MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Oscars are tonight, so now we're going to hear about a film you might not have heard much about. "Revolting Rhymes" is nominated for Best Animated Short. It's based on the book by Roald Dahl which reimagines favorite fairy tales. Christabel Nsiah-Buadi reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "REVOLTING RHYMES")
DOMINIC WEST: (As Wolf) Once upon a time.
CHRISTABEL NSIAH-BUADI, BYLINE: Co-directors Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer are lifelong fans of Roald Dahl's work, but they had never read his book "Revolting Rhymes" when they were kids because it hadn't been translated into their native tongue, German. When they were given a copy by their producers, though, they were hooked.
JAKOB SCHUH: Our love for the book had a lot to do with the very strong female characters throughout the whole book. And they're not just a source of delight for some male protagonists. They're people. And they have their problems, and they go through them. And they triumph. And it's a common theme throughout these stories.
NSIAH-BUADI: The film was first broadcast in the U.K. in 2016 as part of Roald Dahl's centennial celebrations. It was 1 of 2 audio-visual projects approved by Dahl's literary estate that year. The other was Steven Spielberg's "BFG." Martin Pope produced the film. He says Dahl's grandson and head of his literary estate was excited by their treatment.
MARTIN POPE: I think that they felt that we had connected with the tone and the joy and mischievousness of what Roald Dahl did in "Revolting Rhymes."
NSIAH-BUADI: Schuh and Lachauer's adaptation weaves together individual stories from Dahl's book to create a single narrative. And they do this, as co-director Jakob Schuh explains, without changing a single word of Dahl's text.
SCHUH: So all the relationships between Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White, which is sort of at the emotional core of it, had to happen without using words.
NSIAH-BUADI: Staying true to the book, though, didn't stop the directors from having a little fun. They fleshed out storylines for two characters who don't have stories in Dahl's book. For example, the Wolf, who the direct to say earlier paid on the book's front cover, is the film's narrator. He's played with mischief and menace by Dominic West.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "REVOLTING RHYMES")
WEST: (As Wolf) Little Red Riding Hood, don't like her. Snow White, she's actually a blonde.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Sorry.
WEST: (As Wolf) Happily ever after.
NSIAH-BUADI: And, as Schuh explains, one of the three pigs got a starring role, too.
SCHUH: We made a bigger thing out of that third pig and used the line that was from Snow White's story, which is a throwaway line from Dahl about a manager of Barclays Bank. Just to make something rhyme, he's mentioned as a source of money. So we conjoined that one rhyme and said, well, what if that third pig is a bank manager and had been sort of taken care of Little Riding Hood's money, but he just dodgy real estate deals with these other two pigs who built houses out of straw and out of twigs.
NSIAH-BUADI: As if all that wasn't enough, the directors had to translate Quentin Blake's iconic line drawing style into animation. Jan Lachauer says they relished the challenge.
JAN LACHAUER: His drawings always look very loose and very quickly done in a way. But if you work with them a bit more, then you see that they're actually really well-designed characters. And they might look like sketches, but actually, there's a lot of work that you don't see behind these drawings.
NSIAH-BUADI: The film has been well-received and has won several awards, including a BAFTA.
LACHAUER: When you suddenly notice, oh, people actually get what we want to tell you, people actually understand our intention about these girls, this is something that I really enjoy.
NSIAH-BUADI: Lachauer is thrilled "Revolting Rhymes" has resonated with audiences in the same way Dahl's text resonated with them. For NPR News, I'm Christabel Nsiah-Buadi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.