I was always under the impression that SNOW WHITE was the first feature-length animated film. Apparently, that is incorrect. This German film predates SNOW WHITE by more than a decade. It is believed to be the oldest surviving animated feature, though there were at least a couple of others which have been lost to time. THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED is a German film directed by a woman named Lotte Reiniger. I’m not the only one ignorant to this film’s existence. In the introduction to this film on TCM, host  Robert Osborne admitted to being unaware about this film as well.

I watched DIE ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED (THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED) (1926) on 10.23.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

I’m going to describe what this looks like, and the picture above gives a good indication as well, but here is a clip to provide a frame of reference for what we are talking about:

Reiniger created a series of cardboard cutouts with string as a manipulator, and then shot these images in stop-motion. The result is astounding, and the mood created is undeniably powerful. The film is silent, though it is not in black and white in the way we think of it. All the characters are created from negative space, with the color tinting effecting the silhouette in a way to invoke an emotional response. This is unlike anything I’ve seen.

Even at the time, folks regarded this as an ‘art house’ type of film. And while the imagery is unique, the plot line is anything but ‘arty’. Instead, this is an extremely truncated telling of The Arabian Nights. We have identifiable characters acting in a predictable way. And though the final battle does include a hero (though not our major hero) and a villain turning into all sorts of animals as they fight, these are magical creatures for whom shape-shifting has been established as a norm. The conclusion, then, is that this is art-house only in the ways you might consider A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS as art-house. Yes, the look is different, but it exists within very normal frame of filmic storytelling.

Which is not to say that it lacks value; on the contrary, this is an immensely engaging and accessible film which packs a surprising emotional punch. The characters do not speak, they do not have features (since they are silhouettes), yet Reiniger is always very clear about presenting emotion in an identifiable way. Normally, my scoring for acting on an animated film considers the voice talents and the creation of character through animation. Here, I can only use the latter standard. To that end, it is amazing how much originality of character and how much expressiveness is extracted from the animation process. There were, perhaps, one or two moments when it took me a second to recognize which character I was being shown. However, these beats were few and far between. I can’t say enough with how impressive a feat that is.

Much of the imagery is clearly influenced by the contemporaneous German Expressionist movement. There are sharp angles and nightmarish landscapes straight out of a film like DR. CALIGARI or NOSFERATU. But this is a film which also has its own style, its own language of imagery. Ultimately, its nice to add a film to be able to throw out as a canonical example of the movement. Especially since this is such a unique example.

There is just so much magical imagery on display here. In 65 minutes we are privy to much beauty. This is the second time this month (the first being the documentary SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM: TAKE ONE) where I came to a unique movie which I had no expectations for (and which I had never heard of), but ended up being impressed with. This is a must-see for animation buffs, and is absolutely worth seeing for those who aren’t. I know this has become a refrain for me lately, but I have to say it again: Glad I found this.



The bonus is for the music which went so marvelously well with the imagery. The print I saw, according to TCM, did have the original score created for the film (which is certainly not always the case for silent film, since many didn’t have a particular score at all).



~ by johnlink00 on October 24, 2012.


  1. Very cool!

  2. Agreed! This is very much worth seeking out!

  3. […] TAKE ONE. A very cool and unique documentary. Secondly is the German animated silent film THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED. This is another film I never knew existed, and which just blew me away with its ambition and […]

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