The creators of this mesmerizing adaptation of Washington Irving’s story Rip Van Winkle have raised Claymation (animation using clay figures) to an art form. The expressions on the characters’ faces — particularly Rip’s — so vividly illuminate their emotions that you can’t help wondering how it’s done.
The well-known tale of a kind but hapless Catskill Mountain villager who falls asleep in the woods one afternoon and wakes up 20 years later isn’t intrinsically exciting. The strength of this video lies in the way it creates excitement by accentuating the strange and magical elements of the plot.
Beginning with the eerie yellow glow of the campfire on Rip’s and the villagers’ faces as he tells a story, and highlighted by a haunting chorus as Rip stumbles through the forest the day he is bewitched, the spookiness of the tale never slackens. The narration by Will Geer (The Waltons) contributes just the right amount of foreboding. Only during a too-long hallucinatory dream sequence, in which seemingly random clay shapes float by and Rip looks too much like a lump of clay himself, does the tension flag.
The story is punctuated by several jaunty songs. The last, a sweetly uplifting number about being happy with yourself, is one of the features that’s made this tape a sleeper hit in our house. A+