The Adventures of Prince Achmed
|Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed|
|Directed by||Lotte Reiniger
|Written by||Lotte Reiniger|
|Distributed by||Comenius-Film GmbH
|Running time||65 minutes
(at 24 frames/s)
The Adventures of Prince Achmed (German: Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed) is a 1926 German animated fairytale film by Lotte Reiniger. It is the oldest surviving animated feature film; two earlier ones were made in Argentina by Quirino Cristiani, but they are considered lost. The Adventures of Prince Achmed features a silhouette animation technique Reiniger had invented which involved manipulated cutouts made from cardboard and thin sheets of lead under a camera. The technique she used for the camera is similar to Wayang shadow puppets, though hers were animated frame by frame, not manipulated in live action. The original prints featured color tinting.
An African magician (der afrikanische Zauberer) conjures up a flying horse, which he shows to the Caliph. When the magician refuses to sell it for any amount of gold, the Caliph offers any treasure he has. The magician chooses Dinarsade, the Caliph's daughter, to her great distress. Prince Achmed, Dinarsade's brother, objects, but the magician persuades him to try out the horse. It carries the prince away, higher and higher into the sky, as he does not know how to control it. The Caliph has the magician imprisoned.
When Achmed discovers how to make the horse descend, he finds himself in a strange foreign land. He is greeted by a bevy of attractive women. When they begin fighting for his attention, he flies away to a lake. There, he watches as Peri Banu, the beautiful ruler of the land of Wak Wak, arrives with her attendants to bathe. When they spot him, they all fly away, except for Peri Banu, for Achmed has her magical flying feather costume. She flees on foot, but he captures and kidnaps her. He gains her trust when he returns her feathers. They fall in love. She warns him, however, that the demons of Wak Wak will try to kill him.
The magician frees himself from his chains. Transforming himself into a bat, he seeks out Achmed. The prince chases the magician (back in human form) and falls into a pit. While Achmed fights a giant snake, the magician takes Peri Banu to China and sells her to the Emperor. The magician returns and pins Achmed under a boulder on top of a mountain. However, the Witch (die Hexe) of the Flaming Mountain notices him. The magician is her arch-enemy, so she helps Achmed rescue Peri Banu from the Emperor.
Then the demons of Wak Wak find the couple and, despite Achmed's fierce resistance, carry Peri Banu off. Achmed forces a captive demon to fly him to Wak Wak. However, the gates of Wak Wak are locked. He then slays a monster attacking Aladdin.
Aladdin tells of how he, a poor tailor, was recruited by the magician to retrieve a magic lamp from a cave. When Aladdin returned to the cave entrance, the magician demanded the lamp before letting him out. Aladdin refused, so the magician sealed him in. Aladdin accidentally released one of the genies of the lamp and ordered it to take him home. He then courted and married Dinarsade. One night, Dinarsade, Aladdin's magnificent palace and the lamp disappeared. Blamed by the Caliph, Aladdin fled to avoid being executed. A storm at sea cast him ashore at Wak Wak. When he tried to pluck fruit from a "tree", it turned into a monster and grabbed him, but Achmed killed it.
Then the witch arrives. Since only the lamp can open the gates, she agrees to attack the magician to get it. They engage in a magical duel, each transforming into various creatures. After a while, they resume their human forms and fling fireballs at each other. Finally, the witch slays the magician. With the lamp, they are able to enter Wak Wak, just in time to save Peri Banu from being thrown to her death. A fierce battle erupts. A demon steals the lamp, but the witch gets it back. She summons creatures from the lamp who defeat the demons. One hydra-like creature seizes Peri Banu. When Achmed cuts off one of its heads, two more grow back immediately, but the witch stops this regeneration, allowing Achmed to kill it. A flying palace then settles to the ground. Inside, Aladdin finds Dinarsade. The two couples bid goodbye to the witch and fly home in the palace.
No original German nitrate prints of the film are known to still exist. While the original film featured color tinting, prints available just prior to the restoration had all been in black and white. Working from surviving nitrate prints, German and British archivists restored the film during 1998 and 1999 including reinstating the original tinted image by using the Desmet method.
The film is screened fairly often on Turner Classic Movies. English-market DVDs are available, distributed by Milestone Films and available in NTSC R1 (from Image) and PAL R2 (from the BFI). Both versions of the DVD are identical. They feature both an English-subtitled version (the intertitles are in German) and an English voice-over.
The original score was composed by German composer Wolfgang Zeller in direct collaboration with the animation of the film. Reiniger created photograms for the orchestras, which were common in better theatres of the time, to follow along the filmic action.
The Silk Road Ensemble accompanied the film with a live improvised performance on Western strings and instruments such as the oud, ney and sheng in October 2006 at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, NY. The Silk Road Ensemble repeated the performance at the Avon Cinema in Providence, RI, in February 2007.
The British film composer Geoff Smith composed a new score for the film in 2008, which he performed live as an accompaniment to screenings of the film.
An alternative score was written and presented to the public December 16, 2009 by Indian composer and guitarist, Rahul Roy (not to be confused with an actor of the same name). The authorized screening was presented at Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts on that date, with over fifty people in attendance.
Another alternative score was conceived and performed by the British-Asian clarinettist and composer, Arun Ghosh and featured Adriano Adewale, Shabaka Hutchings, Jenny Adejayan, Corey Mwamba and Liran Donin to a packed house at the Albany in Deptford, the main space being transformed into a Bedouin lounge, as part of the Future Fusions Takeover festival on 18 March 2010. Arun Ghosh's score was presented as a live-action silhouette film with the musicians seen by the audience as shadows behind a screen in homage to Lotte Reiniger's cinematic style.
Seattle composers David Miles Keenan and Nova Karina Devonie, aka "Miles and Karina", were commissioned by the Northwest Film Forum in 2007 to compose a new score to be performed live for its annual Children's Film Festival. The duo have continued to perform their score with the film at various venues. Their score uses accordion, guitar, banjo, glockenspiel, viola, percussion, slide whistle and other contraptions.
- The Untold Story of Argentina's Pioneer Animator
- Reiniger, Lotte. Shadow Theatres, Shadow Films London: BT Batsford, 1970.
- "Lotte Reiniger’s Introduction to The Adventures of Prince Achmed". pp. 9–11. Retrieved September 25, 2013.
- Restoration report (in German) by Deutsches Filmmuseum
- "Adventures of Prince Achmed". Milestone Films. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- "The Adventures of Prince Achmed, or What May Happen to Somebody Making a Full Length Cartoon in 1926" by Lotte Reiniger in The Silent Picture volume 8, 1970, pp. 2–4.
- Smooth operation – New York Magazine, October 1, 2006
- A magical pairing of animated movie and live music – Providence Journal, January 28, 2007