The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

I heard about this a few months back, and thought it might be an interesting movie to experiment with. Its claim to fame is that it is the first feature length animated film. It was made in Germany in 1926, directed by a woman, Lotte Reiniger, and tells a tale loosely based on a story in Arabian Nights. Of course, being from the mid-20’s, the film is silent, with musical accompaniment and title cards, but if there ever was a film created for visuals, this might be it.The animation is beautifully rendered with cutouts. Each scene is meticulously formed by laying these cutouts on a lit and tinted glass. Then the characters are placed within the scene, and much like stop motion animation in films like Wallace and Gromit and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, they are shot, then moved, then shot, then moved. The characters all have movable limbs, mouths, fingers, etc. The animals are movable as well. But the effect of these figures on the tinted glass is quite stunning, and must have been quite alien to the movie-going public of Germany. I was shocked at the level of detail that went into each scene. The film is full of beautiful and intricate designs.

The story follows Prince Achmed, who is given a magic, flying horse by a magician trying to woo the Prince’s sister. Because Achmed has no experience with such a creature, it flies and flies before he can figure out how to control it. By this time, he lands on some sort of magical island filled with women. While here, he meets his love, who is being held captive on the island by demonic creatures. He eventually takes her with him, and now pursued by the demons and the magician (who had no luck with the King’s daughter), Achmed must fight them off, keep hold of his love, and somehow make it back to his kingdom. Along the way he meets strange creatures, witches, and even Aladdin (pictured above). It all adds up to an enjoyable film presented in unique and beautiful fashion.

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