is loosely based Hans Christian Andersen’s The
Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep, but it includes elements of dystopia and
steampunk long before they were cool. When production began in 1948, it was
supposed to be France’s first animated feature (and it sort of was), yet it would
take three decades for it to be completed to its creators’ satisfaction. You
might think you have seen it, but if you have only seen the unfinished cut
released by the producer under the title The
Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird, you really haven’t seen Paul Grimault’s
complete and restored The King and the
had a special screening at the 52nd New York Film Festival, in
advance of its premiere American release this November.
the kingdom of Takicardia, it is good to be the king, at least until the tyrannical
Charles V + III = VIII + VIII = XVI is deposed by his own portrait come to
life. However, the monarch is so unpopular and self-absorbed, nobody notices
the change. He is not the only painting at large in the towering palace. The Shepherdess and her true love, the
Chimney Sweep, have escaped the walls of the King’s private quarters to escape
her forced marriage to the King’s portrait. They will find a resourceful ally
in the Mockingbird, who rather resents the King’s attempts to hunt his young
hatchlings. Fortunately, Charles V etc is a blasted poor shot.
by Grimault and celebrated poet-screenwriter Jacques Prévert, Mockingbird is a kitchen sink movie that
includes disparate elements, such as the Metropolis-like
castle, with the King perched up top and the proles buried down below. There is
also a trenchant commentary on personality cults, most vividly realized in the
steampunky factory, a veritable mass of gears, cranking out busts of the
despised king. Grimault even delivers a kaiju fix when the King’s portrait unveils
his secret weapon: a giant killer robot.
most importantly, Mockingbird is
great fun, featuring a sly sense of humor and a gentle pure-hearted sensibility.
There are some pretty profound stakes in the film, but it is never too intense
for young tykes. In fact, the Mockingbird is a wonderfully reassuring
father-figure, in addition to being an anarchic rebel.
animation is also pure joy to drink in. He inks some striking visuals,
especially the action sequences set on precarious ledges around the castle
exterior. However, there is an elegant simplicity to his hand drawn figures
that is refreshingly nostalgic. While viewers can occasionally see the seams
where the work from various years has been married together, the restoration
gives it all a nice, clean spit polish.
Grimault’s definitive Mockingbird represents quite a tenacious victory for artistic integrity
and creative control. Decades after it was completed for the final time, it still
feels oddly contemporary, while evoking the joys of old school animation. Enthusiastically
recommended for all ages, the complete and restored The King and the Mockingbird returns to the Elinor Bunin Monroe
Film Center on November 21st, following its special screening at
this year’s NYFF.
Labels: Animated films, French Cinema, NYFF '14, Paul Grimault