The Animated Tales (HBO, 7:30-8 p.m.): Yes, these are basically cartoon versions of the Bard's works, but stifle your cultural indignation while I explain. Hosted by Robin Williams, who has great fun clowning around during the introductions, the series of six monthly half-hour specials is a serious-minded international project employing the impressive artistry of Moscow's Soyuzmultfilm Studios, like painting on glass plates and stop-action puppetry. The premiere show, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," uses an imation, and as is so often true with productions of this comedy, its ethereal visions respond naturally to clever artificial means, sparing us the spectacle of all-too-solid human actors trying to appear otherworldly. Designed to attract all ages, the plays' drastically shortened form requires inordinate amounts of voiceover synopsis to link scenes, but the actual lines are untampered with, of course, and they are effectively delivered by leading actors of Britain's National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare C ompany. Seeing the plays done in this unexpected way lets you hear them - or least snatches of them - with a fresh ear.

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