City Paper is not for tourists
Intriguing as animation but dubious as anthropology, Kirikou and the Sorceress substitutes a Europeanized vision of Africa for an Americanized one. Director Michel Ocelot, who was born in France but grew up in Guinea, argues that the continent has never been depicted in an animated feature, because The Lion King “used African settings but not Africa nor the Africans.” Ocelot’s retort to Disney is not altogether African—it was actually made in Europe—but its music (by Youssou N’Dour) and source material are Senegalese. The protagonist is the world’s most resourceful newborn: Kirikou crawls from his mother’s womb without maternal assistance and immediately undertakes freeing his village from Karaba, a marauding sorceress. Supposedly, Karaba has eaten most of the hamlet’s men, taken all of its gold, and stilled the local spring. Tiny Kirikou keeps saving his neighbors from the wicked witch and the living fetishes (modeled on traditional African sculpture) that enforce her will, yet gets little thanks. Eventually, he burrows under Karaba’s lair and reaches the Wise Man of the Mountain, who just happens to be his grandfather. This sage tells Kirikou how to tame Karaba; the solution—as Ocelot freely admits—is not faithful to the original story’s harsher but more credible conclusion. Ultimately, the film becomes a New Agey parable of healing and forgiveness, with the sort of conciliatory moral more common in contemporary kiddie lit than in traditional lore. Visually, Kirikou is faithful to African art and biology, with vivid reds and blues and anatomically correct renderings of native plants. Speaking of anatomy, the ’toon features as much casual nudity as a particularly hot issue of National Geographic, from its full-frontal hero to Karaba’s elaborately bejeweled nipples. By mainstream American standards, such sights are not for kids, yet the movie has moments that seem designed for the Disney demographic. The ground squirrels who help Kirikou, for example, may not recall The Lion King, but they’re distant cousins of the mice who helped Uncle Walt’s Cinderella stitch her ball gown.