosmonauts are sent on a spaceship called “Phaeton 1” to explore the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The mission is based on the hypothesis that the belt originated from fragments of a deceased planet. An interlude explaining why the spaceship has this name retells the story of Phaeton and his doomed chariot ride with vivid images and music. It is suggested that the myth is “poetic evidence of an actual occurrence: the destruction of the planet Phaeton as a result of space catastrophe.”

The broader idea is then introduced that connections between ancient events and artefacts and contain the mystery of contact between Earth and other worlds. After the cosmonauts arrive at the asteroid belt, the question of how the planet Phaeton might have been destroyed is considered, and there is a parallel drawn between Jupiter’s gravity and Zeus’ thunderbolt as agents of destruction. The film ends by imagining the alien inhabitants of this planet, the Phaetonians, visiting earth and making contact with ancient native peoples. This film certainly seems to engage with the pseudoscientific theories of paleocontact or “ancient astronaut theory,” which became popular in the 1970s (and remain so today).


Die Irrfahrten des Odysseus, or Odyssea (1986)

68 min; Jiri Tyller, director

A joint production by DEFA-Studio für Trickfilme (East Germany) and Krátký Film Praha (Czechoslovakia)

1986’s Die Irrfahrten des Odysseus (or “The Wanderings of Odysseus,” also known by its Czech title Odyssea) is a little-known Czech feature film that was released by DEFA, the state-owned film studio of East Germany, with a soundtrack by the Dresdner Philharmonie.

While it does not strictly follow the Homeric text, it offers quite a close adaptation, with the elements arranged in a “straightened plot” (i.e., no flashbacks) that covers a lot of ground but also moves along ploddingly at times. This is largely due to its distinctive “cut-out” animation style, which is artsy and eye-catching but also unnatural in its limitation of bodily movement and facial expression. Martin Lindner notes that while the film has elements that might appeal to a youthful audience (e.g., a focus on Telemachus, little graphic violence), it doesn’t really succeed as such because it is too condensed (2008: 49). He goes on to note how the film ends on a strange note, not with a happy scene of familial reunion, but with a segue from Odysseus’ killing of the suitor Antinous to a montage of Greek vase paintings and a voiceover meditation on the undying wisdom of the ancients, which adds to its “somber” air.


Helen La Belle (1957)

14 min.

Direction and animation: Lotte Reiniger; production: Fantasia Productions Ltd., London

A stop-motion “filigree ballet” in color by famed silhouette animation pioneer, Lotte Reininger, based on the 1864 comic operetta, “La belle Hélène” by Jacques Offenbach, this short film retells the tale of the judgement of Paris and of his abduction of Helen in the style of a burlesque parody.

Reininger’s gorgeously wrought version stays true to the spirit of the opera — there is no dialog, the music of the operetta accompanies the animation (though not in the video version above) — and it displays many humorous touches, including the gods as capricious meddlers, a caricatured depiction of Menelaus as an old man, and Helen sailing away in pursuit of Paris on a giant goose.


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