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This was done in silhouette animation--they use cutouts instead of drawings and film them frame by frame moving each piece a little at a time--this took three years to complete!
It's truly incredible--the cutouts are incredibly detailed and the animation itself is flawless--the characters move very smoothly. The story moves briskly and the color tints and great music score just complement the animation perfectly. Sadly this is little known. Maybe with the restored version playing it will get the recognition it richly deserves.
A great film for the whole family--if the kids don't mind reading subtitles.
German filmmaker Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981) was fascinated with cutouts and puppetry from childhood. After seeing a silent film by the great Georges Méliès as a teenager, she knew that movies would be her destiny. Reiniger loved make believe and would eventually make films on a whole series of fabulous characters, from Dr. Dolittle (1928) and Puss in Boots (1936) to Thumbelina (1954) and Hansel & Gretel (1955).
Reiniger's area of expertise was in silhouette animation. Using a pair of scissors, she produced amazingly elaborate images from black paper and then had them back-lit and photographed one frame at a time, moving the cutouts slightly each time, thereby producing the illusion of movement. Her masterwork, after three years of labor, was THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED, produced eleven years before Disney's SNOW WHITE, thus becoming the world's first animated feature film.
The movie tells an exciting story from the world of the Arabian Nights, full of magic, menace & monsters, and incorporates the tale of Aladdin and his love for Achmed's sister Dinarzade, thus giving the movie two valiant heroes instead of only one. The romantic exploits are slightly leavened with a touch of delightful decadence and good humor, exemplified by Achmed's few moments in the seraglio on the magical Isle of Waq Waq.
It is fascinating how these pieces of black paper can evoke an emotional response from the viewer. It is a testimony to the wonderful artistry of their creator, Lotte Reiniger, a woman who richly deserves to be more celebrated by those interested in cinema history.
So it's a rare treat to come across a unique work that illustrates the artistry of early animation in Film. A shining example is Reinger's "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" . There's really no preparation for this feature, one just needs to succumb to the beautiful imagery that begins to reveal itself, one silhouette at a time. It completely takes us off the conventional track and into the realm best inhabited by forgotten dreams. One forgets that one is watching a series of contours and like the traditional Nang Yai shadow puppet play, the journey has you swept away in a short time!
Some may not be as impressed with this `old-fashioned' approach to story telling. It doesn't compare to the spectacles of the `instant classic' available these days. It's a bit `clanky' and possibly too analog for others. On the other hand, if you're looking for a whimsical and imaginative tale of magic, travels to mystical lands, heroism and love (with a charming score), you won't be in the least bit disappointed with this one.
She spent three years cutting out the figures to be used in the film, and the result is a visual marvel - I notice my television guide only gave it two and a half stars (from four), less than they gave "Batman Forever," but I fail to see what is unimpressive about this.
The story sees Prince Ahmed going on magical adventures with his flying horse, saving a beautiful princess and so on and so forth. It's the typical fantasy story told extremely well with visual craftsmanship that really makes this worth seeing alone. It's a silent film, only about an hour long, so it's an acquired taste. Film buffs will probably get more out of this than the average viewer, but I really enjoyed it.
An African sorcerer tries to sell a flying horse he has created or conjured up to a Caliph. He hopes perhaps to have the Caliph's daughter. That being unlikely, he lets the Prince try the horse out, without explaining how it works. Thus, the Prince goes up to soaring heights, and by the time he figures it out, he's found the magical island of Wak-Wak where he half-kidnaps, half-saves a Princess there. They go to China, he meets Aladdin, there's lots of charming adventures, some of them perhaps scary for kids (giant snakes, demons, the Sorcerer, etc.).
It's done with silhouettes, black cut-outs against white (or tinted) backgrounds, though the backgrounds are also filled with silhouettes too. Some of them are very intricate, and there is also a fair amount of attention to detail, like creating rippled reflections in water.
The cutout-style animation that the feature uses ruled out a lot of options for the film-makers, and it put a premium on the careful design of the figures and on well-planned story-telling. At first, the plainness of the silhouette figures is somewhat apparent, but it's not long at all before the story is involving enough, and the animation creative enough, to give the characters and events plenty of life and energy.
The plot itself is taken from some of the old "Arabian Nights" tales, much of it from some of the less-familiar episodes. It is a good adaptation of the material, and the careful details in the outlines of the silhouette figures soon create an atmosphere that works even without colors or special visual tricks.
The style allows your own imagination to flesh out the characters, rather than providing an artist's depiction for every detail in the story. In this respect it makes an interesting contrast with the more usual kind of fantasy film that does try to make everything expressly visual. As soon as you get used to the style and concentrate on the story, it becomes quite interesting and at times even engrossing. Overall, it's an imaginative feature that works quite well.
The story is based on parts of The Arabian Nights, I presume (act 4 is devoted to Aladdin and the Magic Lamp). This film is far superior to the Disney Aladdin a few years back, no contest. The story is about a Prince who falls in love with a magical princess and has to go through a series of trials to win her. In his way are an evil sorcerer, a magical gate, and hordes of dark creatures. The film isn't too long (just over one hour), but it is thrilling from start to finish. I don't know if it's available on DVD, but it's absolutely worth catching (and definitely recording!) on TV. TCM is the best bet to find it.
The German silent film begins with the creation of a flying horse. The African Magician tricks Prince Achmed into flying the horse, hoping to rid the kingdom of Achmed's presence. But Achmed is able to control the horse, and flies off to an island, where he finds the beautiful princess Peri Banu. In order to win her heart he must defeat the Magician, the Chinese Emperor, and an army of demons, with the help of Aladdin and a mysterious witch.
The irony of this movie is that the German subtitles are subtitled in English. But don't let that throw you, this silent masterpiece is magnificent film-making at its best, and certainly a landmark in cinema.
When a devious African magician tricks adventurous young Prince Achmed into riding a magical flying horse, he is whisked away from his home kingdom and taken to the mysterious island of Wak-Wak, where he falls in love with the beautiful Peri Banu. However, the evil magician, who desires Achmed's sister Dinarsade, kidnaps Peri Banu and sells her to the Chinese Emperor. With the help of Aladdin, and the Witch of the Fiery Mountain, Prince Achmed must defeat his sinister foe and recover his true love.
The silhouette animation in the film is really quite outstanding, and a surprising level of detail is achieved. A scene I particularly enjoyed was the climactic battle between the Witch of the Fiery Mountain and the Africian magician, in which both parties magically transformed themselves into various deadly creatures in order to get the upper hand. The use of different background tints was also co-ordinated carefully in a way that would define the atmosphere of each scene. Notably, this was achieved quite well as the Prince, for the first time, began to rise high into the sky on his newly-acquired flying horse. From a very bright, optimistic yellow, the background changed to a dark, ominous blue, as the onset of strong winds threatened to pluck Achmed from his mount and toss him to the ground far below. Though these tints were present in the original negatives, the loss of these negatives meant that the surviving nitrate prints had to be carefully restored.
In order to rescue the lovely Peri Banu, Prince Achmed must battle a wide array of devilish beasts and monsters, ranging from huge snakes to hundreds of bat-like demons. A distinct advantage of this type of film-making over live-action films is that complex and expensive visual effects are not required. In the scope of this animation, absolutely anything in possible. Nonetheless, one can only imagine how much work must have gone into animating each singular frame of the film. With its endearing style of animation, and a classic tale of love and adventure, Lotte Reiniger's 'The Adventures of Prince Achmed' is a must-see for all film and animation enthusiasts.
What Lotte Reiniger has done is created what many would consider impossible. Taking pieces of construction paper and using stop animation camera techniques to create a feature length film. It took her nearly three years to complete the strenuous task of taking 250,000 photos but the hard work pays off with an incredible picture brought forth. The film is a silent film but it doesn't matter as beautiful music is played with every act. As you watch this film, you almost forget you are watching animation and you think you are watching actual people behind a screen.
Now, if you're more of a fan of story telling than imagery then this may not be for you. The imagery far overtakes the story Shahrzad gives to Reiniger. I was simply blown off my feet when I saw this. There is some irony in the film however. The film was produced in 1926 Germany. Look at the decorations in the background on the Act cards, you be surprised what religious symbol you see.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed. 4.5/5
While this is not quite German expressionism, it has that same sensibility of contrast between darkness and light. The use of dark silhouettes to be the characters (no features beyond their outlines) gives a very distinct look that is rarely seen anywhere else.
This is apparently the earliest known animated feature film still in existence. What I find curious is that it was not drawn or painted, but rather features cut out pieces of cardboard. In this way, it anticipated and possibly inspired something completely different decades later -- "South Park", which uses construction paper (or at least did originally).
This is also a lovely, fast-paced story that draws a lot from The Arabian Nights and so is full of fantasy: princes, princesses, genies, spirits, flying cities, flying horses, witches, sorcerers, etc. The most notable influence is, of course, the figure of Aladdin and his magic lamp. The brave Prince Achmed fights an evil sorcerer to save the life of Princess Peri Banu, from the magical Wak-Wak Island. Along the way he meets allies and faces all kinds of challenges. In the end, of course, bravery and love prevail.
The story sounds very predictable to modern audiences, but its charm and elegance is timeless. In the end, the story is just a vehicle for Reiniger to explore the possibilities of this new animated technique she created, and I'd say she did a wonderful job. This is a movie for the ages, one of those pearls that cinema needs to rediscover quickly.
Celestial Patience and Running with Scissors: Weimar animator Lotte Reiniger.
Her friend Jean Renoir claimed that premiere German animator Lotte Reiniger was " born with magic hands." From childhood, Reiniger possessed an unusual talent for fashioning detailed shapes with paper and scissors. As a young woman, she worked with Paul Wegener, Fritz Lang and legendary stage director Max Reinhardt. Animation was, as Reiniger described, " still walking in its infant shoes." With a small group of dedicated artists and technicians, Reinger began producing short stop action films in 1919, followed by three years devoted to her masterpiece, considered the oldest surviving animated feature, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926).
Reiniger's delicate and magical telling of The Arabian Nights was considered by the German theater establishment as wholly unworthy of exhibition. After nine months in Paris and a successful world tour, Berlin relented. Reiniger endured, and went on to delight audiences with her beautiful and unique artform for half a century.
Lotte Reiniger, the artist, defied even conventional animation of her time. While other animators were using paper, ink, light, and camera; she only used paper, light, and camera! What she produced were remarkably detailed animations. Since the real art-form of paper animation has gone by the wayside this work should be included in every animation collection.
It is unfortunate that more work (25 some titles) from Lotte Reiniger were not preserved for distribution.