Kirikou et la Sorcière
Kirikou nest pas grand mais il est vaillant
Running Time: 70 minutes
UK Certificate: U
Country: Belgium, France
Abundant nudity and fetishes are normally the province of adult cinema, but 'Kirikou and the Sorceress' is very much for children. Based on a traditional West African myth, Michel Ocelot's spellbinding animated film, telling the story of diminutive Kirikou's determination to save his village from the malevolence of Karaba the sorceress, was the deserved joint winner (with 'Chicken Run') of the 2002 British Animation Awards for best European feature.
At the film's beginning, Kirikou delivers himself from his mother's womb, emerging already able to walk and talk and look after himself. Informed by his mother that the sorceress Karaba has caused the local spring to dry up and has eaten most of the village's menfolk, Kirikou races off – still within minutes of his birth – to save his last surviving uncle from Karaba and to see her (and her army of fetishes) for himself. The spoon-sized hero rescues the village children from Karaba several times and solves the mystery of the Cursed Spring, before slipping past Karaba's all-seeing Lookout Fetish to find out from his grandfather, the Wise Man of the Mountains, just why Karaba is so wicked.
The distinctive Africanness of its origin, setting, appearance and sound gives 'Kirikou and the Sorceress' the kind of striking freshness which Disney lost decades ago. The ochres and browns of Kirikou's village, the fiery red of the flame trees, the vibrant green of the jungle and the barren grey of Karaba's tent all bring a richly textured sense of place to the film. The characters are all unmistakably African, and sport as impressive an array of hairstyles as is ever likely to be seen in a cartoon. Karaba's totemic fetishes, with their strange shapes and robot-like movements, are eerie rather than frightening. The excellent soundtrack – the first by renowned Sengalese musician Youssou N'Dour – is played using only traditional African instruments.
Like Kirikou himself, the film races along at an extraordinary pace, bursting with ingenious ideas, and posing all manner of questions. Whereas the adults around him are all trapped in their own prejudices and superstitions, the newborn Kirikou brings a child's fresh perspective to the problems faced by the village, and his intelligence and inquisitiveness mark him out as the natural inheritor of his grandfather's (and indeed his mother's) wisdom. Kirikou's story illustrates (without ever preaching) the value of innocence and intellectual curiosity, the unimportance of size, and the need at times to empathise with, or even love, one's enemy. It also demonstrates vividly that the best way to resolve a conflict is not to keep on fighting to the end, but to investigate and address its underlying causes, however thorny.
So it seems that 'Kirikou and the Sorceress' is as much an adults' as a children's film after all. Kirikou's little village is also the world village, and its disruption and eventual reintegration contains valuable lessons for us all. A beautifully realised, pacy, thoughtful classic.
It's Got: A truly tiny hero, cute squirrels, a nasty skunk, an angry bird, an aggressive warthog, and mysterious mechanical fetishes.
It Needs: To be watched by children and adults alike, preferably together.
DVD Extras The extras are few, but essential. There is no commentary, but it is hard to imagine what a scene-by-scene commentary would add. There are excellent sleeve notes by Fiona Morrow, and a brief but informative on-disk biography of director/writer/designer Michel Ocelot (who moved to Guinea as a child). Most important is the option to watch the superb original French version (with or without English subtitles), featuring not just a soundtrack but also voices all recorded in Youssou NDours studio, or a new English version which is also very good. DVD Extras Rating: 5/10
Alternatives:The Jungle Book
This stunningly animated West African myth will cast a charming spell on both young and old. A beautifully realised, pacy, intelligent classic, bringing magic and reason together into a perfect marriage.