French director Michel Ocelot is perhaps best known for his animated films Kirikou and the Sorceress, that film’s sequel, and Azur & Asmar: The Princes’ Quest. His latest feature Tales of the Night is an anthology film made up of six short allegorical folk tales. Derived from his television series Dragons et princesses, it extracts material from five episodes of that show, in addition to containing a sixth new tale. That root in an established television series is perhaps the film version’s only weakness; its recurring creative framing device for the stories is pleasantly unique, but there is no real elaboration regarding it for anyone unfamiliar with the show it perhaps comes from. Additionally, the film just ends after the final story’s conclusion, not returning to the characters of the framing device for a farewell, as though we will just see them again soon like we might on television. Despite these minor issues, there is very much a lot about this film to recommend.
Subtle 3D effects lend the feel of a pop-up book to the stylised proceedings, separating its silhouetted characters from bold backgrounds bursting with bright colours. There’s delightful novelty in the shape and movements of the characters, and its combination with the backgrounds often provides some grandiose compositional results one might not expect from the deceptively simple-seeming brand of animation.
The film’s stories are rooted in humanist explorations of morality and love, sometimes even interrogating the questionable morality of certain traditional fairy tales. Much how like the animation style is deceptively simple, the economy of the storytelling is also misleading in that the film contains some very sophisticated views regarding its topics. There is also an avoidance of any leanings towards mawkish sentimentality in its moral concerns. It is very much a multi-cultural piece, with the tales set in such locales and times as distinct as Central Africa, the Aztec City of Gold, medieval Europe, the Caribbean and Tibet. Among the stories are the friendship between a talking horse and a boy who cannot tell a lie, a young man attempting to save a girl from the death a ritual sacrifice will force upon her, and a rivalry between two sisters who harbour for a soldier who is secretly a werewolf.
All the tales are given the same playful rhythm, and spiced with a gentle brand of dry wit. An extremely charming, inventive feature with beautifully fluid animation and a spirited design, Tales of the Night is a hugely enjoyable exploration of folklore, humanity and storytelling.
This screened as part of the Glasgow Youth Film Festival, directly preceding the main Glasgow Film Festival which begins on February 16th.
Visit the official website of the Glasgow Film Festival.