________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2005


Tall Tales and True Stories.

Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 1999.
41 min., 16 sec., VHS, $99.95.
Order Number: C0199 172.

Subject Heading:
Animated filmes - Canada.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Deborah L. Begoray.

* /4

This compilation of five NFB films (My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts, The Family That Dwelt Apart, The House That Jack Built, Arkelope, and Spinnolio) is generally dated and would be of minimal use in the classroom. Generally, I'm a great fan of buying and using these collected works even if only half of the titles seem desirable because the viewer gets films of immediate value and might see something they would not otherwise purchase in the remaining titles. Certainly, compilation are usually good value as well. In the case of Tall Tales and True Stories, however the usefulness is scant at best.

     My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts, story by Torill Kove, is a family story about just exactly what the title suggests. The King in question is the King of Norway. It is told in a straightforward narrative form with animations as story illustrations. It might be useful as an example of a personal story to introduce a class to telling, writing, or filming anecdotes based on stories they have heard around the dinner table. Included in the story are elements of fantasy and humour along with history of World War II Oslo, Norway and the life of its king. My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts might accompany a unit on family trees/geneology. It could also be part of a short story unit especially if the teacher wanted to encourage a visual representation (cartooning) to accompany a story telling session. My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts was created in cooperation with Magica Norway and thus may also be of interest to students of film study who are examining joint productions.

     The Family That Dwelt Apart, story by E.B. White, uses a very dated animation style to tell the fable of a family living on an island. They are destroyed by well meaning government interference. While most students in today's schools will be unimpressed, some senior high students or post secondary film students might want to discuss the film with reference to the changes in animation compared to, say, today's Disney or Pixar films. The story also has a very definite 'theme' and could be used to reinforce the concept in a high school classroom with students who would not be overly distracted by the old-fashioned visuals.

     The House That Jack Built is dated both by its animation and its anti-consumerism message which seems more of the 1970's than what is currently the trend. It does have a few clever moments. For example, teachers might use it to discuss allusion. The film makes reference to The House That Jack Built (of course), Jack and the Beanstalk, and Jack the Giantkiller. It also makes passing reference to Superman and the Magic Mirror. Secondary students could be taught about intertextuality through discussion of the film's techniques.

     Arkelope concerns a mythical beast, the arkelope, which is hunted to extinction. Once again, while likely very fresh in its day, it seems old fashioned. Some minimal interest can be found in its form which is reminiscent of nature documentaries. Students could learn about satire through using the tale of the hapless arkelope, and perhaps by pairing this film with a brief clip from a current program.

     Finally, Spinnolio is a strange sort of Pinnochio tale about a wooden puppet which is taken for a real person first by its creator and then by a series of other people. Spinnolio is quiet and inoffensive and thus graduates from school, gets a job as an assistant manager, is declared redundant and replaced by a computer (think giant oversized circa 1975), retires, goes to prison, is released and becomes homeless, joins a religious street band. The good fairy finally appears and...let's say it's a long way to go for a punchline of sorts. And yes, it is certainly ironic. I would not personally use this in the classroom. I am especially concerned about the stereotypical Italian accent.

     Finally, then, it's not a great collection. I was disappointed and would hate to think that the National Film Board is this desperate for sales. There are certainly much better collections in the catalog, and I would urge teachers and librarians to spend their budget elsewhere!

Not Recommended.

Deborah L. Begoray, a professor of Language Arts, is also the Chair of the Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction at the Faculty of Education, the University of Victoria in Victoria, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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