Greetings, readers! For this installment of my ongoing PHANTOM THREAD series, I’m taking a trip back to the year 1988 for Emerald City Productions’ animated adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, which was definitely capitalizing on the success of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Broadway musical adaptation that arrived in the States that year (ALW’s musical enjoyed a lengthy preview in London in late 1986). While the animation techniques utilized in this iteration of Phantom are a bit archaic (more on that later), this was still a rather charming experience that definitely captured the spirit of Gaston Leroux’s original story.
Directed by Al Guest and Jean Mathieson, this Phantom of the Opera apparently aired on TV in May 1988, but I honestly don’t have any recollection of it on television at all. My first time watching it was during a music class in junior high after we studied the novel and honestly, I only recently remembered it even existed back when I began planning for this column. It’s not exactly one of the classic Phantom adaptations out there, but there’s still a lot to like here all the same.
This Phantom jumps right into Leroux’s story, bypassing some of the early events of the novel and some of the backstory tidbits as well, as we’re immediately introduced to Christine (voiced by Collette Proctor) and Raoul (voiced by Daniel Reardon) as they are riding in a carriage on their way to the Paris Opera House. During their travels, Christine informs her beloved Raoul that she’ll be singing as Juliette that night instead of the famed soprano Carlotta. Raoul seemingly scoffs at Christine’s revelation, telling her that she’s not ready to step into the spotlight, which is interesting since Raoul was so blindly in awe of Christine and her voice in Leroux’s novel, and here, he’s much more level-headed, even if he’s still driven by his amorous feelings towards the singer.
Pretty much everything else in this version of Phantom of the Opera follows the beats of Leroux’s novel, although at a running time of 48 minutes, it only hits some of the major plot points and skims over some others, but the missing elements didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the cartoon.
As far as the characterization of the Phantom here (who was voiced by Irish actor Aiden Grennell), he’s pretty dang fun to watch. The look of his disfigured visage feels right in line with Lon Chaney Sr.’s makeup in the 1925 film, but he’s a bit more cheeky and dastardly (if this Phantom had a mustache, he’d most definitely be twirling it here), and because this is animated, his movements around the Paris Opera House are very fluid. This Phantom also dons a Guy Fawkes-esque mask to cover his face, which is an interesting change-up, and I love that whenever he’s lurking in the shadows, all we see are a pair of glowing eyes. Wonderfully sinister stuff right there.
But one interesting moment in this Phantom of the Opera adaptation is that the titular character kills a cat, which is not in the book, and the poor critter doesn’t die in a Tom & Jerry sort of way, either. You can hear it struggling off-screen against the Phantom and then it drops to the floor from the catwalk (unfortunate pun) above. And in that moment, I wondered just exactly who this cartoon was for, because that seems a tad extreme for a kids’ show. But that could totally just be me.
Beyond that, though, this Phantom is a bit of a rogue, and I loved that. His egotistical tendencies are full-on display, and rather than see himself as a purely tragic figure who’s been consistently wronged throughout his life, this Erik has a bit of a sense of humor, too. At one point he calls himself good-looking with a twinkle in his eye, and also mentions that he’s a bit of a Don Juan, too. And for as much as I love a morose, lovesick Phantom, it’s fun to see the character portrayed in a different way here.
If there’s one thing holding this iteration of Phantom of the Opera back, it’s the animation style. Even by ’80s standards, the animation here is pretty rough. The backgrounds are lovely and there is a lot of detail that brings this world to life, but there are moments when the characters are talking and their mouths aren’t even moving, and it feels a bit lazy in that regard. In fact, while I appreciate the character designs, it feels like the Scooby-Doo series from 1969 could animate circles around this special. That being said, it’s still fun and there’s still a lot I enjoyed even if it’s not something that I’d call the pinnacle of animation. There’s a lot of energy pulsing through this version of the Phantom, and if you’re somewhat curious about watching it yourself, it has only had one proper home media release on VHS more than 22 years ago, but it can currently be viewed online.
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