THE PRINCES’ QUEST Directed by Michel Ocelot G cert, IFI/Movies@Dundrum/Movies@ Swords/UCI Tallaght, Dublin, 98 min
JUST when you think you’ve got your head around the various manifestations of the current animation boom – Pixar’s digital slickness, Aardman’s claymation, Tim Burton’s unsettling stop-motion – another whiz-kid pops up with a fresh innovation.
Focus on the characters alone and you could underestimate the artistry at work in Michel Ocelot’s startling multicultural fairytale. The idealistic prince and his Arabic friend do, it is true, move with the inorganic stiffness we remember from ancient television series such as Mr Benn and Mary, Mungo and Midge. But the backgrounds are so fabulously ornate, and the colours everywhere so dazzlingly vibrant, that the film takes on an ecstatic quality all its own.
Full of wise messages and good examples, The Princes’ Quest, which takes place in France and north Africa during the 17th century (or so), details the troubled relationship between a Muslim boy and his aristocratic Caucasian friend. Azur, a prince, grows up happily alongside Asmar, the son of his nurse, but, when they take to squabbling in their adolescence, the stern master of the house flings his servant and her son from the door.
Many years later, Azur returns from his studies and decides to go in search of the magical fairy whose adventures his nurse once related. Along the way, he encounters a beggar, a young princess and his old friends.
The Princes’ Quest does, perhaps, try a little too hard to address “issues”. Ocelot’s script plainly seeks to act as a spur for conversations on racism, sexism and the dangers of superstition. Still, the visuals are intoxicating. All things considered, this original entertainment offers a decent way of whiling away the half-term.