Almost everyone has seen a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon in a newspaper or on a T-shirt, mug, calendar, or greeting card. But if you weren’t watching CBS on the night of October 26, 1994, you missed Tales From the Far Side, an award-winning animated short film that you’ve probably never heard of. Yes, that’s right: the Far Side was animated. Twice. And it’s brilliant.
The first short film premiered as a Halloween special in 1994, where couch potatoes and animation buffs like me saw it and were never able to forget it. The program was never broadcast on television again, but it did make the rounds at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, where it took the Grand Prix. Three years later, a sequel (aptly titled Tales From the Far Side II) never even made it to television.
Both short films are comprised of a series of vignettes in the visual style of the print comics, with a haunting musical accompaniment by jazz guitarist Bill Frisell (who has featured some of the scores from the soundtrack on his disc Quartet). The tone ranges from the slapstick to the macabre, humorous to depressing, and even has some live action cow action thrown in there.
The only way to purchase the show is through a website in the U.S. at TheFarSide.com. For a long time the shows were only available separately as overpriced VHS tapes, but now they finally have both on one overpriced DVD–and it’s worth every penny. The version of Tales From the Far Side on this commercial disc is actually a “director’s cut” which features some alternate dialogue, extended and additional vignettes, and an alternate ending. Unfortunately, the untooled broadcast version is superior both in pacing and execution, particularly in the final punchline. Check it out here: