The King And The Mockingbird


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Its significance to those with a serious interest in animation would be difficult to overstate."

32 years in the making prior to its release (in complete form) in 1980, The King And The Mockingbird (the 'mocking' part being an invention of the translator) is finally enjoying a big screen release in the UK. It's not a film that's likely to have much appeal to the children its fairytale subject matter is ostensibly targeted at, but its significance to those with a serious interest in animation would be difficult to overstate.

Written by the legendary Jacques Prévert, it's a loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Shepherdess And The Chimney Sweep, with the two china ornaments at the heart of that tale replaced by figures from paintings. Hanging on the walls of a royal palace (inexplicably named after a heart condition), the shepherdess encapsulates the objectified ideals of late 17th century pastoral romance. Accordingly, despite her blandness as a character, the King falls in love with her, but of course she is in love with the chimney sweep, and the two of them flee, seeking to escape a castle full of traps. Along the way they are assisted by a bird who has his own reasons for disliking the King, and a variety of animals come together to foment a revolution that the cowed serfs working the castle's bizarre industrial machinery seem scarcely able to aspire to.

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Hinging on the themes of transformation and salvation central to so many Andersen tales (and reflecting the author's own struggles), this is a work that also echoes Metropolis and shares some of its Art Deco imagery, likewise using it to contrast the grandiloquence of the elite with the wretchedness of the urban poor. It's heavily influenced by the surrealists, with nods to Chirico and Magritte, but there's also much here that recalls classic Disney animation, particularly the cute baby birds. There's even a shooting star. It's this hotchpotch of styles and references, blended to remarkable effect, that has made the film so influential. In particular, it impacted on the young Hayao Miyazaki and thereby had a significant influence on the development of Japanese anime.

The film also benefits from an equally erudite score by Wojciech Kilar, as much at ease delivering sentimental childish melodies as he is when distorting them to deeply disturbing effect. Understanding the genre perfectly, he draws on themes from popular French Fifties cinema when scoring the emotional manipulation of lions, and conjures up the necessary dissonance to justify the appearance of a giant robot out of medieval surroundings.

For those not familiar with the artistic themes being explored here, or not inclined to care, the slight storyline and slow pace of The King And The Mockingbird may make it hard going. Those interested in the development of cinema and its place in the history of the arts will, however, find much here to intrigue and delight.

Reviewed on: 14 Apr 2014
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The King And The Mockingbird packshot
A chimney sweep and a shepherdess try to escape a tyrannical king.
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Director: Paul Grimault

Writer: Jacques Prévert, Paul Grimault, based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen

Starring: Jean Martin, Pascal Mazzotti, Raymond Bussières, Agnès Viala, Renaud Marx, Hubert Deschamps, Roger Blin, Philippe Derrez, Albert Médina, Claude Piéplu, Lionel Charpy, Jacques Colombat, Robert Lombard, Jean Mermet, Vincent Montrobert

Year: 1980

Runtime: 83 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: France


New York 2014

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