After a series of fantastical events, this pompous royal is overthrown by his portrait, whose sole mission is to steal the escaped portrait figure of a willowy shepherdess from a handsome chimney sweep whom she loves. It has all the makings of Christian Anderson’s tales; forbidden love, jealousy and trickery. After a lifesaving encounter the Chimney Sweep and the Shepherdess are helped in their escape by a self-assured Mocking Bird who frees the pair from the King’s clutches on several occasions, aiding them through the trap laden kingdom.
The film was 30 years in the making and released in 1980, but it is a pinnacle of animation with its use of colour, shape and light. Watercolour interiors contrast sharply with the angular and futuristic architecture of the kingdom, while landscapes portray a busy and fearful metropolis in dreamlike pallets. Characters range from elfin beauties to leering caricatures, all moving at a glacial and mesmerising pace.
It’s no surprise that this feature has heavily influenced some of the world’s key animators. Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki have taken a great deal from Grimault’s masterpiece, with Laputan machine in Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky bearing a large resemblance to the giant robot used by the King to catch his love.
The film’s climax is destructive, with the kingdom suffering at the hands of the King’s intentions and the viewer suffering the turmoil endured by the beautiful landscapes that were a work in progress for three decades. For the most part however this is a lyrical game of cat and mouse with inspirational design and childlike charm.