The Adventures of Prince Achmed, and watching old movies.

This is another spoiler-free review because I’m darn certain none of you have even heard of today’s movie: The Adventures of Prince Achmed. It’s actually the first full-length animated film, created in 1926, beating out Snow White (1937) by 11 years. A German woman named Lotte Reiniger used elaborate cutouts, animated frame-by-frame, to tell the story of an impetuous prince, tricked into mounting a flying horse which carries him far from home, as he makes a few friends, kidnaps a princess, battles the forces of evil, and eventually returns home.

It’s not a difficult story to predict, and it has some distinctly problematic themes (pretty princess prizes, the Magical Negro, terrible racist caricatures, and kangaroos in China) but a lot of that is easy to forgive. It is, after all, a movie made by a 23-year-old German, between the two World Wars, about places and races (and animals) she’d never seen. Things that would be unacceptable now I found myself turning a blind eye to (just had to keep repeating, “1926! 1926!”) and it actually ended up charming me.

The stunning artwork goes a long, long way towards redeeming this film. No, seriously, I was enthralled; just look:

Alladin finding his "wunderlampe."

Aladdin finding his "wunderlampe."

Using the lamp.

Using the lamp.

Okay, so Ms. Reiniger has clearly never seen an elephant. It was still a beautiful movie!

Okay, so Ms. Reiniger has clearly never seen an elephant. It was still a beautiful movie!

A happy ending for Alladin.

A happy ending for Aladdin.

And you’ve got to keep in mind, all these figures moved, with surprising grace. I particularly loved it whenever the women were on screen– as you can see in the last screenshot, they wore lovely gowns with tiny details cut out from them, and they were even more beautiful in motion.

This is a silent film (though with an excellent musical score), which may be a negative for you. I kind of enjoy having the language centers of my brain completely unoccupied so I can analyze a movie as I watch it, but it’s very easy to let your mind wander. Still, if you like beautiful things and old things, and don’t mind putting up with some ninety-year-old racism and sexism to see said beautiful, old things, check your local library for The Adventures of Prince Achmed. That’s where I found my copy– in the children’s section.

Man, people put a lot more effort into children’s movies in 1926.


2 Responses to The Adventures of Prince Achmed, and watching old movies.

  1. wiggles says:

    I have this in my Netflix queue, because I went and sought out movies made by women. It’s pretty incredible that I’d never heard of this movie until I did that. Especially considering how “pioneering” Snow White was supposed to have been. Like it was the first animated feature Evar!
    Bumping it up to the top of my queue now. It looks awesome.
    Is it a children’s movie, though? It seems more like an experimental film to me.

  2. eloriane says:

    It was in my library’s children’s section, but that could very well just be because people assume animation = for kids. It was a somewhat simplistic story, but still completely fascinating.

    And, yeah, I’m surprised no one knows of it! I think Snow White was more of a commercial success (by a lot), but still, it shouldn’t claim to be “the first animated feature film”– they should have a qualifier, like “American” or “commercially successful” or “hand-drawn.” Oh well.

    I hope you enjoy the movie, and tell me what you think!

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