By the time I brought Ian Lendler and Zack Gialongo's The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth upstairs for a bedtime read, my six year old had already snuck it out of my bag and read it to herself, but she wanted me to read it to her anyway, which is the kind of vote-of-confidence that tells you there's something good going on here.
The comic-book adaptation of Macbeth is a play-within-a-story, in which all the animals of the zoo sneak out of their cages by night to mount amateur productions of great dramas. The action cuts back and forth between the players and the audience for reaction shots, and the creative team use this to fantastic effect, playing it for laughs and also figleafing some of the gorier moments. There's a brilliant moment when Macbeth is about to kill the king in the goriest way imaginable, and a weak-bladdered elephant steps directly in front of the stage on its way back from the bathroom, apologizing as it looks for its seat, while copious amounts of red stuff squirt out around the edges of its enormous bulk.
There's a lot of clever gags in this text that both amused me and my kid, though often for different reasons. Macbeth is played by a lion, and Lady Macbeth is played by a leopard (whose obsessive scrubbing at her "spots" take on a whole new complexion in light of her species). The witches are played by small mammals in masks, and squabble constantly about what the appropriate witchy cackle is ("Ho ho ho?" "No, that's Santa Claus"). Macduff is a stork, and he was "not of a mother born" because he was, ahem, delivered by a stork.
All in all, the authors have taken great care to strike a balance between the gore and excitement of Shakespeare and age-appropriate detail. The blood-motif becomes ketchup, which Macbeth slathers on all his victims before devouring them, and when all else fails, the audience/chorus can take over as an all-purpose comic-relief/figleaf. The story is a tribute to both the versatility of Shakespeare's stories and the resourcefulness of the creators.
On a technical level, this is also fantastic, with wonderful character design and excellent visual timing and storytelling. It's one of those books that's great for dedicated readers to take away on their own, or for beginning readers to enjoy with a grownup.
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth