French animated films : Kirikou et la Sorcière (Michel Ocelot, 1998)
English Title : Kirikou and the Sorceress
The plot : For years now, Karaba the Sorceress has been disrupting the peaceful lives of a nearby west-african village. She has blocked their access to water, frequently demands expensive tributes, uses an army of speaking fetishes as a military force, and none of the men sent to kill her have returned… Is there a way to stop her ? Only one peculiar newborn child, who began to speak while still in the womb of his mother, dares to ask an equally important question : why is it, exactly, that Karaba is so evil ?
Why you should see it :
- The first full-feature animated movie of Michel Ocelot was a suprise hit at the time. Its success convinced producers that France could produce and distribute animated movies on a larger scale and for a substantial profit. The history of France’s animation can truly be separated into two periods (pre-Kirikou and post-Kirikou) : we went from one animated french every three years (at best) to three a year (at the very least). The movie has more than enough qualities on its own but it’s made even more likable by the numerous other awesome movies its performance made possible.
- The main strength of the movie resides, as it should be, in its two titular characters. Kirikou, the intellectually gifted toddler, steals every scene he’s in with his sass, though its absolute lack of any magical power or physical might gives him enough vulnerability. He mainly has to rely on his courage, his wit and his own empathy to survive ; basically, he’s the hero we should all aspire to be.
- Karaba the Sorceress, on the other hand, makes an extremely charismatic villain ; scary, manipulative, but classy as well, and not wihout her own kind of off-putting beauty. Many people compare her to Disney’s Maleficent, but this movie has the advantage of developing Karaba’s own perspective on the situation at hand and explaining why, underneath her villainous persona, she’s ultimately human. Looking back at this movie through adult eyes, it’s pretty obvious that her backstory is a symbol for something more sinister. Ocelot actuall confirmed in an interview that, yes, we were supposed to understand that rape was involved.
- The atmosphere and animation of this movie are really unique ; when he made this movie, Michel Ocelot had basically tried every technique but traditional 2D animation, so he was really thinking outside the bow with this one. It was kind of refreshing at the time to watch a movie so detached from everything Disney had “codified” animation should be.
- Points to the movie for making it as culturally accurate as possible. It spawned a rather stupid controversy because of that, since it depicts the village’s women going bare-chested, despite the fact that 1) it’s completely non-sexualized in the movie and 2) it’s the norm in the part of Africa it’s supposedly taking place.
- The original score and songs were made by Youssou N’Dour, which is exactly as cool as you would expect it to be.