Princes et Princesses (2000)
Directed by Michel Ocelot

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * ½

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A young man and woman sitting in a cinema with an older man watch six stories on the screen in front of them, in each of which the former two appear as the protagonists. In the first of these, "La Princesse des Diamants," a prince tries to free an enchanted princess by finding the one-hundred and eleven diamonds of her necklace that have been scattered throughout a field. In the second, "Le Garçon des Figues," which is set in ancient Egypt, a young peasant presents a succulent fig to his queen, for which he earns her esteem and the hatred of the intendant of her palace. In the third, "La Sorcière," a Medieval king promises to give his daughter in marriage to whichever man is able to enter the castle of a sorceress. The fourth tale, "Le Manteau de la Vieille Dame," relates how an old woman living in Early Nineteenth Century Japan forces a thief to carry her on his back to various sights after he attempts to rob her of her beautiful coat. "La Reine Cruelle et le Montreur de Fabulo," the fifth story, revolves around a pitiless queen living in the year 3000, who has sworn to marry the first man who can evade detection by her mega-radar until the setting of the sun and to kill with her disintegrator ray those she catches, and the trainer of a fabulo, a strange singing beast, who accepts her challenge. The final narrative, "Prince et Princesse," reveals the transformations of a young prince who is successively changed into a toad, a butterfly, a fish, a rhinoceros, and several other creatures by the kisses of a princess, who is herself changed into a slug, a praying mantis, a giraffe, a blue whale, and still other animals by his kisses.

Michel Ocelot's animated Princes et Princesses is a delightful work that is sure, for most of its duration, to enthrall and enchant the viewer.

Perhaps the film's most appealing element is the animation the director has employed, which is both unique and elegant. The characters and the objects around them are drawn as silhouettes against a luminous background that varies from gold to blue to pink to some other hue. The images Ocelot has so created resemble shadow puppets, like those that can be seen in Lotte Reiniger's magnificent The Adventures of Prince Achmed, although they are, in fact, clearly drawings. While the film may never be as visually enchanting as is that earlier work, it is still remarkably lovely. The director has given life to a strange, shadowy, and magical world that so readily bewitches the viewer that he is bound to lose himself in its rarefied beauty.

Fortunately, the tales Ocelot tells are as well realized and charming as are the images he has crafted. Most have the feel of actual folktales and are infused with that timelessness and profundity such narratives have. While they are brief and simply told, the stories are still able to capture the moviegoer's fancy and leave him touched by the troubles and triumphs of their heroes, as well as by the diverse wonders they encounter. The viewer is thus sure to be delighted when he sees how, in "La Princess des Diamants," the young prince is unexpectedly rewarded for his kindness, how the intendant in the second tale is punished for his spitefulness, how the sorceress of the next story employs various mechanical devices to defend her home, including a robotic dragon that swallows cannon balls and shoots them back at her foes from out its posterior, how the old woman of the antepenultimate tale is taken to different locations, at one or another of which she relishes the beauty of flowers, of the bare branches of a tree, of the moon, and of Mt. Fuji, how, in the following story, the cruel queen hunts for her suitors, who have hidden themselves in various outlandish locations, such as in a submarine in the belly of a whale in the sea, and kills them with her disintegrator gun, and how, in the last, the prince and princess are transformed into a succession of different beasts and all the while squabble about the propriety of kissing each other.

The framing story which binds these narratives together is, regrettably, not as captivating as they are. It has its charming moments and its two young characters are pleasant and sweet, but, more often, it is merely an interruption through which the viewer must wait.

Even if it does not quite achieve greatness, Princes et Princesses is a joyous, magical work. It is, in fact, so unique and charming that watching it is a real pleasure.

Review by Keith Allen

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