Snow White, The Snow Queen, The Selfish Giant, Little Red Riding Hood, are just some of the fairy tales that have been animated at one point or another. Very often, the tales are reworked, put in a different setting, or mixed together with varying results ranging from lackluster (Hoodwinked) to excellent (Shrek) and some, like Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, are brilliantly animated and are now considered animation classics. Some of these films let us enjoy new twists on a well loved tale, while other infuriated those who loved the original stories because of the liberties they took (I still don’t forgive Disney for the ending of The Little Mermaid).
Faithful retelling or post-modern remix, many films lack magic and fail to elicit the sense of wonder these tales had when they were originally told, in short, they don’t feel like actual fairy tales. One exception is Michel Ocelot’s Princes and Princesses, a compilation feature of six fairy tales, told with masterful simplicity where wonder and magic are very much present.
Ocelot, uses the exact same techniques pioneered by Lotte Reiniger in films like The Adventures of Prince Achmed: everything is shot on film and no computers are used in any part of the production. The animation is accomplished solely with pieces of black paper carefully cutout with scissors, articulated with bits of wires and moved by hand between shots. Salt, sand, clay and some objects are also used for some of the effects. It’s a technique that can look deceptively easy.
The film is made up of six shorts, originally released as part of a TV series called Ciné Si, with brief episodes set in an old film theatre bridging them. Traditional fairy tales come from various times and places and the same holds true here, some of the settings include medieval Europe (“La Sorcière”), 19th century Japan (“Le Manteau de la vieille dame”), ancient Egypt (“Le Garçon des figues”), even the year 3000, (“La Reine cruelle et le montreur de fabulo”).
Several stories are originals by Ocelot whose recipe to make a fairy tale is simple:
“To make a fairy tale, you need two fingers of mischief and a touch of imagination. Take a hero or heroine, season with a few qualities … to finish, stir carefully for a happy ending. Before serving, sprinkle with humour and smiles.”
And that recipe works for him. It worked when he made his first feature, Kirikou and the Sorceress, it worked for his latest film, Azur & Asmar: The Princes’ Quest and it works in these six stories. He manages to have twist endings that subvert traditional fairy tales without losing the timeless elements and magic that allows children of all ages to enjoy them.
Children aren’t the only ones to have enjoyed this film: it won both the adult and children’s jury awards for Animated Feature at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival in 2001; one of many honours it gathered at festivals worldwide. There have been several releases on DVD throughout the world, including one by the Ghibli Museum Library—pretty much a guarantee if there ever was one that it’s a film worth watching. So next time you need to escape and see people live happily ever after, do yourself a favour and watch Princes and Princesses.
René Walling is a fan of SF, animation and comics, this has led him to co-chair Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon, be involved with fps magazine for more than a decade, and start Nanopress, a Canadian small press. He looks forward to living on Mars where he would benefit from having more than 24 hours in a day.