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Friday, November 16, 2012 - Page updated at 03:00 p.m.
'Tales of the Night': Striking visuals brighten animated vignettes
By Jeff Shannon
Special to The Seattle Times
Best known for his ongoing series of "Kirikou" adventures, French animator Michel Ocelot has mastered his signature "shadow puppet" style in "Tales of the Night," in which six mostly engaging fairy tales are digitally rendered with silhouetted characters performing in front of vivid, colorful backgrounds.
It's a dazzling technique, inviting viewers to participate in the unfolding stories by imagining the facial expressions we can't see on the black-shadowed figures. Body language adds another layer of emotion; the silhouettes are so subtly expressive that they could stand alone as pantomime.
Ocelot knows his fairy tales (especially Grimm's): The six vignettes presented here are just original enough to seem fresh, but they're steeped in timeless tradition, featuring a young hero who must pass crucial tests to achieve an ultimate goal.
The tales are separated by a present-day framing device in which an actor, actress and director sit before a theater proscenium, casting themselves in the classically styled tales they've imagined. In the first tale, the boy is a werewolf, trapped in his wolf body unless he can find the gold necklace that magically returns him to human form. In another, set in Africa, the boy discovers that a magic tom-tom drum gives him the power to save his village from a rival tribe.
Each tale is accompanied by ever-changing backgrounds — geometric or abstract, multicolored and multilayered — that place the shadow figures in stark relief. (And while this review is based on a 2D viewing, the film's 3D version benefits from a stereoscopic effect that recalls the layered depth of images in a "View-Master" toy.)
Inevitably, some stories are more entertaining than others, like the ones involving a dancing porcupine, a fast-moving dragon or the aforementioned werewolf. At its best, "Tales of the Night" offers a gently amusing cycle of traditional storytelling and a sumptuous feast for the eyes.
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