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'Extraordinary Tales' animates 5 Poe stories in extraordinary ways

In the modest but often visually striking "Extraordinary Tales," Spanish animator Raul Garcia uses imaginative designs, computer animation that suggests other media and an impressive array of voice actors to present five short films based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe.

The segments are linked by a graveyard dialogue between Death (Cornelia Funke) and a raven representing Poe (Stephen Hughes). The interstitials and the handsome "The Fall of the House of Usher" (read by the late Christopher Lee) imitate the look of sculptures made of patterned and textured paper. Equally striking is "The Masque of the Red Death," in which bright watercolor figures cavort in doomed revels. Garcia presents "Masque" visually, without narration — and none is needed.

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In "The Tell-Tale Heart," set to an old recording by Bela Lugosi, Garcia limits himself to three colors: black, white and red, and bases the visuals on the work of Argentine graphic novelist Alberto Breccia. "The Facts in the Case of M. Valedemar," read by Julian Sands, uses a conventional comic book style. Both stories are more effective when the director moves the camera over still artwork; neither style moves particularly well in the limited animation. The least successful of the segments is "The Pit and Pendulum," read by Guillermo del Toro, which echoes the look of the motion-capture animation in many video games.

Like "A Cat in Paris" or "Sita Sings the Blues," "Extraordinary Tales" reminds viewers that animation can enable an artist to realize an individual vision, even on a limited budget.

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"Extraordinary Tales"

MPAA rating: None.

Running Time: 1 hour, 13 minutes

Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood.

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