French animation luminary Michel Ocelot returns with a silhouette fable that will leave you eyes misted and heart warmed.
In a rundown Parisian cinema late at night, an elderly writer and two spirited young actors weave a rich fairy tale tapestry with the help of a little magic and a lot of imagination. Taking it in turns, the boy and girl feed their ideas into a whirring, flashing machine before being transported to a succession of exotic and ancient foreign lands.
It’s a drill fans of French animation luminary Michel Ocelot will know all too well. This episodic, folklore-inspired structure is, after all, identical to both 2000’s Princes and Princesses and his made-for-TV 1992 feature debut, Les Contes de la Nuit. But chiding Ocelot for recycling past material would be like complaining there’s too many Purple Ones in your box of Quality Street.
That’s the truly magical thing about Ocelot’s films: however familiar the package, the content is rendered with such passion, romance and wit that it’s impossible not to be swept away. So while Tales of the Night sees Ocelot operating well within his comfort zone, the craftsmanship on show is no less intricate or enchanting.
From the fifteenth-century Court of Burgundy to an indigenous Caribbean island, to tribal Africa and a mythical Aztec city of gold, there are distinct traces of Aesop and Kipling in Ocelot’s part-self-written, part-borrowed fable medley. Suitably, each story is brought to life using a computer-generated version of a silhouette technique that is itself over a century old.
Far from being a drab monochromatic self-indulgence, however, Tales of the Night is a film of remarkable depth and colour, each character and setting entwined in an intoxicating ballet of shadow and light.
It’s this artistic individuality that has been so crucial in sustaining Ocelot’s success over the past two decades. Contemporary feature animation is rife with cuddly, celebrity-voiced CG critters and mo-capped seasonal fluff. That’s not to suggest the likes of Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks Animation are lacking in the charm department, more that there’s a surface uniformity to the family-friendly output of the major animation studios.
In recent years, the likes of Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Ari Folman (Waltz With Bashir) and Eric Khoo (Tatsumi) have triumphantly accentuated independent animation’s progressive glow. But Ocelot’s ultra-traditional style makes him an easy target for those who prefer their animation with a figurative finger on the social pulse.
None of the six vignettes comprised within Tales of the Night features a female protagonist – each one is centred on an intrepid prince’s endeavour to liberate a passive or submissive princess (often with an ulterior motive). There are further instances of narrative archaism.
Yet the conviction with which each and every frame is imbued with such vitality, such meticulous splendour, means that even the most hard-nosed cynic will be left with eyes misted and heart warmed.
In the realm of independent contemporary animation, Ocelot is king.
A uniquely joyful experience from a true original.
Long live the king.