The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

Modern storytelling is built upon the foundations of ancient lore. These pure forms of narrative are a moral heritage continuing to inspire the modern era with accounts of archetypal heroes, dastardly villains and, of course, profound wisdom. Lotte Reiniger, the director of this piece, was immersed in a career of recreating childhood fascinations from Hansel and Gretel to Puss in Boots and Cinderella in the shadow puppetry style of her own.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed recounts the legend of the eponymous hero’s quest to battle Hydras, giant snakes and vanquish an all powerful Wizard, in balletic simplicity. This legend is infused with the unforgettable tale of the pauper Aladdin and his fortune of discovering an omnipotent Genie. It is the ubiquitous template for all great ancient adventures and bed time stories. These classic fables are told and re-told forever and again by cinema, paintings, music and parents, but Lotte Reiniger’s take is unique in visual poetry.

Cutting figures from black card and arranging them on backlit backdrops, Reiniger photographed each minute movement in single frame succession until finally compiling the first stop motion feature. The results of three years of labour are truly astounding as characters move and breathe subtle emotions through expert manipulation of empathetic body language. In a wondrous free flow, characters come to life with idiosyncratic traits; Achmed strides as the confident hero whilst the Sorcerer sways and twists inhumanly during enchantments and beasts slither in unsettling unnaturalness. In one particular sequence, a bizarre monster shed its disguise as a tree and emerges in full hideous form. The movements are hypnotic in their elegance and exude the love and dedication required to bring life to paper.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

The delightful world of flying horses and magic lamps requires no grand exploration or motivation, it is a dreamy vignette of marvels and Reiniger shapes the mythic universe accordingly. Heroes, villains, princesses, beasts and backdrops are stripped to archetypal and universally understood figures, compounded by the absoluteness of plain black card. A single colour dominates each scene and shines through intricately designed settings, though Reiniger leaves a vacancy to urge our own imaginations to participate in detailing the adventure.

These qualities and the sophisticated silhouette technique render the film as magical in a childlike quality. The tale of the flying horse ascending through clouds into twinkling stars, or beautiful women flying in elegant swan dresses is all the more enchanting because of the simplistic visuals. It is a shame any title cards are used. The story is clear and expressed exquisitely by the director’s expert animation. It is a story as old as storytelling and simply ingrained in us.

The talented touch of Reiniger animates dark shapes to magical life in a film of myth and legend as captivating as the immortal sources.

Classic Moment… 

Aladdin recounts his tale, featuring one of the most beloved and well known twists of fate. Abandoned for dead in a labyrinth cavern, Aladdin sits alone and helpless with a seemingly worthless lamp. Aladdin rubs the mysterious lamp and suddenly a swirling blue mist appears and forms an awe inspiring, all powerful Genie.

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