Film Review: Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998)
Kirikou and the Sorceress is the debut animated feature film of the renowned French animator/writer/director, Michel Ocelot.
Drawing upon folkloric elements from West African folktales, the film tells the story of the fantastically walking and talking and insatiably curious newborn (yes, he’s just been born!), Kirikou, who has many adventures and run-ins with the evil sorceress Karaba.
Kirikou and the Sorceress combines the talents of animators and production companies across many European nations: France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Hungary, and Latvia. It is a wonderfully fruitful partnership, bringing to life a beautiful and poignant story of the extraordinary little duffer who could.
The Extraordinary Newborn
My name is Kirikou and I know what I want.
Kirikou is born walking and talking into a small, African village that is plagued by the evildoings of the neighboring sorceress, Karaba. All the men in the village have disappeared – save two – supposedly devoured by Karaba, leaving just the women and the children behind. The water supply has dried up because of her. Precocious, curious, forthright, earnest and tiny, Kirikou insists on investigating his world, on understanding why it is that Karaba is so cruel.
Kirikou has multiple run-ins with Karaba and her animated statues, which do her bidding. He foils more than a few of her nefarious plans with his quick-thinking and even quicker feet. Despite all the good he does, saving repeatedly the other children, the minuscule and insatiably curious Kirikou is often bullied by the other village children. His forthrightness is considered disrespectful by many of the adults.
But he persists and seeks wisdom and understanding at the feet of the banished oracle, the grandfather in the mountain. It is a perilous journey for a pint-sized duffer, fraught with angry animals and an even angrier Karaba. But he makes it and gains in understanding and devises a plan to rid the village of Karaba’s evildoings once and for all. Because now that he knows what makes her bad, he intends to deal with the root cause.
Does he succeed? Can he save his village? Can he remove Karaba’s evil? I won’t reveal it all, but like all folktales, there are very satisfying and surprising transformations and restorations at the end.
And did I mention that Kirikou does all these feats while stark naked? Yes, there is much non-sexualized, naturalized nudity in Kirikou and the Sorceress, lots of exposed breasts and naked children running around. This can potentially upset some viewers.
A Modern-Day, European Classic
I live in Denmark, where the Kirikou movies are shown with regularity on the public broadcasting network. So, you’d be hard-pressed in this country to find kids and their adults, who don’t know Kirikou. The same goes for France and many other European nations. My own children love Kirikou. Heck, I love Kirikou. Unfortunately, because of the naturalized nakedness of many of the characters, the Kirikou films have not been exported with success to the big markets of the English-speaking world. This is truly unfortunate.
Kirikou and the Sorceress is a lovely film, beautifully animated, full of humor and insight, full of great tribal beats and music. It is thought-provoking and life-affirming. It investigates the nature of evil, of how it is that people can be and become bad. Supposedly insignificant little people do extraordinarily brave things. Kirikou is a delightful little duffer. There are many nuances And yeah, there are lots of breasts and little dingles dangling, but, again, there is nothing but Edenic innocence in their nakedness, making it all beautifully liberating.
So, if you can track it down, I cannot recommend Kirikou and the Sorceress and its successive sequels, Kirikou and the Wild Beasts (2005) and Kirikou and the Men and the Women (2012), highly enough.
Content Note: Rated G in Europe and (unfairly) MA in the USA. As mentioned above, there is naturalized nudity throughout, but none of it is sexualized. Think of it as an animated National Geographic documentary, depicting foreign cultures with different ways of life.
Where to Watch: DVD.
Photo Credits: Gébéka Films.
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
“I have not the pleasure of