Thursday, February 20, 2020

NYICFF ’20: The Prince’s Voyage

Prince Laurence is quite a distinguished-looking primate, even more so than Dr. Zaius in the Planet of the Apes movies. He is a warrior, an inventor, an explorer, and the leader of his people. He also finds himself a stranger in a strange land in Jean-Francois Laguionie & Xavier Picard’s animated feature The Prince’s Voyage, which screens during the 2020 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Prince Laurence always believed there were lands beyond his realm. Following a pitched battle, he fatefully washes up on its shores. Young Tom saves his life, seeking help from the eccentric scientists squatting in an abandoned museum and their kindly servant. Prof. Victor Abervrach considers the Prince vindication of his widely mocked theories, so he intends to introduce the regal Laurence at an upcoming academic conference. The Prince has intuitive contempt for Abervrach, but he quickly develops a deep rapport with Tom, who very much resembles Kom, in whom he took a similarly paternal interest in during Laguionie’s earlier feature, A Monkey’s Tale (but think of Voyage as more of a companion film than a sequel).

Eventually, the Prince starts exploring the hyper-industrial Nioukos megapolis, with Tom as his guide. However, he eventually learns there is more to this world than even its pompous scientific community realizes. In fact, the comparison to Planet of the Apes is rather apt, except the human outsider is a monkey—and the ruling Nioukos monkeys are too. Admittedly, Laguionie & co-writer Anik Leray make some rather heavy-handed points regarding the perils of living out of synch with nature, but the fable-like atmosphere and strange-but-familiar environment are a pleasure to sink into.

Voyage is distinguished by the same elegant water-color-like style of animation that made Laguoinie’s previous film, Louise by the Shore, so wistful and evocative. He and Picard create some striking images, especially the faded grandeur of the decrepit museum. It is a lovely film and some richly realized world-building. Yet, the most memorable aspect of the film is the Prince’s heartfelt relationship with Tom.

Laguoinie is a master of animated filmmaking and Voyage is a worthy addition to his filmography. Its lush visuals will impress connoisseurs of the craft and the complex characters will draw in casual viewers. Highly recommended for fans and older kids, The Prince’s Voyage screens this Sunday (2/23), next Sunday (3/1), and the following Sunday (3/8), as part of this year’s NYCIFF.