Sunday, April 5, 2009

Review of "Mystical Tales from the Arabian Nights"



Mystical Tales from the Arabian Nights: Animated Stories (2007)

I got this on Netflix here (http://www.netflix.com/Movie/Mystical_Tales_from_the_Arabian_Nights_Animated_Stories/70094921 – the picture on the cover and on the dvd is not of anything I saw in the film though!). It’s an Indian animated hour-long selection of tales from the Nights, I’m not sure but I think it’s part of a series of animated cartoons from India which cover tales of morality and other traditional stories from India.

The introduction included India, Persia and “Arabia” as the origins of the Nights’ stories and listed several cities and places that the Nights were set in and gave a pretty general and vague outline of where the Nights came from and what they are thought to be.

Several things are interesting about this production of the Nights but perhaps most of all is its insistence on not attempting to try to simplify the tales for the viewer, ie most other Nights related films or children’s versions tend to dumb down the complexities found in the story-within-story format of the Nights and just present each story as separate and complete entities rather than the mashed concatenations that they are.

This animated version presents the stories in the frame manner as they are in the Nights. It also includes breaks between Sheherazade’s mornings as well which I found to be compelling in a Shahriyarian fashion.

The stories included in the hour long show are the frame story, the merchant and the jinni, the stories of the merchants to the jinni, King Yunan and the sage Duban, the husband and the parrot, the jinni and the fisherman, and the ensorcelled prince – all of which, by the way, I’ve never seen in an animated or filmic version of the Nights, which was refreshing.

The “moral” message of the Nights (if there is a vague general one you can encompass the Nights into) seems to be intact in this version as well: amusement is the key to life and life is made up of periods of dumb luck punctuated by tragedies which are surmountable by hope, luck and the help of others.

Some things missing: the sex is gone, the only mentions of it are in the frame story (a wife who wasn’t “loyal” – the extent of the explication of it) and in the ensorcelled prince story (his wife “liked a servant”). In addition the race related stuff is taken out as well and the characters, drawn in India, are of a vaguely "white" complexion though all wear traditional Indian clothing (apart from some of the stories which have togas) and speak in Indian accented English.

In the jinni and the fisherman the seal of Solomon is not mentioned either, and “Allah” by name is replaced by “God” in the few mentions of God in the stories.

What was surprising was the violence that was kept in which included mentions of Shahriyar having his brides killed, several beheadings complete with bright red blood coloring, the death of the calf in the merchants stories to the jinni, and lots of threats of murder.

I guess this is surprising because it seems like a kids’ version of the Nights because of the animated format and the lack of the sexuality. Why is it that violence always seems to be more permissible than sexuality in film in general? Very notable here because of the deliberate exclusion of the sexuality that is inherent in the Nights.

The story of King Yunan also was the first English version I’ve seen to call him not King Yunan, but an unnamed “Greek King” instead (who, in this version, lived in Persia). Yunan is Arabic for Greece but I’ve never heard the king in this story called a Greek King.

The animation is a bit lacking, although not horrible, but it reminded me of cartoons of the 1970s like Speed Racer which has characters who stand still while their mouth moves.

All in all I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of canonical stories of the Nights in this cartoon and the deliberate insistence on the complexities found when reading the Nights.

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