List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed)
Director: Lotte Reiniger
Animated movies don’t always get a lot of love from ‘best film’ lists. For someone who ranks animation as their favourite type of film and TV show… this is a bit of a problem. By the time I started this blog there were only two animated entries left for the 1001 movies list: Heaven and Earth Magic and The Adventures of Prince Achmed. I have been sitting on these final two animated entries for almost four years – and it’s time to cross off the first one.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed is special. On the surface it would appear that this film earns its place on the 1001 list because it is the oldest surviving feature length animated movie. The two older feature length animations have been lost, which is a sad yet common issue with older movies.
However, I would contend that The Adventures of Prince Achmed earns it’s place through sheer innovation, hard work and merit. The work that Lotte Reiniger had to put into this film is mind-boggling. Due to the need to photograph 24 frames of animation per second, this movie took 3+ years to make.
Each frame of The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a work of shadow-puppetry art. You could probably print each one and put them on a wall. Despite telling one of the stories from The Arabian Nights, the style of the stop-motion shadowpuppetry comes from South-East Asia. This means that everything has a tinge of the exotic, which is the ideal aesthetic for a story of genies, sorcerers and flying horses.
Depending on the copy you have The Adventures of Prince Achmed varies between 1 hour and 1 hour 20 minutes in length. I watched the shorter/quicker version, which adds an extra frenzy to the battle scenes. What can I say, it worked well this way… especially for the best set piece of the film.
If you have seen The Sword in the Stone you will probably remember the shape-shifting fight. Well, that came from this and done through morphing shadow puppets no less. I can not even imagine the level of planning that went through the execution of that short scene. Then again I cannot begin to imagine how you would make one of these articulated puppets, let alone produce a simple sequence.
The place where The Adventures of Prince Achmed falls down is the story. It’s not even that it’s incredibly dated and rapey, but it’s cliched and simple. Then again, does that matter? Well no, it doesn’t because we’re here to watch something unique in the history of cinema an, ultimately, that’s where it wins out. It’s a hoot to watch and, as an animated film lover, it is an essential part of cinematic history.