Kirikou and the Sorceress

Michel Ocelot is a French animator who didn’t make his first feature until he was 55 years old- and what a great debut it is. Kirikou and the Sorceress draws deeply from the rich folk tales of West Africa as it spins a series of wild tales focused on Kirikou- a young African boy with an impish spirit and, shall we say, larger-than-life powers.

But Kirikou is no superhero- he’s a kid, one who often doesn’t know better, but manages to save the day anyway using his wits. Ocelot, who spent most of his childhood in Guinea, creates a beautiful geometric style of animation to tell this authentic folk story with a flavor that’s all his own. Kirikou is tiny tiny tiny, but size definitely does not matter here. His imaginative approach to any problem (in this case, a sorceress who has been terrorizing the village for years) makes him a spiritual sibling to Krishna; the parallels between those Hindu tales and these are impossible to ignore, and a refreshing contrast to the kind of children’s fare we’re subjected to in the West.

Not that everyone appreciated the film when it came out- despite its numerous awards, it was banned in the U.S. and the U.K., two prudish cultures who apparently couldn’t deal with the myriad Black female breasts and tiny penises visible in the film. Despite their completely non-sexualized depiction, and the obvious fact that people from that time and place barely wore clothes, it was clearly too much for our repressed societies, preventing Kirikou from reaching mass audiences in these countries.

No matter, you can enjoy it now. Kirikou penetrates the Sorceress’ oddly pseudo-mechanical forces, he digs deep tunnels past creepy and cute animals, he dresses up like a bird and flies high, he tames a wild boar, he chats with a wizened old sage deep inside a mountain- and more. The film spurred two successful sequels, but it all starts here, with a beautiful blend of natural and supernatural, animal and spirit, silly and serious.

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