Taiyou no Ouji Horusu no Daibouken (The Little Norse Prince) (Isao Takahata, 1968)
In 1968, Isao Takahata was an unknown animator who’d done a bit of TV work. He’d been approached to do a film for Japanese production giant Toei, but things had gone off the rails pretty much from the beginning; Toei and the crew working on the film, anecdotally, had an adversarial working relationship, leading to the film being released very late, being kept in theatres for just ten days, and bombing. But that aside, the film’s importance cannot be understated—it was while working on The Little Norse Prince (which, despite the name, is actually based on an Ainu legend) that Takahata met an interstitial animator named Hayao Miyazaki; when Toei threw Takahata out on his ear, he took Miyazaki with him, and the two of them founded a new, independent animation company called Studio Ghibli. The rest is history.
The story centers on Hols, a young lad who comes home from a hunting trip to discover that has village has been destroyed; after the death of his father, he heads north with his best friend, a talking bear named Coro. Hols is destined for great things; in the opening scene, he met Rockoar, one of the land’s gods, and pulled a sword-from-the-stone kinda deal that draws the attention of Grunwald, the god of ice, who kidnaps Hols on his journey and offers him an ultimatum: become Grunwald’s ward or risk his enmity forever. Hols chooses the latter and continues journeying until he comes to another village, where he is welcomed and grows to young manhood. While out on another hunting trip, he comes upon Hilda, a homeless bard who tells Hols that her village, too, was destroyed; he brings her back to the village, and everything seems to be going along swimmingly, but soon, Grunwald starts putting the pieces into place to eliminate Hols before he can fulfil his destiny…
This is not the quality of work Takahata quickly became known for once he and Miyazaki founded Ghibli in the seventies, but the keystones of Takahata’s eye for animation are all there, if not honed yet. (One also assumes there was some studio interference.) This is good stuff, cute in all the right parts, thrilling everywhere it’s supposed to be, etc. It’s a must-see for Takahata fans, for obvious reasons, but others who are interested in animated films (but who don’t consider themselves anime fans) might want to check it out; it’s another of those movies (like Hakuja Den, viz. review Feb. ’13) that shows the way Hollywood and Tokyo intertwined during the early days of feature-length Japanese animation; interesting stuff, and fun to watch. *** ½
Original 1968 trailer, engsubbed.