The titular African boy saves the day five times over in “Kirikou and the Men and Women,” the broad-minded but pretty vanilla third film in the French toon series from Gallic helmer Michel Ocelot. Like the second installment, “Kirikou and the Wild Beasts,” this old-school-looking animated pic consists of several unconnected vignettes set during the same period as “Kirikou and the Sorceress,” the feature that launched the franchise. Though not as big a B.O. smash as its predecessors, “Men” did solid theatrical biz in Francophone territories and will be confined to fests and home-viewing formats elsewhere.
Originally envisioned as a series of standalone shorts for TV, the film brings together five unrelated 15-minute tales that are told to the audience by Kirikou’s grandfather (voiced by Emmanuel de Kset Gomes), who briefly appears before each episode. Ocelot worked with different femme authors for the stories, including, for the first three tales, Benedicte Galup, who co-directed “Wild Beasts.”
Kirikou (Romann Berrux) is, of course, the agile, impertinent and entirely naked African boy whose childlike naivete usually works in his favor. The tiny Kirikou looks like a newborn, though he talks and walks and specializes in finding solutions to the myriad problems his rural community faces. (The village of simple mud-and-straw huts seems tucked away in a mythical version of Western Africa; most of the voice actors have Senegalese backgrounds and accents.)
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In the first story, a strong-willed woman (Sabine Bekika Pakora) comes to stay with Kirikou and his loving mother (Jessica Tougloh) after the roof of her hut is burned by the robot-like servants (voiced by Jean Landruphe Diby) of the evil sorceress Karaba (Awa Sene Sarr, encoring). This segment most closely ties in with “Sorceress” and serves as a welcome reminder, or explanation for the uninitiated, of Kirikou’s world.
The next yarn, about a cranky old man who has to hide from a jackal in a tree, most closely parallels “Wild Beasts” in that an animal plays an important role, although throughout, as the film’s title indicates, the film is mainly concerned with Kirikou’s interactions with other humans. This second mini-narrative strikes a neat balance between a grouchy codger and the bouncy young kid who might help him out.
The third tale, and easily the best of the five, is a parable about racial tolerance that involves the arrival of a “blue monster,” which turns out to be a lost Touareg boy dressed in blue robes, named Anigouran (after a mythological Touareg figure). The children of the village are worried that the strange creature, with his light complexion, might be dangerous, but Kirikou manages to engage with him and figure out his story, even though neither speaks the other’s language.
Co-written by New Jersey-born, France-based youth author Susie Morgenstern, the fourth yarn fittingly involves a visiting femme griot, or storyteller, who enchants the village with a version of the tale of Soundiata Keita, the founder of the Mali empire. This provokes the jealousy of Karaba, who can’t hear the griot.
The film’s weakest element is the closing seg, co-penned by Cendrine Maubourguet, in which Kirikou’s musical capabilities save the day. Though song and dance are an integral part of the boy’s universe, the outcome of this tale feels largely unmotivated and the narrative too thin. Generally, though, Ocelot, who spent time in Guinea as a child, infuses these tales with a disarming narrative simplicity, while also gently instilling a sense of morality.
After employing traditional hand-drawn animation for the first two “Kirikou” films, Ocelot used CGI for his features “Azur & Asmar” and “Tales of the Night,” which was rendered in 3D. The third “Kirikou” was also released in the stereoscopic format theatrically, though thankfully, the helmer here uses what he calls “flat 3D,” approximating the use of the multiplane camera, which creates the illusion of depth mainly via overlapping surfaces. Though some of the backgrounds were clearly created virtually rather than on paper, the pic feels of a piece with its predecessors.
Sound, score and songs (Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour again provided input on the tunes) are all aces and further help anchor the film specifically in the “Kirikou” universe.
Kirikou and the Men and Women
Kirikou et les hommes et les femmes
Reviewed at L’Archipele, Paris, March 27, 2013. (In Istanbul, New York Children’s film festivals; 2012 Rome Film Festival.) Running time: 85 MIN.
A Studiocanal release of a Les Armateurs, Mac Guff Ligne, France 3 Cinema, Studio O production, in association with Canal Plus, Cine Plus, France Televisions. (International sales: Studiocanal, Paris.) Produced by Didier Brunner, Jacques Bled.
Directed by Michel Ocelot. Screenplay, Ocelot, Benedicte Galup, Susie Morgenstern, Cendrine Maubourguet. Camera (color, HD, 3D); editor, Patrick Ducruet; music, Thibault Agyeman; production designers, Christel Boyer, Thierry Million; sound (Dolby Digital), Philippe Brun; animation supervisor, Ocelot; line producer, Ivan Rouveure; casting, Gigi Akoka.
Voices: Romann Berrux, Awa Sene Sarr, Jessica Tougloh, Emmanuel de Kset Gomes, Umban U Kset, Jean Landruphe Diby, Sabine Bekika Pakora, Evelyne Pelerin-Ngo Maa.