Director: Michel Ocelot
Airing Date: December 21, 1983 – ?
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

La Princesse Insensible © Michel OcelotAfter the artistic successes of ‘Les trois inventeurs‘ (1979) and ‘La légende du pauvre bossu‘ (1982) Ocelot turned his skills to a gentle and entertaining television series for children.

The series, called ‘La princesse insensible’ (the insensitive princess), consists of thirteen episodes and has a very simple story line: a princess is so bored that nothing can amuse her. The king declares that when a prince manages to amuse the princess nonetheless, he will win her. In the 4 minute long episodes we watch several young princes, sorcerers in fact, trying to amuse her in her own theater, all in vain.

‘La princesse insensible’ uses a mixture of traditional and cut-out animation. Ocelot’s animation may be simple, no doubt due to a limited budget, but it’s very effective in its pantomimed action. The series’ design is elegant in its recreation of an 18th century atmosphere. The framing story is told in silhouettes, reminiscent of the work by Lotte Reiniger, but the theater scenes are in bright colors. The atmosphere is fairy-like and surreal throughout, helped by Christian Maire’s otherworldly music. In all, ‘La princesse insensible’ is a little charming series, which shows Ocelot’s delicate and unique voice in the animation world.

The separate episodes of ‘La princesse insensible’ are listed below:

1. Le Prince dompteur (The Tamer Prince)
This episode tells the framing story and shows us the first prince. He has a menagerie of trained fairy tale animals: a unicorn, a three-headed dog, a Chinese dragon and a phoenix.

2. Le Prince jardinier (The Gardener Prince)
The second episode, like all following episodes of ‘La princesse insensible’, starts without the framing story. Instead the story is told in the title song. After the intro, we watch the second prince performing right away. He’s a garden prince, able to make plants and flowers grow on the bare floors and pillars of the princess’s theater. When he fails to impress the princess, he disappears on an ever-growing tree.

3. Le Prince à transformations (The Transforming Prince)
The third prince trying to impress the insensible princess is the most interesting to animation fans. Being called the metamorphosis prince, he’s able to transform himself into all kinds of people and things. Ocelot uses some beautiful metamorphosis animation in doing so. The prince’s performance builds up to a great finale, in which the prince transforms himself into seemingly hundreds of things, which is depicted by the rapid showing of random pictures. This simple device works because we’ve seen the process of transformation just before that. It also adds a humorous touch to the fairy-like atmosphere, because many of the objects are anachronisms in the 18th century setting.

4. Le Prince sourcier (The Dowser Prince)
The fourth prince, the ‘diviner prince’, is able to sprout water everywhere, using a divining-rod, turning the princess’s theater into a fountain. One of the more fairy-like episodes of ‘la princesse insensible’, ‘Le prince sourcier’ is less impressive than the first three episodes. After these three, the diviner prince even fails to impress we viewers.

5. Le Prince qui fait semblant (The Pretender Prince)
The fifth prince trying to impress the princess is almost typically french: he’s a mime artist, miming (among others) that he plays the piano, rides a bicycle and even a motorcycle inside the princess’s theater. When he fails to impress the princess he even mimes that he commits suicide. Like ‘le prince à transformation’ this episode has an extra touch because of the anachronisms.

6. Le Prince météorologue (The Meteorologist Prince)
The sixth prince is called the weather prince, and he’s able to make clouds dancing within the princess’s theater. He also makes rain, lightning and a rainbow. When he leaves the princess unimpressed, he covers himself in snow. One of the lesser episodes of ‘la princesse insensible’, ‘le prince météorologue’ nevertheless shows Ocelot’s fantasy. When one doesn’t expect any more meteorological wonders, the prince transforms the rainbow into numbers and patterns.

7. Le Prince sous-marin (The Underwater Prince)
The seventh prince arrives in a fish-like submarine inside an enormous fish-tank. Compared to the other princes, his antics are relatively believable, although he seems to have the ability to make fish forming patterns. This episode is one of the lesser entries in the series, despite the beautiful old-fashioned design of the princes’ submarine.

8. Le Prince volant (The Flying Prince)
The eight prince, the flying prince, looks like a Japanese superhero with wings. During his flight, we see more of the theater than in any other episode. Apparently there’s more public than the princess alone.

9. Le Prince décorateur (The Decorator Prince)
The decorator prince is able to turn the complete theater upside-down, to change its colors by clever lighting. When the princess is unimpressed as ever, he descends into the basements.

10. Le Prince magicien (The Magician Prince)
This prince is called the ‘magician prince’, even though many of the other princess were skilled magicians as well. The prince enters on a flying carpet and turns the pillars of the theater into palm trees, the chandelier into a beach ball and the stone ornaments into butterflies. Then he turns his own hat into a zeppelin and the furniture into a train. Enraged by the princess’s non-reaction, the prince makes everything disappear again, including the theater and himself.

11. Le Prince peintre (The Painter Prince)
The Painter prince episode, unlike the other episodes, has some false starts, as the prince repeatedly forgets something he needs to paint his enormous canvas. The painter exactly copies the theater on his canvas, then paints a happy portrait of the princess. But when she remains unimpressed, he violates his own drawings. It’s charming to see the shadows of Ocelot’s paper figure of the painter, while he’s painting the enormous canvas. It gives the series its handicraft appeal.

12. Le Prince artificier (The Artificer Prince)
The fireworks prince, like the painter prince, knows some false starts, when he has troubles preparing the fireworks in the dark. The fireworks effects are created nicely with kaleidoscope effects into beautiful abstract patterns. The prince also illuminates the theater with neon lights. In the end the prince disappears on a rocket, after which the complete theater explodes.

13. Le Prince écolier (The Schoolboy Prince)
The last prince, ‘the schoolboy prince’, is much less skilled than the other princes, but he immediately solves the princess’s problem: she appears to be terribly nearsighted, and he helps her with his glasses. They are married, and the other princes perform for the princess once again, which leads to a sequence with highlights from the previous episodes.

‘La princesse insensible’ is available on the DVD ‘Les trésors cachés de Michel Ocelot’

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