Kirikou and the Sorceress
(Kirikou et la Sorcière) (1998)
Directed by Michel Ocelot

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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The people of an African village are being tormented by a wicked sorceress, Karaba, who has dried up the spring from which they draw their water, taken the women's jewelry, and devoured all the men who have gone to fight with her. When an extraordinary baby, Kirikou, delivers himself from his mother's womb, however, he takes it upon himself to defeat this cruel witch.

Michel Ocelot's animated film Kirikou and the Sorceress is an often beautiful, consistently engaging work enlivened with the feel of an actual folktale.


The story the director relates has, in fact, that sense of eternality that only myths and legends seem to possess. Somehow, its structures, motifs, and conventions awaken something undying in the human heart so that the viewer is sure to become immersed in the narrative he is watching unfold before his eyes. What is more, Ocelot has made this tale even richer by peppering it with a variety of charming elements. He has conjured up a fabulous, otherworldly universe inhabited by doubting villagers who never seem to learn from their previous errors, living fetishes, helpful or dangerous animals, an evil witch intent upon doing harm to the world, and other delightful details besides these.

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Not only is the viewer sure to be mesmerized by these marvellous features, but he is also bound to be delighted by the protagonist himself. Kirikou is not presented as an ordinary child, but as some timeless being whose exploits will never lose their ability to captivate. He is a supernaturally precocious infant who speaks to his mother while he is still in her womb, runs faster than any adult, and outwits every man or beast who opposes him. On top of that, he is wonderfully courageous and braves whatever dangers he must face in order to help his people, even though most of these individuals are less than admirable in their treatment of the young hero. The older children, for example, are scornful of this newborn baby and refuse either to play with or listen to him, and even the adults give up on him almost as soon as they perceive he may have suffered some injury.

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In addition to the virtues of its narrative, the film is usually visually mesmerizing. There are times when the animation used does deteriorate in quality, and a few sequences can thus be distracting. Nonetheless, most of Kirikou and the Sorceress is alive with both gorgeous and inventively realized images. At different points, the director reveals a brave warrior walking between rows of trees burning with brilliantly red leaves, the sorceress's domed house capped by a red-eyed, all seeing fetish and surrounded by a grey wasteland, green forests that look as though they were lifted from a painting by Henri Rousseau, dancing and rejoicing villagers, and so much more. Even with its shortcomings, the movie's animation is genuinely enthralling to look at.

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Kirikou and the Sorceress is a true delight. It is lovely, exciting, and simply a joy to watch.


Review by Keith Allen

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