written and directed by Michel Ocelot runs Nov. 2-8 at Grand Illusion
"I'M NOT A PRINCE, but I want to be just as good as one," a boy informs a girl and an elderly technician inside an abandoned movie theater. (There, they're making films with the help of a machine that tailors them costumes then plops them into six on-screen scenarios.) The line hints at both the magic and anachronism of French animator Michel Ocelot's Princes and Princesses: While celebrating the power of imagination—to aid escape, to transform the mundane, to instill beauty—the movie still posits that every little boy aches to be a valiant prince, and every little girl a femme princess.
That atavism retards the initial pair of repetitive parables, the first involving a prince assembling a princess' scattered diamond necklace, the second concerning an Egyptian nobody bearing figs to a fearsome queen. (Initially, the girl wants to play a "pharoahess.") Ocelot's silhouette animation, which consists of cutouts set against color washes, also begs for patience. Watching Princes is like viewing a play under moonlight: We strain our eyes to catch details, then give up when none are to be found.
But treasures do exist within settings that range from a medieval fortress to a year-3000 boudoir. Oddly, without the silhouettes, some images wouldn't dazzle so thoroughly: diamonds glinting in the dark grass; a sorceress' subterranean lake; an orange-hued Mount Fuji at sunrise. The tales also gain depth over time; one story about an old Japanese lady and the thief who attempts to steal her coat is studded with the sublime. The final episode, a funny twist on the fairy-tale princess kissing a frog, weakly tweaks conventional gender roles, barely providing Princes with more depth than its animation.