Studio Ghibli Retrospective Review: The Little Norse Prince (1968, Isao Takahata)

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1968 is the year in which two political leaders were assassinated and man first orbited the moon.  It was also the year in which two of the most referred filmmakers first collaborated, sparking the beginning of a partnership that years later created one of the most acclaimed animation studios, Studio Ghibli. Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki are known for their far reaching themes projected through their beautiful drawn productions, pushing eastern art and ideologies into both east and west consumers. Within their first collaboration, The Little Norse Prince, these two auteurs were able to present similar ideas to their latter work, be it on a smaller budget and craft.

Following a young warrior (Horus) as he saves a village from an ice demon, The Little Norse Prince blurs both fantasy and history within its narrative. Set in an unknown Scandinavian country, the film presents aspects of Norse mythology – such as death rituals – in developing its cinematic landscape. Blending into this Japanese legends as well as magic, The Little Norse Prince attempts to create a fully realised fantasy realm. However the use of magic is mainly to serve as catalysts in driving the plot forward,  and the film instead opts to take elements of well known fables and myths to bulk out its premise. From pulling a sword out of a rock face (King Arthur) to fighting of a pack of ice wolves (Narnia), the narrative of this film seems to be tailored around likeable storylines which are blurred into a coherent arc. This becomes problematic in creating a narrative that feels unique, with so many elements borrowed or adapted from other literature works. Although the film flows smoothly through to its conclusion, The Little Norse Prince struggles to shake of the dull feeling it resonates in copying other well known pieces of writing.

With Studio Ghibli acclaimed for the highly impactful and beautifully drawn animations it has produced, The Little Norse Prince disappoints in feeling rather rough around the edges. The characters are inconsistent in their designs, and various action sequences resort to frozen images in place of animated frames. These two elements show the low budget Isao Takahata had at his disposal, and although this film is not considered part of the Studio Ghibli canon it still delivers a poor example of the famed filmmaker’s work. With the film considered a masterpiece in driving anime forward commercially, the fact that certain points of its production are so poorly handled drives the question as to why? For a 60s audience, the film may well have presented a new medium of film, but upon retrospect,The Little Norse Prince greatly disappoints.

The film excels in the design of its environments, snow-peaked mountains and weather-battered villages drawn to perfectly reflect the narrative. With some broader ideas that never fully work, The Little Norse Prince attempts to project animation beyond the demographic of the child audience. Whether the film has aged poorly or was confined to quality and budget issues is an area of subjective opinion. However, in a landscape used to high quality animations, The Little Norse Prince struggles to maintain its relevance. Luckily, both filmmakers have gone on to direct and produce animated films much greater than what was crafted within this film. 

Plot 2

Acting 3

Direction 2

Retrospect 1

Overall 2

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