With Tales of the Night, director Michel Ocelot (Kirikou and the Sorceress) returns once again to his trademark silhouette animation style to tell a series of stories drawn from the building blocks of folk tales from around the world. Rather than just adapt these tales unaltered, Ocelot uses aspects of the stories, changing them as he feels fit, to fashion something entirely familiar yet charmingly different. As a framing device, he offers a up crew of theater players, scheming ways and means of telling the fables in new and exciting ways, leaping into the narratives shortly after devising their dramaturgical strategies.
Visually, Ocelot's characters offer a surprising amount of expressiveness, despite being conceived in a shadow puppet-style. Facial expressions and character movements pop against the vividly colored, near psychedelic backgrounds and one never runs the chance of confusing one character for another, thanks to the quite distinctively drawn designs, which change fancifully from story to story. Even though it's the same "actors" inhabiting the major roles in each tale, Ocelot's allows them a miraculous bit of technology (is it a 3D printer?) that radically transforms hairstyles, garbs, etc. And it's no end of fun to see the short bits where the actors pore through various documents drawn from art, history, and literature to decide what form to take on in order to best spin the next yarn.
The stories themselves are the main attraction, though. Ranging from plots built around a magic tom-tom to a Caribbean excursion through the Land of the Dead to the lamentable tale of a man tricked into sacrificing his best friend for love, each of these six vignettes is captivating, admittedly some more so than others (I was less into the Aztec tale then, say, the one involving a werewolf, but that's mere quibbling, really, in light of how entertaining the film is as a whole).
Best of all, this is a kid-friendly feature; all but the smallest of children should do just fine with the level of excitement and (very mild) sense of danger presented over the course of the film. It's the rare animated film that works for all ages, though parents might want to seek out dubbed screenings of the film if their kids aren't ready for English subtitles yet.
Tales of the Night screens at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Friday, November 23rd at 7 & 8:45pm, Saturday, November 24th at 4:30, 6:30, & 8:30pm, Sunday, November 25th at 2, 4, & 7pm, and Monday, November 26th at 7pm. All screenings before 5pm are dubbed in English for younger audiences. All screenings after 5pm are in French w/ English subtitles. More info available here.
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