Previous Retro Reviews...
- MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO *** KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE *** PRINCESS MONONOKE
- HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE *** NAUSICAA *** CASTLE IN THE SKY *** PORCO ROSSO
- TRIGUN Vol. 1 *** AKIRA Vol. 1 *** AKIRA Vol. 2 *** AKIRA Vol. 3 *** AKIRA Vol. 4
However strong your feelings about "dub vs. sub" are, please understand that this flick absolutely must be placed on the side of the scale arguing for the (sometimes unintentional) appeal of dubbed anime. I'm sure this translation gives purists ulcers, but I have a strong feeling - - an intuition, even - - that a faithful conversion wouldn’t have been anywhere near as entertaining as this most bizarre pop culture artifact.
Hulu doesn’t offer any details about what forces converged to mold this lovable children’s feature into such shape before it wound up in the nigh-infinite catalogue of free online streaming. LITTLE NORSE PRINCE VALIANT played first in Japan in the late 60’s, so it’s very likely that this specific version's another one of those incipient cases of pan-Pacific animation exchange like SPEED RACER and GIGANTOR where much gets altered or outright lost in translation. (I can’t imagine it playing anywhere stateside outside of very cheap children’s matinées, for that matter.)
As presented, this can only be described as what Rankin & Bass’ remake of CONAN THE BARBARIAN would very probably look like. That is, a children’s cartoon that made Robert E. Howard’s savage tales more agreeable to young kids; not by excising their brutality, melancholy and maddening phantasmagoria, but by simply sprinkling funny animals and sing-songs on top of them.
Listen, this is a toon where a rosy-cheeked little moppet exclaims…
“Take me with you! Take me with you! I want revenge tooooooo!”
Reversing America's usual M.O. for handling over-long Engrish titles, this flick refers to its young hero Hols as “Little Norse Prince Valiant” for motives seeming to barely skirt trademark law. It opens with him locked in brutal mortal combat with a pack of wolves, then rather surrealistically (or nonsensically - - take your pick) has him befriend a towering rock giant who just happens to be laying nearby. Orphaned within the first few minutes of the movie, Hols then journeys northward with his pet bear to seek vengeance on the rat bastard sorcerer, Grunwald, who massacred his village.
Cutting right to the chase, Grunwald opts to appear before this young exile in the wilderness and extend the usual villainous offer of allegiance and servitude. Making it bluntly clear that he isn’t interested, Hols plummets into an icy river that then carries his near-dead body into the company of a friendly village. There, the young hero wins both the villager's acceptance and fear by slaying the monstrous pike (yes, a giant fish) that's been besieging them. He also befriends a pretty girl, Hilda, on the outskirts of the village who's far more insidious than she appears, but may actually hold the key to defeating Grunwald.
Or at least that how it seems to shake out. This little ditty’s only a little over 80 minutes, but it packs a dizzying number of betrayals, redemptions, hallucinations and assorted identity crises within its vise-tight run time. It takes some jarring plot turns (that may likely be the result of interfering cuts or lost reels or something) that leave you frequently unsure of how you get from one point to the next. It still manages to be a jolly ol’ time, of course, even while it gets into some rather atonally somber depths.
Look, don't be fooled by the Disney cuteness in the poster - - Hols kills his foes in this movie. When he sinks into pits of despair, both literal and metaphoric, he has visions illustrating very Wagnerian struggles of motivation and morality. Add on the fact that he’s voiced by the ever-chipper Billie Lou Watt (also of ASTRO BOY and KIMBA) and you’ve got some of the most baffling mixed messages ever conveyed by an animated feature film.
Modern otakus may not find such oddly mirthful contradiction to be an intriguing enough curiosity on its own, but they'll still likely be intrigued by how this is actually another proto-Ghibli effort. That is, Isao Takahata directed it and Miyazaki was just a lowly animator in its crew. A long artistic evolution awaits before NAUSICAA, of course, but this flick still makes the trademark effort to pack some dramatic complexity under its whimsy (even if the run time isn't yet long enough to allow such an effort to truly succeed.)
Perhaps LITTLE NORSE PRINCE VALIANT is only best recommend to Ghibli black belts who want to reach the next level in understanding the studio. It isn’t fair, nor accurate, to recommend this for Bad Movie Night, but it’s definitely a flick whose enjoyment’s heightened by having some friends over to voice some amused vexation about what the hell they're watching. Gather them around your computer, why not? The full movie's right below...