Friday, August 19, 2005

Kirikou and the Sorceress (Ocelot, 1998)

What an absolute joy this film is. As a parent, I've noticed how many recent films employing state-of-the-art computer animation always seem to feel that a child will not be entertained unless there are things careening around the screen and crashing into each other every five minutes. Other films, such as the recent Pooh's Heffalump Movie or Clifford's Really Big Movie (both of which I saw in the theater with my three-year-old), take the safe route and steer clear of anything remotely offensive and end up with a product so innocuous that I find it hard to believe that it leaves any impression at all upon a young viewer. Michel Ocelot's Kirikou and the Sorceress is something else altogether -- a family film that is (mostly) gentle, extremely thoughtful and yet wildly unpredictable.

The story follows the adventures of Kirikou, who walks right out of his mother's womb in the first scene of the film, washes himself off and quickly thereafter sets about restoring peace and harmony to his village. The village attributes its miseries to a nearby sorceress that is unanimously considered to be evil, though nobody can explain quite why she would act this way. Much of the film's comedy comes from the fact that Kirikou, the film's hero, embarks on his adventures -- eluding snakes, saving other children, etc. -- as tiny and naked as the day he was born. This is appropriate enough though, because it emphasizes Kirikou's greatest strength -- his innocence. Kirikou asks questions no one else will answer and explores places no one else will go because he has not been told he shouldn't. Kirikou is eventually seen in the village as a hero and friends and family sing joyfully (with tunes composed by Youssou N'Dour) about his tiny stature and giant accomplishments.

As a parent, I greatly appreciated the way that Kirikou's conflict with the sorceress was resolved without the use of violence. I grow tired of children's stories where the villian must be vanquished because they are evil and that's that. Kirikou and the Sorceress is surprisingly effective in identifying fear and suffering as the root of evil and also as a barrier to enlightenment. I watched the film with my boy and was delighted to expose him to something entertaining, edgy and socially conscious. Since the film is in French with subtitles, I filled him in when it was important to know what was being said, but he was attentive throughout, even wanting to 'play Kirikou' with Dad after the film was over. (Guess who got to play the snake.) I was partly amused, partly depressed to read that animators were asked to put tops on the bare-breasted tribeswomen so that the film could be distributed in the U.S. and marketed for children. This kind of hyper-Puritanism in regards to a film like Kirikou that is filled with joy, love and innocence is tantamount to insanity.



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