Widely regarded as one of the finest animated films in cinema history, Le Roi et l'oiseau
was the product of a legendary partnership between Paul Grimault and Jacques Prévert.
The former was the leading animator in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, the latter was arguably
the most gifted and well-known of French film screenwriters. Grimault and Prévert
worked together on a number of projects but this is by far their most successful and popular
collaboration (although it was completed two years after Prévert's death).
The film began life in 1949 as an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale,
The Shepherdess and the Chimneysweep
. Before the film was completed, there
was a major production dispute which resulted in both Grimault and Prévert walking
away from the project. The film was completed without Grimault and was released
in 1953 under the title: La Bergère et le Ramoneur
. Twenty years
later, Paul Grimault decided to return to the project and complete it as he had envisaged.
When the film was released in 1980 as Le Roi et le oiseau
, it proved to be a great
success both with critics and cinema audiences. The film won the prestigious award,
the Prix Louis Delluc, in 1979.
In restoring and completing the film, Grimault was scrupulously careful to retain the
look and feel of the original film. Although released in 1980, the film has the
authentic look of a late 1940s animated feature. This dated look contrasts strikingly
with the incredibly imaginative plot, which includes some mind-blowing surreal twists
and turns. The film has the charm and poetry of Andersen's original fairytale,
but it offers much more in the way of entertainment, and is hilariously funny in places.
With its obvious references to brutal oppression and totalitarianism, it is not difficult
to see France's World War II experiences reflected in the film. What
makes the film most effective, however, is the richness of the characterisation, which
is at least on a par with, if not better than, that seen in the best Disney features.
The king, despite his villainy, is a rather pathetic creature for whom we have some sympathy,
whilst his nemesis, the mockingbird, makes an unusual hero but one that you instantly
Whilst children the world over should love Le Roi et le oiseau
, it also has great
appeal to adults. The quality of the animation and wealth of imagination in the
script makes it an enduring work of art which greatly surpasses the majority of animated
films which have been made since. In simplest terms, Le Roi et le oiseau
is a timeless classic.
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