Setting aside two specific issues, Tales of the Night, or as the film is in French – Les Contes de La Nuit – is really rather pretty and charming. Animator Michael Ocelot’s structure comprises of two young actors and a middle-aged writer who get together in a cinema and, with a little magic, make their own films of classic (and not so classic) world fairy tales.
There are a total of six stories, compiled from episodes of the television series Dragons et Princesses, and are all centred around traditional themes of princes and princesses. Each is told through beautifully animated silhouettes on brightly coloured backgrounds and with a gentle, dry wit. Linking the tales are scenes of the trio researching the background information and images of the time and place in which the story is set. They span medieval Europe, Tibet, the Caribbean, an Aztec City of Gold and a rather vague “Africa”. Although it’s unlikely that a non-French-speaking child would be able to keep up with the subtitles needed for the dialogue-heavy script, it is aimed at a young audience.
We have reiterated how much we dislike 3D time and again on this blog but if the technology worked as intended, then this is one of the few films that justifies its use. Building up the layers of silhouettes enhanced the feeling of a shadow play theatre and served to give more depth to the flat shadows.
However, now I’m going to have to return to those issues I set to one side because 3D doesn’t work as intended. It’s hard to become immersed in the enchantment when you’re constantly being jolted out of the flow by technical problems. It takes a long time, approximately two stories-worth, to get used to shifting your gaze between the floating subtitles and on-screen action and whenever the characters run or dance, your eyes are unable to process the images fast enough, resulting in blurs. It’s also difficult to keep two pairs of specs on a much too small nose – and yes, you might think that’s a bit specific to people with snub noses who wear glasses but I think it’s valid.
The much bigger issue for me though (which is saying something when compared to our loathing for 3D cinematography) was that the girl never gets to be the hero. In every story the princess needs rescuing (apart from arguably the first, where the younger sister’s one act of derring-do is reported in a sentence). This is obviously a feature of traditional fairy tales in general but it’s a lot harder to stomach when back in the present day, the actors say they are going to write their own tales or amend existing ones. In the case of the Tibetan myth, my hopes were raised as the young actress refused to take the female part because she disliked the character so much. To appease her concerns, they promise to rewrite her ending to make her more palatable but instead succeeded in making her wet and desperate to be saved from her own evil actions. While earlier, the male actor insisted he play a werewolf, at this point the female had apparently demanded to be “worthless”.
Dubbing Les Contes de la Nuit for an international audience would not be a difficult matter and would effectively dispense with one of the main problems, although it would be a shame to lose the talented voice cast. Less easily overcome is the pathetic string of mostly unnamed girls, waiting around for a shining knight to save them. So while the visuals are sumptuous and the execution charming, I was left somewhat underwhelmed.
Tales of the Night has a UK release date of 12th November.