Tales of the Night (2011) – France
Summary: Silhouetted characters are set off against exquisitely detailed backgrounds bursting with color and kaleidoscopic patterns, as the film weaves together six exotic fables each unfolding in a unique locale, from Tibet, to medieval Europe, the African plains and even the Land of the Dead. In Ocelot’s celebrated storytelling, history blends with fairytale as viewers are whisked off to visit enchanted lands full of dragons, sorcerers, shape-shifting werewolves, captive princesses, and enormous talking bees.
Recommendation: The briefest of attempts at an explanation is offered at the very beginning of the movie as to why these stories are collected or chosen for reproduction in film format by the three main characters. Parental note: some of the stories have murder and war depicted while one shows women casually topless due to geographic and cultural demand. I’d like the opportunity to watch it again, looking specifically for themes in common between these tales and what about them were appealing. Otherwise, it feels like a visually stunning collection of short stories lengthened to motion picture status.
Song of the Sea (2014) – The Republic of Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, France, and Luxembourg
Summary: When Saoirse and Ben’s mother mysteriously disappears into the ocean, the two children go on an epic journey to find out the truth about her, and in the process, discover mystical secrets about both their mother and Saoirse herself. The film takes inspiration from the mythological Selkies of Irish folklore, who live as seals in the sea but become humans on land.
Recommendation: The visuals are nearly everything – it is a beautiful geometric and organic art style with large-eyed, round-headed kids on adventure. I say nearly because I’m completely in love with the music as well; there’s a folk song as taught by mom to the kids who then have their own lyrical versions later in the movie. It’s emotional and sweet and scary and brings a facet of Irish culture to easy retelling with great voice actors. The most fun is watching little sister express herself while not speaking – her emotions are all over her face and in every gesture. Ooh, that wicked glare as only a six-year old can make!
April and the Extraordinary World (2015) – France, Belgium, and Canada
Summary: This entry is a fictional setting in Europe during 1941 while technology is stuck in the 19th century. A family of scientists is on the brink of a powerful discovery when a mysterious force suddenly abducts them, leaving their young daughter April behind. Years later, April carries on her family’s research in secret with her cat, Darwin, but soon finds herself at the center of a shadowy conspiracy and on the run from government agents, bicycle-powered airships, and cyborg rat spies!
Recommendation: There’s a great deal more going on than the above summary – the introductory scene shares the origin story of our antagonists and explains the change in world history/technology. Do you recall Steamboy and Howl’s Moving Castle (both recommended)? This is a steampunk dystopia with many moving parts illustrated as if they would work in the real world. The excitement of the characters with every step forward builds slowly, but you’re cheering them at the end. Take note of the real life scientists used by name and appearance throughout the movie. Based from a French comic, the artistic style was successfully conveyed while simplifying the details for animation.