Monday, July 18, 2022

Fantasia ’22: Princesse Dragon

For fantasy fans, princesses and dragons always go well together, as Anne McCaffrey proved in dozens of books. Frogs are also pretty archetypal, but in this case, the ribbiting comes from a sorceress. Humans, animals, and dragons mix uneasily in Jean-Jacques Denis & Anthony Roux’s animated fantasy Princesse Dragon, which screened at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.

This fantasy world is definitely inspired by Medieval Europe, but the constant threats of war and pestilence have been sanitized. As a dragon, “Dragon” (yes, that’s also his name) sits atop a mountain of treasure, but he yearns for offspring, so he makes a Faustian bargain with Frogceress. She sort of facilitates three magical test-tube eggs for him, but one of them turns out to be a human girl. Dragon does not like mortal men, but “Bristle” has the heart and fire-breath of a dragon, so he eventually accepts her.

One day, while running wild through the forest, Bristle meets the mortal Princess. Despite their differences in socialization, they become fast friends. The Dragon girl even saves the Princess twice, first from a giant bear and then from her father. Unfortunately, Dragon’s warning that humans will inevitably come looking for them will soon be born out by the rapacious king.

This film is right about one thing. No matter how much gold the state has, whether it be personified by a king or the dictatorship of the proletariat, it is never enough. Frankly, Roux’s screenplay gets a little lecturey arguing for royal benevolence, but the animation is lovely. It is also refreshing to see absolute classic fantasy tropes rendered without irony or apology.

Arguably, there is a little too much of the Princess’s obnoxious fiancé, entitled little Sir Albert and not enough of Forgceress, who is a delightful (and deadly) trickster character. However, the first rule of fantasies always holds—you can’t go wrong with dragons. Indeed, Dragon and his two little dragonling sons look cool flying and fire-breathing on-screen.

The richly detailed, old fashioned-illustrated look of the film gives it a lush, classy vibe. When it goes for the classical high fantasy, it works really well (but its utopian impulses are laughable, in the wrong way). Recommended for fans of dragon fantasies and frog fables,
Princesse Dragon had its Canadian premiere at this year’s Fantasia.