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Western Animation / The Canterbury Tales

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The Canterbury Tales is an animated three-part series by Jonathan Myerson.

It is an adaptation of, yes, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. A collection of 14th century pilgrims set off from London to visit the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury. While on the way, they pass the time by telling stories, which range from tales of courtly love and chivalry to low comic tales that involve farting and Literal Ass Kissing.

The series condenses Chaucer's epic, sprawling collection of short stories into an abbreviated digest of the best of the tales. Each episode includes multiple tales from Chaucer, rendered in an array of animated formats. Voice talent in the series includes Tom Baker as Simkin, Richard Griffiths as the Franklin, Sean Bean as the Nun's Priest, and Bill Nighy as the Merchant. The first episode was screened in theaters to qualify for the Oscars and got an Oscar nomination for best animated short film.


The first two episodes aired in December of 1998; the third episode did not air until October of 2000. Tales adapted in the series: "The Nun's Priest's Tale", "The Knight's Tale", "The Wife of Bath's Tale" (episode 1), "The Merchant's Tale", "The Pardoner's Tale", "The Franklin's Tale" (episode 2), "The Squire's Tale", "The Canon Servant's Tale", "The Miller's Tale", and "The Reeve's Tale" (episode 3).



  • Abhorrent Admirer: The knight in the Wife of Bath's tale is horrified to wind up stuck in marriage with a withered old crone.
  • Animated Adaptation: A three-part series adapting some of the stories from The Canterbury Tales.
  • Art Shift: Each tale, as well as the framing device, was done by a different animation crew. So you have stop motion, thick line animation, pencil animation...each tale looks different from the one before.
  • Aside Comment: In the book there's a Prolonged Prologue where Chaucer introduces and describes all the characters. That's rendered in this series as animated Chaucer making snarky observations to the viewer about all his fellow pilgrims.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: As the Pardoner is getting geared up to tell his tale, a beggar woman with two gaunt children begs a coin from the Prioress. The beggar woman proceeds to give the coin to the Pardoner so she can kiss one of his obviously fake relics.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Chanticleer the rooster wakes up so violently from his dream of a predator in the chicken coop that he knocks Pertelote the hen out of bed.
  • Content Warning: After the Miller lets rip with a loud fart, Chaucer looks at the camera and says "If any of you are too delicate, this is what people are like."
  • Courtly Love: "The Knight's Tale" is about two knights from Ancient Greece (Chaucer wasn't too fussy about anachronisms) who duel to win a fair lady.
  • Creepy Crows: Some cawing crows are lurking about as the three hoodlums in "The Pardoner's Tale" meet Death, who lures them into murdering each other.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The series makes a point of showing medieval English people engaging in sports like bear baiting and cockfighting.
  • Eye Scream: In "The Pardoner's Tale" a prostitute is revealed to be missing an eye.
  • Fan Disservice: The withered, wrinkly merchant getting up out of a bath in "The Merchant's Tale".
  • Fantastic Foxes: In "The Nun's Priest's Tale" a fox tricks Chanticleer the rooster into letting his guard down by praising Chanticleer's singing ability.
  • Farts on Fire: In this version of "The Miller's Tale" the great big fart that Nicholas lets loose into Absolon's face is set on fire by Absolon's hot poker, giving Absolon Ash Face.
  • The Grim Reaper: In "The Pardoner's Tale" the three hoodlums meet him, and he lures them to their death. (It's ambiguous in Chaucer as to whether this character is actually the Reaper, but the bony hand we see at the end of this segment in the cartoon leaves little doubt.)
  • Horse Bot: A suitor for the hand of Genghis Khan's daughter gives the khan a mechanical flying horse. It goes wrong when one of Genghis's sons gets on the horse without sufficient instructions and gets zipped halfway around the world.
  • Limited Animation: "The Franklin's Tale" is done with simple drawings against plain backgrounds in a manner that recalls the UPA animation of the 1950s.
  • Line Boil: "The Wife of Bath's Tale" has this throughout, since it's done in pencil animation.
  • Literal Ass Kissing: One of the most famous examples in literature, as Alison in "The Miller's Tale" sticks her butt out the window and Absolon kisses it.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • Chaucer's Middle English is "translated" into modern English. The order of the tales is different from Chaucer. And the third episode of the series has the group returning from Canterbury to London, while in Chaucer's uncompleted collection, they never even get there.
    • In Chaucer the Squire's tale is unfinished, while in this adaptation the story is completed with Candacee marrying the visiting knight while both of Genghis Khan's sons also get married off. Also, this cartoon eliminates the Brother–Sister Incest found in Chaucer's story.
  • Stop Motion: The Framing Device is rendered in stop-motion animation, as is "The Pardoner's Tale", "The Miller's Tale", and "The Reeve's Tale".
  • Thick-Line Animation: "The Nun's Priest's Tale" and "The Franklin's Tale" are both animated this way.
  • Trophy Wife: The elderly merchant gets a much, much younger wife in "The Merchant's Tale". She has a wandering eye.

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