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  Roi et l'Oiseau, Le Calamitous King
Year: 1980
Director: Paul Grimault
Stars: Jean Martin, Pascal Mazzotti, Raymond Bussières, Agnès Viala, Renaud Marx, Hubert Deschamps, Roger Blin, Philippe Derrez, Albert Médina, Claude Piéplu
Genre: Animated, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Once upon a time there was a King (voiced by Pascal Mazzotti) who ruled over his kingdom with an iron fist, which was curious as he was not a forceful man. Nevertheless his subjects did his bidding, making sure to worship him even though he did nothing worth admiring; his main pursuits, as the mockingbird (Jean Martin) would be keen to point out, were loneliness and hunting and he was not especially good at the latter. His vanity, meanwhile, knew no bounds, and if, say, an artist painted him with crossed eyes as they were, they would be executed without a moment's thought. He was a tyrant...

Le Rou et l'Oiseau, or The King and the Mockingbird to translate, had a rocky path to completion as it had originally been created in the fifties but left unfinished until director Paul Grimault managed to bring a version he was satisfied with to the screen in the eighties. Before that, the incomplete version has been released in a shorter variation which featured a happier, less poignant ending and English dubbing by the likes of Peter Ustinov as the mockingbird. In spite of this apparently unsatisfying presentation, there was a consensus that the animation was absolutely superb.

So Grimault had that consolation at least, but those praising him were right, he brought a sense of personality to the characters that was rare and charming, even in the bad guys. The King elicits mixed feelings as you can pity him for his predicament, with nobody to love but himself, and even then you're not so sure he believes he is worth all the adulation he drums up, yet on the other hand he is a despicable man who crushes all opposition and in his attempts to find someone who will genuinely respect him, even love him, he turns into a monster.

The King ensures that everywhere his image is shown on statues and paintings, and his method of disposing of those who anger him is to use a selection of trapdoors which appear from nowhere, just one of the eccentricities Grimault uses that surely cannot have appeared in the original Hans Christian Anderson story this is based on (Jacques Prévert was the co-writer on the script). There are two characters who enjoy the love that the King cannot, and true to this film's odd form they inhabit paintings hanging on the walls of his secret bedchamber.

They are the Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep, and come to life one night to escape, leaving the King's portrait to climb down from its frame and pursue them - pausing briefly to trapdoor the real King! This smaller incarnation of the monarch sets his police (they are distinguished by their bowlers and their bat wings) on the trail of the couple so he can capture them and marry the Shepherdess whether she wants to or not (she doesn't). The rest of the story unfolds in captivatingly drawn fashion, but Grimault allows his pleasure in animating rule his heart, resulting in a lot of meandering around so we can get another pretty picture. That is as may be, but with a giant robot and a pit of lions to contend with, Le Roi et l'Oiseau does surprise and its final images of tenderness and savagery are strong, resonant ones. Music by Wojciech Kilar.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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