With prices for cinema tickets now reaching ridiculous heights it’s not often I will treat myself to a new release unless it’s something I simply cannot wait for. Instead, I’m happy to content myself with a cheap DVD or a film on TV which may have slipped through my critical net and, believe me, there have been far too many. Whether the films featured here are recent or old I’ll still be providing my honest opinion on them and, with the benefit of hindsight in many cases, may offer a slightly different take to contemporary reviewers.
The Little Norse Prince (1968)
A piece of anime history, The Little Norse Prince was directed by Isao Takahata who was responsible for the brilliant Grave of the Fireflies (1988) and amongst his staff for this feature was a little known animator named Hayao Miyazaki! Miyazaki’s contemporary reputation for animation excellence is without question but I was fascinated to see an early example of anime and how it compared to the advances made in such films today.
Set in Scandinavia in the Iron Age, the film follows the progress of a young boy, Hols, who encounters a rock giant named Mogue who complains of a thorn causing him trouble. Hols discovers the thorn is actually a sword and after removing it, Mogue informs the boy that the blade is the Sword of the Sun and, once re-forged, he will come to Hols who will become the Prince of the Sun. Retaining the sword, Hols returns home to find his father on his deathbed. He beseeches Hols to return to his ancestral village that his father abandoned after it came under attack from the evil Grunwald. Hols sets out with his pet bear, Coro, but faces opposition from Grunwald throughout his journey.
Watching The Little Norse Prince does feel like being amongst a group of animators that are trying to find the right balance for a successful anime feature. Some of the animation is certainly not of the high standard seen today with background crowds being statuesque and battles in the film comprising of a montage of still frames rather than an elaborate depiction of combat. Fights featuring Hols are well animated with him facing packs of wolves, a giant pike and ultimately Grunwald himself. That said, for a film that is over 40 years old, a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked, the standard is very good indeed.
While the animation shows signs of the studio finding its feet with the genre, similar can be said of the storyline which is not the film’s strongest point. Hols’ journey to his ancestral village to face Grunwald is filled with danger, not least protecting other villages, but his status as a hero is not embraced by those that still perceive him to be a threat. Things get worse for Hols when facing another major complication in the form of the beautiful Hilda who sings enchanting songs but harbours a crucial secret, and is not made welcome in a village Hols protects. The story doesn’t convey the same emotional depth as say Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001), or Grave of the Fireflies, the latter being one of the most moving films you will ever see. The main set pieces of the film are very good though: Hols’ slaying of the pike and his final showdown with Grunwald all deserve nods. There is much to appreciate with the rest of the film but it is at a basic level with Takahata laying the foundations for future anime masterpieces.
The film was beset with financial difficulties which explain its short running time of 82 minutes and the montages of still frames that replace complex battles. If The Little Norse Prince had been released today with the same standard of animation and storyline then it would likely have received a critical mauling. The important thing to remember in watching it is that this was made in 1968 and that although the animation isn’t spectacular there is still some good work on offer here. If anime fans can view The Little Norse Prince as a vital piece of anime history then it is a film that can be appreciated and enjoyed.
The Little Norse Prince may not appeal to those who just want to watch the best that anime has to offer but for those that want to immerse themselves in this genre then this is a good place to start, right at the beginning. Takahata and Miyazaki would, of course, go on to found the wonderful Studio Ghibli in 1985 and for that they will always immortalised in anime history. Looking back at The Little Norse Prince is a fascinating journey, seeing how early anime looked and, disbelievingly, a time when Hayao Miyazaki was just another animator.
Final Score: 7/10
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