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DVD Review – The Adventures of Prince Achmed

2 min read

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is Lotte Reiniger’s revolutionary animated tale from 1926. Three years in the making, the intricately created silhouette animation plays out a far eastern adventure, rife with sorcery, romance, and monsters. Hailed as one of the world’s most innovative and influential animations, this is the earliest surviving feature length animation.

untitledYoung and handsome Prince Ahmed is tricked by the evil sorcerer in to taking a ride on his horse, which promptly flies away, taking the Prince far from his homeland, in to a world of adventure. Along the way he meets magical and dangerous creatures, and falls in love with the mistress of demons. However it isn’t long before the sorcerer wants his magical horse back, and sets out once again to stop Prince Achmed; kidnapping his love, and leaving him to the peril of a deathly serpent. Will Prince Achmed survive to rescue his love or will the demons find her first?

Hand-cut in to card and manipulated using sheets of lead connected to wires, this animation is entirely absorbing and wholly mesmerising. It mirrors some of the more atmospheric mores of German Expressionism, taking them into a new realm. The creativity apparent is incredible; scene after scene shines with a beauty that is rarely displayed in current animations, aided in no small way by the use of the original score.

The BFI have done a remarkable job in restoring this piece, which effectively stands testament to the earliest days of a new art form that would soon reach international recognition, and become the mainstay of children’s cinema for the next eighty years. As brilliant as The Adventures of Prince Achmed is, attention should also be paid to the special features on this release, which consists of: a newly recorded alternative narration based on Lotte Reiniger’s own translation of her German text, spoken by actress Penelope McGhie; The Adventures of Dr. Dolittle (Lotte Reiniger, 1928, 33 mins): a series of three short films based on the classic stories by Hugh Lofting; The Flying Coffer (Lotter Reiniger, 1921, 9 mins): a poor young fisherman tries to rescue the Emperor of China’s daughter; The Secret of the Marquise (Lotte Reiniger, 1922, 2 mins): an early advert for Nivea skincare products; The Star of Bethlehem (Vivian Milroy, 1956, 18 mins): the nativity story with music performed by the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus; The Lost Son (Lotte Reiniger, 1974, 14 mins): the New Testament parable animated in Lotte Reiniger’s style; Fully illustrated booklet with newly commissioned essays by Jez Stewart and Philip Kemp, and a contribution by Marina Warner. All these features perfectly contextualise this masterpiece.

Whilst this may be lacking some of the polish that came to define later animation films (especially when Disney threw its hat in to the ring in 1937), fundamentally this is the stuff dreams are made of. Sublimely surreal, and enchantingly ethereal, this is a work of art without the need of time and place. Utterly beguiling.

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