The King And The Mockingbird film review

1980’s Ghibli-inspiring steampunk fairy tale Le Roi et l’oiseau gets a UK cinema release

The King And The Mockingbird is a classic of French animation. Scripted by poet Jacques Prévert and director Paul Grimault, it’s been cited by Studio Ghibli legends Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata as a major influence on their work.

The film is a loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Shepherdess And The Chimney Sweep. Grimault and Prevert’s first attempt to tell this tale was released in 1953, but they were never happy with the results. It took Grimault decades to regain the rights and complete the film as he originally intended, with half the feature meticulously reworked into The King And The Mockingbird.

The story follows the tyrannical King of Takicardia, who is in love with a painting of a shepherdess, while she only has eyes for a portrait of a chimney sweep. At night these pictures come to life and escape the king’s apartments, pursued by his even-more-villainous portrait doppelganger.

Only the titular mockingbird stands up to the ridiculous despot, helping the lovers evade the king’s forces as they make their way through the underbelly of the city.

For a film half-conceived in the Forties, it’s forward thinking and bold. Scenes of mass-produced iconography hearken back to the likes of Modern Times and Metropolis, and sit side by side with more traditional fairy tale imagery of kings, palaces and courtiers. Steampunk fans may also be pleasantly surprised: the King uses a metal elevator to travel up and down his kingdom and even has a giant robot that beats its chest like King Kong. This fusion of old and new is daring and attention-grabbing.

The score is by Wojciech Kilar, who also created the music for The Ninth Gate and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was also used in American Horror Story, in case you recognised it. The film suits his reflective and melancholic soundtrack, particularly as there’s minimal dialogue, with much being conveyed through movements and backdrops.

The King And The Mockingbird is a charming film, worthy of your time for its fascinating history, humour and blend of styles.