"The Emperor and the Nightingale" by Hans Christian Andersen. Read by Glenn Close. Paintings by Robert Van Nutt. Music by Mark Isham. "The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher"/"The Tale of Peter Rabbit" by Beatrix Potter. Read by Meryl Streep. Illustrations by David Jorgensen. Music by Lyle Mays. "How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin"/"How the Camel Got His Hump" by Rudyard Kipling. Read by Jack Nicholson. Illustrations by Tim Raglin. Music by Bobby McFerrin. Sony. $14.95 each.
There's nothing new about movie, TV and recording stars lending their voices to children's stories, but the names have seldom been as big as on these three tapes from Rabbit Ears Productions. How do the celebs fare? The most unexpected reader, Nicholson, is intriguing but not quite right; Close is very good though slightly smothered by Isham's lush Oriental music; Streep is incredible, narrating with a lovely English accent, then flavorfully altering her voice to do characters. However, the visuals may disappoint some viewers: Van Nutt's Eastern-derived style, Raglin's Sendak-like wit and Jorgensen's soft pastels are lovely to look at, but this isn't really animation, just a series of stills. "Emperor" is a bit different: Often the paintings take the form of superimposed cut-outs that the camera roves over and through, giving the exhilarating effect of a pop-up book. At 40 minutes, it's also 10 longer than the others. Information: (212) 757-4990. "Emperor" *** 1/2 "Tale" *** "How" ** 1/2