The Phantom of the Opera
Aiden Grennel providing Voice for Erik
Emerald City Productions, 1987, Animated
It is the first time a woman kissed me and did not die.
~Erik, with a tear in his eye, moments before his death
This children's adaptation is only forty minutes long. Due to these time constraints, a lot of things were either ignored altogether or only briefly mentioned. The childhood friendship between Raoul and Christine is written off, as is a father's promise about the Angel of Music. There are no mysterious deaths in the opera house, just a poor unfortunate kitty cat. The characters Madame Giry, Little Meg, and La Carlotta herself are all written off. Carlotta's name is mentioned a few times at the beginning, but that's about it. (Nope, no froggy-in-the-throat incident or any other Phantomy practical joke on the Prima Donna occurs in this film.)
The story of the Phantom is not compromised in doing so, however. With some exceptions, this video has almost page-by-page loyalty to Leroux's novel on what it does include. In fact, during some scenes, there are quotes straight from Leroux ver batim. The daroga (the Persian Chief of Police) and thus some of Erik's past years spent in the Middle East is kept in the story for the first time in any film adaptation. Besides the 1925 silent film, it is the only film to include Erik's torture chamber and the famous choice Christine must make concerning the Scorpion or the Grasshopper. It is also the only adaptation besides the silent film to include the famous Punjab lasso. Erik has designed a mask that makes him look like anyone else while he is away from the opera house. There is, for the first time, an attempt at showing Erik's famous House on the Lake as seen from across the lake. There is one other interesting if trivial detail kept in this re-telling....that for a few miserable moments in the House on the Lake, Christine had been tied up by the Phantom in order to keep her still.
Leroux's Erik, according to the daroga's account, is described as "a conceited child." In this respect, I thought this film captured this aspect of Erik's character quite well. This portrayal of Erik is a prodigy who behaves like a playful but bratty kid who misbehaves to get attention. Overall, the animators are loyal to Leroux concerning Erik's appearance as the skeleton in dress clothes. They even remembered that he has yellow/amber eyes. He's so ugly, he's cut. His appearance and behavior make me think of a low-budget cousin to Gollum (from the bigscreen Lord of the Rings movie directed by Peter Jackson). My major problem is they had the advantage of animation yet still drew him way too short. I also did not care for the way they drew his outfit. I would have liked something a bit more like the Castaigne artwork that accompanied the original novel.
One common complaint I read about this adaptation concerns the cat. Near the beginning of the film, it appears the Phantom kills a cat for no reason. Every phantom fan I know has the impression that Erik likes animals. Thanks to Susan Kay's influence, he is especially fond of cats. It's the human race in general that he hates. I think that because of time constraints and because this is for children, it may have been an intention to show that the Phantom is dangerous especially to those who get too curious and close. It is the proverbial "Curiousity kills the cat." So instead of Buquet, we have poor puddy.
One change I did not care for concerns Erik's relationship with the daroga. It is re-written as one of mutual corruption rather than of a special if unusual friendship that Leroux describes. In this film, the daroga is actually celebrated for presenting a coveted prize to the Sultan of Persia - the dead body believed to be Erik's - instead of being banished for letting Erik escape. It undermines the suffering and betrayal Erik endured while in Persia. It also does injustice to the daroga's character as an honest, albeit eccentric, friend to the friendless. He put himself in extreme danger when he took pity on Erik and gave him a second chance. The turban has to go, too. He wears an atrakan cap. But, what are you going to do?
For brevity and for the children's audience, the role of Marguerite in Faust is replaced by the role of Juliet from Romeo and Juliet. That's fine, within context of this film. It still shows how eager Erik is to help Christine in her career as a singer, as Juliet is a lot more familiar than Marguerite these days. (The aria Christine sings that first night is called "Juliet's Waltz," from Romeo and Juliet by Charles Gounod.) Since Carlotta is virtually non-existant, the chandelier falls during Christine's performance as Juliet later in the film. Erik does this as a diversion so he can kidnap Christine after over-hearing her plans at Apollo's Lyre to escape with Raoul.
After Erik's begging and crying while Raoul and the daroga are in the torture chamber, Christine consents to marry him to spare Raoul's life. Erik is overtaken by her love and courage, and consents to let her go. As in accordance with Leroux, he gives her a golden ring as a wedding gift. Christine kisses Erik on the forehead, which moves him to tears. Erik then goes to his pipe organ and shouts for everyone to leave at once. As the daroga, Raoul, and Christine leave the House on the Lake in a boat, Erik plays a song that apparently triggers explosives. His entire house collapses. Christine feels sad for him, saying that all he wanted was to be loved.
It's a quirky low-budget film whose target audience is children. It's cute and I think Aiden Grennel has quite a lovely speaking voice, but don't expect anything like the other films and definitely not the ALW musical. It has all of the quirks that accompany any low-budget educational production. The animation is definitely not Disney quality, but one can always hope that one day there will be a top-notch high-quality animated feature about my favorite ghost. One can also hope and pray that, if and when that day arrives, the re-telling of the story itself will also be as loyal and top-notch as this adaptation.
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