What a liberating experience it was to enjoy an animated feature with my children that simultaneously respected their innocence and presented them with some naked humanity.
Kirikou and the Sorceress screened this morning at the Traverse City Film Festival and I attended with my 4-year- and 6-year-old sons. This animated film is a loose representation of a West African folktale that teaches the virtues of courage, perseverance, and developing empathy for ones enemies. Far from assuming that children are only able to assimilate cinematic fables through the animation of talking animals and singing candlesticks, Kirikou and the Sorceress portrays a group of native Africans in traditional dress, which most notably includes bare breasts and naked children – you know, real people.
Kirikou opens with the portrayal of a native African woman in the process of giving birth. Once her precocious progeny “births” himself by crawling from between her legs under her skirt, he proceeds to run naked throughout the movie rescuing tribe members from the evils of the angry and powerful Sorceress. The film’s writer/director Michel Ocelot said of the Disney animated feature The Lion King, “It used African settings but not Africa nor the Africans.” It was Ocelot’s aspiration to more honestly depict the powerful realm of Africa. He succeeded in lovingly representing West Africans and many of their indigenous cultural practices without sacrificing childlike levity or whimsy.
When discussing the film later with my little boys I asked them, “What was your favorite part of Kirikou and the Sorceress?” My four-year-old said, “I liked that he could run fast!” My six-year-old, who is more introspective by nature, appreciated seeing Kirikou receive wisdom from his grandfather. The film held me and my boys rapt by making us laugh and inspiring critical thinking. Although it is frustrating that such a dignified animated children’s film must be a imported (in this case from France) I appreciate the Traverse City Film Festival for having the wisdom to choose films that entertain and enlighten people of all ages.