Michel Ocelot / France / 2011 / 84 min
Sometimes we all need to escape into our imaginations, especially when Rupert Murdoch’s scrotal face is the only thing we see on the news. In cinema, animation is usually the most effective as it has this automatic dreaminess which transcends all age groups and seems to heighten the sense of storytelling we engage with. French director Michel Ocelot’s history in animation speaks for itself: once the President of ASIFA and having produced BAFTA-winning features and Palme d’Or-nominated shorts including The Three Inventors (1980) and Les quatre voeux du vilain et de sa femme (1987).
Here, he takes his foot off the gas slightly with a collection of short tales which are in and of themselves exquisite, but too detached for their own good. There are six in total which tell of a secret werewolf, a dragon-God, a Caribbean Tom-Tom wizard, a King’s rival, a boy who never lies and a wicked sorcerer. The film’s shadow puppetry drawings are simple but delicately attractive, sort of like a cross between the pencilled animation of The Adventures of Prince Achmed and the rich platform silhouettes of Ubisoft’s Xbox 360 game, Outland. An odd but effective blend.
The tales are grand, moralistic and kingly, and inquire into our love of profound storytelling as well as our passion for escapism. They are drawn together by three characters who meet at a disused cinema to re-enact their love for stories, and though the title of the film describes its fragmented nature, Tales of the Night would benefit from a smarter method of presentation. It must question why we love these stories by inserting three-dimensional characters (despite the fact that they are shadow animations…) and tie the series of shorts together more successfully without simply relying on the themes of each tale. While seductive, this film misses a more intelligent approach to animation and feels like a small project which Ocelot wanted to play around with rather than rejuvenate.
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