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Tales of the Night(2011)
Each night in a seemingly disused cinema a girl, a boy, the old projectionist Téo and their friend, a scops owl, gather together to design and enact fantastic tales inspired by the folklore and art of different lands and times, assisted by Téo's machines which bring their drawings to life.
For more about Tales of the Night and the Tales of the Night Blu-ray release, see Tales of the Night Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 22, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Michel Ocelot
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Tales of the Night Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 22, 2013
One of the greatest pleasures of being a reviewer is suddenly being introduced to an artist who was previously unknown to you, and discovering a whole new world of fanciful whimsy. Such an occurrence happened to me several years ago when I was writing for another site and was assigned a title I had never heard of, Azur and Asmar: The Prince's Quest (a film that is fairly screaming to be released on a domestic Blu-ray). I'm not quite sure what I expected to see, but I what I did see was one of the most magical tales in recent memory, told in a completely ingratiating animated style that was quite unlike anything from either the "usual suspects" like Disney and/or Pixar or the world of anime. The film's creator turned out to the rather fancifully named Michel Ocelot, and I soon found out that he had a long and distinguished history in France, including many international awards for what is considered his best known work, Kirikou and the Sorceress. (For my money, Azur and Asmar: The Prince's Quest is a much more enjoyable and satisfying film than Kirikou is.) Ocelot is equally at home in both traditional as well as computer generated animation styles, so one never knows quite what to expect with any new offering from the writer- director. Tales of the Night fits into one of Ocelot's more recent obsessions, namely silhouettes. Virtually all of this kind of quasi- portmanteau is done via shadowed versions of all the characters, with only the background providing visual relief and depth of field. It might be assumed that this would be a really boring and flat style that might provide little if any visual interest, but under Ocelot's masterful guidance, the film is actually a riot of ingenuity and some amazing design aesthetics.
Those who are, as I was a few years ago, unfamiliar with Michel Ocelot might initially have a bit of a problem relaxing into the filmmaker's more relaxed storytelling style, one that is in a certain way reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki's iconic Studio Ghibli films. Ocelot, like Miyazaki, traffics in folklore and fairy tale, but perhaps even more importantly he isn't that concerned with the "Syd Field" style of modern day screenplay writing, with its insistence on a tripartite act structure hitting certain marks on certain preset page numbers. In fact Tales of the Night is, as mentioned above, a sort of quasi-portmanteau where a half dozen relatively brief stories are told within the framing device of an elderly man and two young assistants having a film studio at their disposal to finally tell the kinds of stories they want to, free of arbitrary dictates coming from bean counters.
As with any great compilation of fairy tales, Ocelot's film is full to the brim with various magical scenarios, including lots of talking (and even singing) animals, trips to faraway lands (including an underworld land of the dead) and improbable happenings which somehow seem patently believable within the often childlike storytelling conventions which this film exploits. We get brief introductory segments with the trio of "filmmakers" where they decide what story they're going to tell next, sequences that often include some of the few non-silhouette imagery in the entire film, as they look at various illustrations and etchings to help them craft their "production design" for the stories. There is also fanciful machine that helps them create hairdos, headgear and costumes for each individual tale.
The stories themselves are a mixed bag, but many (if not most) of them deal with star-crossed love. Magical transformations take place in at least a couple of these tales, including a boy who becomes a werewolf and a girl who becomes a deer in separate stories. As mentioned above, there are a lot of talking creatures scattered throughout the tales, from horses to bees to iguanas. Each of the stories tends to exploit a different exotic locale, with everything from Africa to Mesoamerica to a sort of Caribbean take on the underworld informing different segments of the film. While one might assume a film exploiting a silhouette technique might be monochromatic, in fact Tales of the Night is a veritable riot of color—but almost entirely relegated to backgrounds. It gives the film a rather fascinatingly inherent depth of field (the film was originally released in 3D, but this Blu-ray offers only a 2D presentation).
Tales of the Night is admittedly slight, but it's an immensely beautiful and often quite heartfelt film that should easily appeal to kids (of all ages). There's a certain innocence to all of Ocelot's work that is incredibly ingratiating, especially in these often cynical times. Ocelot loves to invest ancient (or at least ancient seeming) folk tales with his own rather unique personality, and Tales of the Night is just the latest example of what a winning strategy that has turned out to be for the filmmaker. If you know of Ocelot's work, you'll no doubt be charmed by Tales of the Night. If you haven't yet discovered this remarkable animation master, prepare to enjoy a singular sort of vision that places Ocelot as one of the most distinctive practitioners of his craft current working in film.
Tales of the Night Blu-ray, Video Quality
Tales of the Night is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of New Video Group with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.77:1. As stated above in the main body of the review, Tales of the Night was released theatrically in 3D, but this Blu-ray offers only a 2D presentation. (This is therefore the second recent New Video Group Blu-ray title to do this, the other being Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai.) Tales of the Night exploits an extremely unusual silhouette technique, one which posits all foreground objects solely (or at least mostly) in black, with color and depth being provided only through the backgrounds. Even a cursory glance at the screenshots accompanying this review will prove what an astounding variety of textures and styles, not to mention palettes, Ocelot has brought to this project, and this Blu-ray offers it all with beautifully saturated color and well delineated detail between the black foregrounds and colorful backgrounds. There are occasional very minor stability and density issues (notably deeply saturated colors surrounding silhouetted heads), but otherwise this is a sterling presentation that should easily delight videophiles.
Tales of the Night Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Tales of the Night features an English dub presented via a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, and the original French language track presented via DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The French mix is very charming, but noticeably less aggressive than the 5.1 mix. The 5.1 mix doesn't really provide a hugely immersive soundstage, but there are some great effects along the way, most noticeable in such segments as the young boy who plays the magical tom-toms in one sequence. Fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is quite wide.
Tales of the Night Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Tales of the Night Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you're the sort of viewer who requires "in your face" entertainment 100% of the time, you should no doubt stay far, far away from any of Michel Ocelot's small scale, charming animated offerings. But for those of you who enjoy a decided change of pace, one which is more like a leisurely stroll through an enchanted wonderland rather than a hectic collision with nonstop hustle bustle, Ocelot's oeuvre is a delicacy to be savored. I've been hoping against hope that Azur and Asmar: The Prince's Quest would be released on domestic Blu-ray (it's currently available only as an extremely pricey Japanese import), but until that long held dream becomes a reality, Ocelot fans and other curious types can at least revel in Tales of the Night. A beautifully animated little collection of folk tales (or quasi-folk tales), this gorgeously wrought film is unlike any other animated film you've probably seen, which in and of itself ought to be enough to incite interest in at least a few of you. This Blu-ray offers excellent video and audio, and some appealing supplements. Highly recommended.
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