Seasoned French animator Michel Ocelot returns with the charming Tales of the Night (2011), six tales of whimsy and magic set across different cultures. Those familiar with Ocelot’s work will notice numerous similarities with Princes and Princesses, released in 2000. Each tale is linked by a short introduction, set in a darkened theatre where an old screenwriter and two young actors play out the stories, along with a machine that rapidly changes their costumes.
The stories themselves are original fairytales set in a host of different countries including Africa, France and the Caribbean. Ocelot returns to using silhouetted characters against vividly drawn and brightly coloured backdrops, and his style possesses a naive, rustic charm, quite different from more commercial animation such as DreamWorks and Pixar that most children will be accustomed with. Interestingly, Tales of the Night has been released in other countries in 3D, which seems quite unnecessary and ill-fitting to the traditional animation employed here.
Tales of the Night was originally screened as a TV series and there is no overarching theme, save for the fact that they are all tales of wonder, magic and adventure. The tales do, however, vary significant;y in quality. The first, about a prince who becomes a werewolf, possesses the greatest appeal for its simple yet well-structured narrative and wonderful backdrops, including a Gothic castle and an ominous forest.
The same may be argued for the final story of a prince who must break an enchanter’s spell cast upon a princess. The Caribbean tale, with elements of voodoo set in the land of the dead, possesses a darker quality that would certainly appeal to older children. All of the the stories use traditional fairytale plot points and symbols including objects of power, a journey or trial, and talking animals that act as aids or hindrances to the hero. As well as using traditional elements, Ocelot has given the stories a modern aspect too, perhaps most unconventionally of all in a tale where the hero rejects the love he has been striving for.
Without doubt, Ocelot’s Tales of the Night has a great deal of charm and, being a traditional animation, the film can easily be dubbed for much younger children. However, the simplicity of some of the tales may leave the attention of older audience’s waning. Those familiar with Ocelot’s work may feel slightly let down by this samey production, but those new to his work will more than likely be drawn in by the director’s ability to create worlds of wonder and imagination.