“Madame, you are looking at the happiest man in the world,” says King Charles V+III=VIII+VIII=XVI to the shepherdess. The mockingbird interrupts, “But not for long! Don’t try to escape. All my birds are here, not to mention the rest of them.” Various animals begin storming in.
Paul Grimault’s French animated classic The King and the Mockingbird has had an interesting production history. Production started in 1948 under the title The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep but was halted in 1950 due to its expense (Les Gemeaux, the studio that financed it, would go out of business due to it). The unfinished film was released in 1952 by producer Andre Sarrut, angering Grimault and co-writer Jacques Prevert. It took Grimault 15 years to get the rights to the film back and another 10 years to raise the money to complete the film as originally envisioned. The finally-completed version was released in 1980, using 42 of the 62 minutes from the 1952 version (Grimault’s complete version runs 83 minutes). I recently had a chance to see Grimault’s The King and the Mockingbird on the big screen at Film Forum in New York City as part of their Film Forum Jr. series (Sundays at 11am). It was presented in a lovely DCP restoration courtesy of Rialto Pictures, and it was very enjoyable.
1980’s The King and the Mockingbird is set in the kingdom of Takicardia, which is ruled by King Charles V+III=VIII+VIII=XVI, a heartless, lonely, cross-eyed ruler. His secret apartment inside his castle contains many paintings, including one of himself (a non-cross-eyed version), a shepherdess, and a chimney sweep, who all come alive at night. The king is in love with the shepherdess but she is in love with the chimney sweep. Finally fed up, the non-cross-eyed version of the king deposes the real king, takes his place, and orders the capture of the shepherdess and the chimney sweep (who are being aided by a mockingbird whose wife had been killed by the real king). For his complete version, Grimault utilized a fine voice cast that includes Jean Martin (as the Mockingbird), Pascal Mazzotti (as King Charles V+III=VIII+VIII=XVI), Agnes Viala (as the Shepherdess), Renaud Marx (as the Chimney Sweep), Raymond Bussieres (as the Chief of Police), Hubert Deschamps (as the giant robot), Roger Blin (as the blind barrel organ player), Philippe Derrez (as the elevator operator), Albert Medina (as the Beastmaster), and Claude Pieplu (as the Mayor of the Palace).
The screenplay by Grimault and Prevert expands upon the original tale The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep by Hans Christian Andersen, creating a satirical cat-and-mouse game that is filled with surprises (and some influence by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times). The production design by Grimault, Lionel Charpy, and Roger Duclent is incredible; the castle is so huge and has so many different areas (it would make any wealthy nut job jealous). The hand-drawn animation is simply superb (it’s extremely difficult to tell which scenes were drawn in the 1940s and which were done in the 1970s). I also liked the character designs (particularly the giant robot). Grimault’s editing moves the film along at a wonderful pace, and Wojciech Kilar delivers a moving, classical score. Grimault’s The King and the Mockingbird is animated classic that took over 30 years to complete, but the wait was surely worth it as it entertains and delights both kids and adults alike.