Having grown up an anime fan, I’ve always wondered why the rest of the world rarely takes animation films seriously. Seeing the praise for films like Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue (or any of his films, for that matter) and Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, I find that odd. They show mature, serious subject matter can be conveyed just as well in animation as it can in live-action, but more often than not the animated film is heavily relegated to children (not to say some of those films aren’t very good as well).
So it’s with a lot of happiness that I’ve noticed over the past few years grown-up animation has begun to flourish. Christian Volckman’s Renaissance, Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis, and Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir, just to name a few, have embraced the format as being just as legitimate as any other in telling their tales. And that brings me to Anders Morgenthaler’s Princess, a nihilistic, nasty little film in the vein of Taxi Driver that’s both unflinchingly brutal and disturbingly perverse. Oh, and it’s animated.
After his porn-star sister dies from an overdose, August gives up being a missionary priest and returns home to take care of her now-displaced daughter Mia. He slowly begins to unravel the horror story of his sister’s life, one of sexual abuse and exploitation, and it may not have stopped just at her; Mia may be involved as well. The anger that wells up inside of him sends him on a one-man mission of revenge, seeking out the man behind the sex and drugs that plagued his sister’s life. Although with August being a man of the cloth, is violence truly the answer that will allow his sister to rest in peace?
Lest you think an animated film can't convey emotion, Princess has absolutely no problem in regards to making the viewer feel the character’s pain and torment. Flashbacks, told through a box of old videotapes that August filmed of his sister and their life together, are actually live-action. The same actors providing the voices for the animated characters on screen are seen in live-action in these flashbacks, and it really lends some true human emotion to the characters. It’s something I honestly can’t recall seeing before in an animated film, and that’s the kind of creativity in a film I can truly appreciate, especially when it works as well as it does here.
While this technique does in fact work when it comes to making the viewer feel like these characters are actually real, it does the film a bit of a disservice when it comes to the more action-oriented scenes. This is an animated film, so of course there’s some suspension of disbelief, but because of these live-action flashbacks, the film comes off feeling a bit more real than animated films normally do. So when a former missionary that is a normal guy by all accounts takes down multiple heavies in a gun fight and is launching guys through windows, it sort of takes you out of the realism of the film. I definitely understand this is animated, and thus liberties can be taken, but I felt that director Anders Morgenthaler was trying hard to create a real emotional response from the viewer towards the animated characters through those live-action flashbacks, and these over-the-top action scenes felt somewhat out of place in context.
Regardless of that inconsistency, the film does a great job of creating a truly seedy atmosphere of sexual depravity. While you won’t be seeing actual animated sex or anything, you will encounter sleazy producers, drug pushers, sex toys, porn magazines, and pretty much anything else you might imagine lurking in the nasty underbelly of the porn industry. The film does a wonderful job as well of showing how affected a child may become being exposed to such a world. Surely this could not have been done within the realm of live-action, as the censors would have flipped. At times while watching this, you may in fact feel just as angry as August does about what has happened to his sister and niece, and that definitely should say something about the quality of the material on display.
Princess, just as with the aforementioned mature animated films, really shows what a strong medium this is to tell a narrative that may not translate quite as well in a live-action setting. No emotional impact is lost by this choice, and hopefully more talented filmmakers take notice that animation is a viable way to tell a story, whether it’s aimed at children or not. Very few live-action films have made me feel as dirty or effected me as much as Princess did, and if that’s not an endorsement for the power of a well-told animated tale, I don’t know what is.
Having been a fan of Princess since early 2008, I was saddened when Tartan closed its doors before releasing the film on US soil. Luckily Palisades has come along and purchased the Tartan catalog, and they made the smart decision to make Princess one of their first releases. The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks really strong. Colors look vibrant (a strong contrast to the tone of the film, but its obviously intentional) and I saw no problems with print damage or encoding errors. It unfortunately isn’t flagged for progressive scan, which does set it back a bit. Audio is available in Danish 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital (no DTS track, which is odd for a Tartan release). The 5.1 track has some nice directionality during the action-heavy scenes and is all around robust. The optional English subtitles are free of any glaring errors. The only extra is the film’s original theatrical trailer, and the usual Tartan insert that lists the chapter stops with some nice artwork from the film. Regardless of the lack of extras, the film is strong enough on its own to warrant a purchase.
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