Thirty-two years in the making and initially mauled by its French producers, 1980’s The King and the Mockingbird could have been a spectacular misfire. Instead, it’s a wonderful spectacle: a hugely ambitious loose adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale that’s enthralled just about every Parisian child since its first release. The despotic ruler of a fictional kingdom pines after a shepherdess who lives in a painting on his wall; she, in turn, loves the chimney sweep in the neighboring canvas. With the help of Mr. Bird, a mockingbird who lives up to his name by incessantly taunting the otherwise feared king, the two conspire to flee the realm.
The film’s bold design is a curious hybrid of Bavarian opulence and sci-fi polish (and a major influence on Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky). Meanwhile, the taut adventure story, penned by the great poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert, doubles as a cautionary tale on the dangers of totalitarianism. An established masterpiece in its homeland, Paul Grimault’s film remains little known here. Lyrical, satirical and hugely entertaining, it deserves a wider audience. Hopefully, with this welcome re-release, it will find one.