Thirty-two years in production and mauled by its producers, 1980’s ‘The King and the Mockingbird’ (‘Le Roi et L’Oiseau’) could have been a spectacular misfire. Instead it’s just a wonderful spectacle: a hugely ambitious loose adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale that’s enthralled just about every French 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 neighbouring 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 kingdom.
The bold design is a curious hybrid of Bavarian opulence and sci-fi polish (and an influence on Studio Ghibli’s ‘Castle in the Sky’). Meanwhile the taut adventure story – penned by the great poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert – doubles up as a cautionary tale on the dangers of totalitarianism. An established masterpiece in its homeland, Paul Grimault’s film remains little known across the channel. Lyrical, satirical and hugely entertaining, it deserves a wider audience; hopefully, with this welcome re-release, it will find one.