My eighth installment of a survey of French animated features continues with a look at the 1990s – and films by such diverse artists as Raoul Servais and Michel Ocelot.
Robinson et Compagnie, directed by Jacques Colombat. 70 minutes. May 25, 1991.
The story of Robinson Crusoe, for children. He wants to be a sailor from childhood. As a sailor, he is shipwrecked on a deserted island and has his adventures as a lone castaway for many years. This was the first French animated feature to win the Best Film award at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival.
Les Mille et Une Farces de Pif et Hercule (The 1001 Gags of Spiff and Hercules), directed by Bruno Desraisses and Charles de Latour (Cy Enfield). 80 minutes. February 10, 1993.
Pif the dog and his comic-relief foil Hercule the cat were comic-book stars created for a French Communist newspaper in 1948. It was so popular that it became the main feature of the weekly French boys’ magazine Vaillant, le Journal de Pif, renamed Pif Gadget (each issue included a toy) in 1969, from 1965 to 1993, and revived from 2004 to 2009. There was a French 65-episode half-hour Pif et Hercule animated TV series in 1989. This movie was the first Pif et Hercule animation; a French-North Korean co-production produced by Gold’An’Film in Pyongyang.
Hercule the cat tires of always being the fall guy, and runs off to a desert island to write his own movie in which he is the star. He imagines many scenes – boxing, musketeers, jungle man, secret agent, Wild West, etc. – that start out with him as the hero and Pif as the stooge; but somehow, even in his imagination, Pif always takes the lead and upstages Hercule.
Taxandria, directed by Raoul Servais. 82 minutes. February 21, 1996.
Servais was the most prestigious Belgian animation artist and experimenter. Taxandria was his only feature; a live-action/animation combination in his distinct servaisgraphie animation style. For Taxandria, Servais used Belgian bande dessinée creator François Schulten as production designer to use his fantastic Les Cités Obscures architectural settings.
Prince Jan, in college, is sent to a small coastal town to study for his final exams (live-action). He becomes friendly with an old lighthouse keeper who may be mad; he claims to rescue political refugees from the imaginary kingdom of Taxandria. Jan is transported by the lighthouse’s light to Taxandria (animation). Taxandria seems at first to be a wondrous land, but Jan learns that all progress is forbidden, as well as study of the past or planning for the future. “The Perennial Present” is enforced by the ruthless Chief of Police, in the name of the Two Princes, mute Siamese-twins who are always hidden. The Chief is opposed by Aimé, his rebellious son, and Princess Allée, who is trying to escape from the beautiful but confining Garden of Mirth.
Taxandria either won or was nominated for awards at almost every European international film festival of 1996.
Kirikou et la Sorcière (Kirikou and the Sorceress), directed by Michel Ocelot. 74 minutes. December 9, 1998.
The first Kirikou feature by the now-famous animation director Michel Ocelot (1943-present). Ocelot began his career in the early 1970s with fine-art shorts. The 13-minute Les Trois Inventeurs (1979) won in the best animated short category at the 34th British Academy Film Award, the 1980 Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films, and the Odense Film Festival 1981. The 7-minute La Légende du Pauvre Bossu (The Legend of the Poor Hunchback) won the best animated short 1983 César Award. Ocelot directed French TV animation for several years, then “graduated” to the animated features that gained him public recognition beginning with Kirikou et la Sorcière. It won twelve international animation awards in the next two years, including the 1999 Annecy International Animated Film Festival (the second French feature to win an Annecy Best Feature award), the 1999 Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, and the 2000 Montréal International Children’s Film Festival.
In a traditional West African village, Kirikou is born. He is immediately able to walk and talk and appears to be 8 or 9 years old, although he is very tiny. He learns that his village is under attack by the beautiful but evil sorceress Karaba. Kirikou goes with his uncle, the village’s last warrior, to fight Karaba. The uncle is outclassed, but Kirikou saves him by using his wits and tiny size. After many adventures, Kirikou learns that Karaba was turned evil by a poisoned thorn. He removes the thorn and cures her; she kisses him and he becomes a full-sized adult. Karaba disenchants the village’s men, and they are married.
Kirikou et la Sorcière was a co-production of many French animation studios, and animated in Latvia and Hungary. Ocelot used West African actors and school children in Dakar, Senegal for the voice actors. Despite its international acclaim and awards, it was not released in America because of Ocelot’s authentic portrayal of traditional West African village life, where women are nude above the waist and children below the age of puberty are naked.
Le Voyage de la Souris (The Mouse’s Voyage), directed by Anne Caprile. 67 minutes. 1998.
A children’s musical. A mouse and a cat go on a fantastic voyage together. This is another movie of which practically no information exists, except the above on IMDb. In this case, there is one image from a recent screening on French TV to prove that it really exists. The production company was Archimède International, which IMDb lists as only producing three features, two live-action and this. No distributor is listed. Was Le Voyage de la Souris ever distributed theatrically, or was it sold directly to TV as a children’s movie? This one still implies that it would never have been successful at the box-office.
Le Château des Singes (The Castle of Monkeys), directed by Jean-François Laguionie. 76 minutes. June 2, 1999.
Kom, a brash young monkey, is a member of the Woonko tribe which lives in the treetops, believing that the earth below them is inhabited by demons. Kom scoffs at this, and generally makes himself unpopular. One day he accidentally falls to the ground, where he meets the Lankoo tribe; monkeys like himself. He falls in love with Gina and is adopted into the Lankoos, although Gina is repelled by his boastfulness. But Kom and Gina become enmeshed in Lankoo politics when they discover that Sebastian the Chancellor is plotting to kill the king, poison Princess Ida, and rule with Ida’s evil governess. They are too late to save the king, but they expose the plotters and save Ida, who becomes the new queen. Kom brings Gina back to the Woonkos, where they will work to unify the two monkey tribes.
Laguionie’s second feature (international title: A Monkey’s Tale) won the Best Animated Feature Film award at the 5th Kecskemét (Hungary) Animation Film Festival, and was the first to bring him international attention.
Princes et Princesses, directed by Michel Ocelot. 70 minutes. January 26, 2000.
Silhouette animation. A young man, a girl, and an old man in a deserted theater imagine six stories starring the young man and girl. The six adventures are “La Princesse des Diamants”, set in the Middle Ages; “Le Garçon des Figues”, set in ancient Egypt; “La Sorcière”, also set in the Middle Ages; “Le Manteau de la Vieille Dame”, set in 19th century Japan; “La Reine Cruelle et le Montreur de Fabulo”, set in 3000 A.D.; and “Prince et Princesse”, in which a prince and princess, two lovers, are changed into a series of beasts by their kisses.
These were produced as six short films during 1987 to 1999, and shown with two others at animation festivals during 1989. Despite winning awards at Annecy and Ottawa, they were popular failures. Ocelot revived six of them and edited them into a single theatrical feature in 2000, this time to popular acclaim.
Next week: 2001 – 2005.