Princess is, at the very least, a visual feast; a fairly unique, if not one-of-a-kind little movie. Making is his feature-length debut, Danish writer/director Anders Morgenthaler has cooked up a bizarre blend of animation and live-action that certainly provides plenty of eye candy for the audience to devour, and his concept of a little girl warped by her mother's porn career and the ex-priest uncle looking to exact a little revenge after the mother dies is pretty gangbusters regardless of the direction -- definitely a potent combination at work. But Morgenthaler's ability to bringing these elements together in a cohesive, satisfying fashion isn't decisive enough, and the movie crumbles like a sandcastle in the wake of a wave.
The majority of Princess is the animated portion, focused on August (Thure Lindhardt) and his relationship with Mia (Mira Hilli Møller Hallund), the little girl his sister Christina (Stine Fischer Christensen) leaves behind after her death. August, once a man of the cloth, is uncomfortable with the idea of his niece living in a brothel, so he takes Mia away to live with him. Mia is belligerent, easily angered, and distant, and so is August, saddled with personal guilt at being unable to help his sister escape her sordid life alive, until he pops in some of the videotapes his sister left behind. The tapes (which comprise the live-action portion of the movie), illustrate the passive role that August played in Christina's transformation into Princess, the popular adult film star, and the active role played by a man named Charlie (Christian Tafdrup). Newly enraged, August decides, given her passing, and for the sake of her daughter, it's time for the video company to stop printing Princess's videos -- or else.
Thanks to the massive American box-office performance of Taken at the beginning of last year, it seems that the mainstream revenge picture is back in style, filled with heroic, reformed men trying to save daughters and lovers from the evils of their past. Princess is slightly older, and doesn't follow the trend: August's turn from clergyman to Charles Bronson is painted in a negative light, and there's clearly nothing left for August to try and shelter Mia from. Instead, the two most interesting threads are the relationships between August and Christina and August and Mia, which are both developed in interesting, satisfying ways that range from the tragic (Christina's guilt over potentially causing a car crash that killed her and August's parents) to the somewhat bizarre (Mia's unusual rabbit doll, Multi, comes to life after Mia insists he's a living creature).
Despite the visual pizazz, however, Morgenthaler is not the greatest director. The movie's first scene, almost a prologue to everything that ends up happening, is awkward and slow, filled with long pauses and hesitation that wouldn't seem as out of place in a live-action feature but become dull in animation. One of the benefits of using the format is that anything is possible -- the camera can go anywhere and see anything, so why illustrate a scene of hesitation like the one the movie opens with in such a pedestrian fashion? The movie's message also becomes muddled in the third act, as August's trail of revenge begins to catch up to him, building to a wholly unsatisfying conclusion that probably makes sense on the page but clashes with much of the execution. This yo-yo-ing is ultimately Princess's biggest problem: flat scenes like the intro, followed by big leaps in style, such as the opening credits, right next to each other. The hills and valleys, coupled with Morgenthaler's choice to show the video footage, causes me to wonder if he planned for it to be an animated film at all, or settled on it for budgetary reasons.
As mainstream live-action films and American movies become increasingly repetitive and uncreative, 2009 saw the release of many wonderful wide-release domestic and foreign animated films, such as Up, Coraline, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, as well as the heartbreaking Australian tragicomedy Mary and Max. The US DVD debut of Princess is not in the same class as those films, but it's still something that deserves credit for trying something different and unusual. Its appeal may be limited to animation buffs and curious foreign film fans, but for viewers suffering from a lack of things to see, you could do worse than this odd, violent little picture.
Palisades Tartan offers Princess with reasonably nice cover art that nonetheless contains too many cheap-looking fonts to be completely appealing. The back cover is nicely designed as well, although the skyline obviously doesn't mesh with the one on the front cover, and, more relevantly, misidentifies the runtime rather drastically. While it says 90 minutes on the package, Princess actually only runs a mere 77. Inside the case, there is a nice little booklet (is Tartan the only company that still offers booklets? More distributors ought to follow suit), and the menus, for once, are pretty clever, designed much like the opening credits.
The Video and Audio
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation on this disc is marred by ghosting in the animated segments and a distinct lack of fine detail in the few non-handheld live-action shots, but it's more than watchable. I didn't notice any jagged edges, or edge enhancement, which are probably the two biggest worries when it comes to animation.
Danish Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks are included, but Princess, even in its few action sequences, doesn't provide a particularly surround-heavy experience. There are some big moments, like a car crash, some explosions, and gunfire, but it's nothing to write home about. English subtitles are provided, which seemed perhaps a tad small, but I didn't have any trouble reading them.
Only the movie's original theatrical trailer made the cut. Trailers for P and Oldboy play before the main menu.
Princess doesn't quite work, but it's still a unique little curiosity that may deserve a viewing from adventurous viewers. Sadly, the movie's bonus feature package is basically nil, so I advise renting it if you're interested in giving the movie a shot.
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