Another pop quiz: name the oldest surviving feature-length animated film. If you said Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, you’d be right if we were considering only cel-animated features, of which Snow White was the first. But there are feature-length animated films that came before Snow White, and the oldest surviving one is The Adventures of Prince Achmed, a German “silhouette film” by Lotte Reiniger. Animated films do tend to come across as child-like, and this one is no exception; it seems to have been made as a delightful entertainment piece for children, but like so many Pixar films have managed to do, adults can easily find much to like about it.
The story is based off of parts of 1001 Arabian Nights. Achmed is a Prince in the land of the Caliph, where dwells also a wizard who attempts to curry favor with the Caliph by presenting him with a flying horse. In a demonstration of its abilities, Achmed takes the horse up, but doesn’t figure out to make it descend until he is far from his kingdom, in the land of Wak Wak, whereupon he falls in love at first sight with the ruler and guardian of the land, Pari Banu, and takes her away to be with him. Cue the wizard, who promptly abducts Pari Banu for himself (or rather, for the ruler of China), and Achmed must dare several obstacles in order to reclaim her. The animation plays much like the video game Adventure does for that burgeoning genre. It’s not just black and white; scenes are tinted various colors, to single out certain characters or provide a noticeable change of scenery, which makes the story incredibly easy to follow, even with most of the characters looking relatively alike. The animation is also very well done, very crisp and layered; it isn’t perfectly seamless and flowing, like other types of animation, but it is endearing in its own way, especially with the foreign content of the story. The story is as well told as it is charming, despite the whole “kidnapping a hot chick to become your bride” angle, so don’t think about the story too hard or some questions might arise.
The story goes into much further depth than I’ve covered here, but suffice it to say, the bad guys are defeated, the good guys win, and everyone ends up happily ever after. What; I did say this was a film more geared toward children, so the story shouldn’t be all that surprising, but there is still plenty of entertainment to be had here. There’s a bit of a deus ex machina for the ending, but I’ll forgive this early film its slight misstep, if only because the rest was so engaging. There’s also a lovely sequence near the end where a great battle is fought in the background, slightly out of focus, as the main action happens in the foreground, which shows a surprising amount of depth to the storytelling for the era. All in all, this was a real treat, and I’m certainly glad to have it on the list; not only does it deserve to be there, it earns its spot as well. Wonderfully animated, consistently entertaining, and at just over an hour long, this is definitely one to check out.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10