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Kirikou and the Men and Women: Film Review

Kirikou Still - H 2012

The Bottom Line

Another welcome alternative to contemporary cartoons, courtesy of animation auteur Michel Ocelot.

Opens

October 3 (in France)

Cast

Romann Berrux, Awa Sene Sarr

Writer-Director

Michel Ocelot

Director Michel Ocelot adds another chapter to his beloved kids animation series.

PARIS -- Prolific French animator Michel Ocelot (Tales of the Night) adds another satisfying chapter to his Africa-set adventure series with Kirikou and the Men and Women (Kirikou et les hommes et les femmes), a delightfully old fashioned collection of short-form fables filled with plenty of song, dance and feel-good vibes.

Like the previous Kirikou movies, the combination of classic animation and straightforward storytelling provides a welcome antidote to the kind of overcaffeinated cartoons gracing today’s screens, and should likewise rake in healthy numbers in France, where StudioCanal has rolled it out on 500-plus prints. Overseas stints in most Euro territories are assured, while a Stateside release will depend on whether American parents can finally stomach all the on-screen nudity (mainly breasts and infant genitalia)–which, it must be noted, is entirely in good taste, especially compared to much of the violent, kid-targeted fare that’s out there.

Adapting a structure similar to 2005’s Kirikou and the Wild Beasts, the film is divided into several 10-minute segments, each of them centered around feisty tyke Kirikou (voiced by Romann Berrux), a pint-sized—or more like peanut-sized—infant with a big mouth and lots of chutzpah, especially when it comes to getting himself and his fellow villagers out of a jam.

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With each chapter introduced by an elderly narrator talking directly to the camera, the whole film takes on an Arabian Nights-style feel, mixing colorful myths with bits of humor and wit, all of it backed by an upbeat, Afro-centric score from Thibault Agyeman, with tracks sung by artists Mah Sissoko and Angélique Kidjo.

Bringing back many characters—including the sorceress Karaba (voiced by Awa Sene Sarr)—from the previous movies, the stories center around various mishaps plaguing Kirikou and his tribespeople, most of whom are women and children (despite the title, men are tellingly absent from the narrative). While each tale provides its own lesson in courage, understanding and quick-thinking, a few segments stand out, including one where a young Toureg nomad gets lost in a sandstorm and wanders into the village, only to be subjected to a rather amusing form of racism (“This foreigner is not in good condition,” one of the women remarks after noticing the boy’s white skin).

In most cases, it’s up to the fast-talking and fact-acting Kirikou to save the day, and he does so with a combination of cunning and humor, not to mention a certain naiveté about the way the world really works. But it’s precisely such innocence, and the fact that he never really loses it, which makes Kirikou such an endearing, and enduring, character—an animated hero minus all the snarky self-knowingness of the Pixar set.

Once again working in a scaled-down, 2D format, Ocelot and animation studio Mac Guff Ligne provide an exotic array of characters and locations, rendered in colorful, simple-line drawings reminiscent of the late 19th century paintings of Henri Rousseau. Lush sound design from Séverin Favriau (On Tour) provides a backdrop that’s at once realistic and folkloric.

Production companies: Les Armateurs, Mac Guff Ligne, France 3 Cinéma, Studio O

Voices: Romann Berrux, Awa Sene Sarr

Director: Michel Ocelot

Screenwriter: Michel Ocelot, from stories co-written with Bénédicte Galup, Susie Morgenstern, Cendrine Maubourguet

Producer: Didier Brunner

Executive producer: Ivan Rouveure

Production designers: Christel Boyer, Thierry Million

Music: Thibault Agyeman

Editor: Patrick Ducruet

Storyboard artist: Michel Ocelot

Animation studio: Mac Guff Ligne

Sales Agent: StudioCanal

No rating, 87 minutes