In 1999, Jean-François Laguionie, a French animator with directing credits dating back to 1965, made his third feature, Le Château Des Singes (The Castle Of Monkeys). It followed a rebellious teenage simian discovering an ostensibly more civilised society of simians, only to get caught up in a plot to murder a king. In the UK in 2000, the film was released as A Monkey’s Tale. The screenplay was considerably reworked in the translation to English, Rik Mayall played a comic relief villain, and the marketing campaign heavily promoted a soundtrack song by Westlife. It’s basically the epitome of a dawn of the millennium bastardisation of a foreign animation.
What does any of this have to do with Laguionie’s charming new film, The Prince’s Voyage, co-directed with Xavier Picard? Well, although it is not an explicit continuation, the new film sees Laguionie explore new ideas and stories within what seems to be the same universe. The lead of this film shares the design and royal lineage of a supporting character from A Monkey’s Tale, and that previous film’s lead character is alluded to in a flashback. But The Prince’s Voyage requires absolutely no knowledge of A Monkey’s Tale to follow its story – a relief to many.
Although perfectly accessible for children, The Prince’s Voyage is a particularly cine-literate animation for adult viewers, with apparent homages to more than just Planet Of The Apes, which immediately comes to mind when a simian adult washes up on a beach at the start.
Claiming to be Prince Laurent from across the ocean, he finds himself in a realm of simians, with young boy Tom as his guide, where creatures of his kind living overseas is the stuff of legend. Think the apes of Planet Of The Apes being flummoxed by humans speaking, except with simians refusing to believe that other simians exist anywhere else.
With a graceful, delicate animation style and mellow score, this is a compelling, tender and thoughtful exploration of xenophobia through a fantasy context.
The Prince’s Voyage is showing at London Film Festival on 6 October.