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Princes And Princesses
Kino // Unrated // July 29, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
When watching French animator Michel Ocelot's 2000 film Princes And Princesses, it's impossible not to compare it to another French film, Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed from 1926. Both films are made in a unique animation style, using cardboard silhouettes, and they both tell fairy tale stories. While Achmed is clearly the superior film, Princes and Princesses contains a lot of the charm that is a hallmark of the earlier work. Now Kimstim, in association with Kino, has released this interesting work on DVD.
Two young art students, encouraged by their old teacher, use their imagination to come up with a series engaging stories. After coming up with a basic concept, the students draw costumes which are fed into a machine that magically transforms the pupils into the main characters of each tale.
There are six simple fairy tale-like stories in this film that runs slightly over an hour (though the case incorrectly claims the film is 70 minutes long.) Each is set in a different period, there's an ancient Egyptian tale, one set in Japan, a medieval story, etc., with a different style and each, naturally, features a prince and a princess. The first installment could have come straight out of Grimm's Tales with a princess who broke her diamond necklace and was put under a curse. The only way to save her is for a prince to find all 111 diamonds that she dropped in a glade in under an hour, whoever fails is turned into an ant. Another features a contest, where the king promises the hand of his daughter in marriage to the first man who can enter the castle of a sorceress. Though many princes bring their armies and attack the fortress in many ways, it's only a young observant boy who figures out what to do.
Told through animated silhouettes set on colorful backgrounds, the movie is very similar to Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). Surprisingly this film falls short when compared to the older movie in both technical skill and story telling. Reiniger's movie is an amazing work, with intricate cutouts that move around a three dimensional world. She filmed her cutouts on a specially constructed table that allowed several planes of movement creating the illusion of depth in the film. This current film is very flat and two dimensional which makes it less impressive to viewers who have seen Reiniger's work.
The cutout are elaborate (though not as intricate as some of the pieces for Achmed) which gives this film a visual flair, but the colored backgrounds distract from that. The contrast between the colorful backgrounds and the totally black foreground seems odd at first, like everything was being shot in a shadow. The colors don't add much to the stories either, aside differentiating each tale with a different tone.
Not nearly as epic in scale as Reiniger's Achmed, these are fun, if a bit simple, tales (her's is a globe-spanning Arabian Nights spectacle where as this is more of a set of Hans Christian Anderson tales.) The stories would certainly play well with young children, but since the only language option is French, there are few preschoolers in the US who will be able to appreciate this film.
The movie comes with the original French soundtrack in stereo with optional English subtitles. The audio wasn't that impressive, like the movie itself the audio landscape was rather flat. I thought they could have done more with the few fight scenes like when the castle of the sorceress is being attacked, but the dialog is clear and the limited sound effects are balanced nicely.
The full frame image looks very good, with solid lines and no cross coloring. The blacks were nice though not as inky as they could be, but the colored backgrounds were reproduced nicely.
Unfortunately there are no bonus features.
I enjoyed this film though I was hoping for something more both technically and story-wise. The framing story was pretty lame, and while the tales themselves were interesting they would appeal to a younger audience more than adults. Well worth checking out for animation fans, but with limited replay value I'd make this one a rental.