Saturday afternoons should be officially dedicated to animation films. Drawn characters have more power over us – whether young or old – than any talented actor in the world. And it is precisely this alteration, or rediscovery of human form and substance on screen, that carries us away into other worlds – to live vicariously through foreign fates and explore the imaginably unknown.
In a world of well-known and well-advertised Disney, Ghibli and Pixar productions of action-packed plots, Michel Ocelot’s Princes et Princesses (2000) stands out as a nostalgic tribute to shadow puppet theatre; a silhouette animation, simplistic in its approach and storyline, yet profoundly endearing and appealing to the senses.
A young man and woman bring their imaginary stories to life with the help of an old technician in a cinema. While moulding six different shadow puppet plays from scratch, they blend fairy tales, eras and cultures – all on a backdrop of vivid colours ranging from sunset hues to golden rays. A hooting owl signals each of the new stories: The princess of Diamonds, the Boy and the Fig Tree, The Sorceress, The Old Lady’s Cape, The Crunch Queen and the Fabulo, and Prince and Princess.
These masterfully designed stories belong to Ocelot’s original eight-story-series Cine si (1989). Albeit short, they explore certain moral issues, pulling the viewer into the woes and victories of the heroes the same way old fairy tales do. The narrative, though, is supported by refreshing twists. Meanwhile, black, delicate paper cut out-like figures set out on adventures accompanied by the music of Christian Maire.
Abandoning the high-value conventions of animated CGI films, the French filmmaker utilises stop-motion animation techniques and lip-synced close-ups to generate a world of fairy tale proportions reminiscent of Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) – the oldest surviving animated feature film in cinema history, and cut entirely by hand.
The English subtitles might seem a bit off-putting to those not used to reading while watching, so younger audiences may find it difficult to keep up – unless they speak French, of course. But for those looking for something completely different, this is the first step into a magical shadow-profile world of witches and knights, monsters and love. In uplifting news, there is a 2011 sequel to prolong your magical escapade, called Les contes de la nuit (Tales of the Night).