The King and the Mockingbird

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The King and the Mockingbird
Film poster
Directed by Paul Grimault
Screenplay by Paul Grimault
Jacques Prévert
Based on The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep
by Hans Christian Andersen
Starring Jean Martin
Pascal Mazzotti
Raymond Bussières
Agnès Viala
Music by Wojciech Kilar
Cinematography Gérard Soirant
Edited by Paul Grimault
Distributed by Gaumont
Release date
  • 1952 (1952) (France)

  • 19 March 1980 (1980-03-19) (France)
Running time
63 minutes (1952)
87 minutes (1980)
81 minutes (2003)
Country France
Language French

The King and the Mockingbird (French: Le Roi et l'oiseau, literally The King and the Bird) is a 1980 traditionally animated feature film directed by Paul Grimault. Begun in 1948 as The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep (loosely based on the fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen), the film was a collaboration between Grimault and popular French poet and screenwriter, Jacques Prévert. However the film suddenly stopped production and was released unfinished by its producer, without the approval of either Grimault or Prévert. Through the course of the 1960s and 1970s, Grimault obtained the rights to the film and was able to complete a new version as they originally intended. It was finished over 30 years after it was started.

The film is today regarded as a masterpiece of French animation and has been cited by the Japanese directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata as an influence. The film has had poor availability in English (although an English dub exists). While the completed version of the film has not been released on home video in North America, it is available for streaming on Amazon Instant and Vudu. The first English-friendly release was made in October 2013 in the United Kingdom;[1] it is scheduled for wider theatrical release in the UK in 2014,[2] with DVD sales from April 2014.[3] Previously, the film had been often shared by animation fans online. A low-budget English-language release of the 1952 version, dubbed The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird, is in the public domain and available for free online. In that version, Peter Ustinov narrates and voices the main role of the bird.


The huge kingdom of Takicardia is ruled by a king under the unwieldy title of Charles V + III = VIII + VIII = XVI. He’s a heartless ruler, hated by his people as much as he hates them. The king is fond of hunting, but is unfortunately cross-eyed – not that anyone would dare acknowledge this in front of him, as the numerous statues and paintings that adorn the palace and the land show. Occasionally the king does hit his target though, notably the wife of the bird, known only as "l'Oiseau", the narrator of the story who takes pleasure in taunting the terrible king at every opportunity.

In his secret apartment, the king dreams of the beautiful shepherdess whose painting he keeps on his wall, but the shepherdess is in love with the chimney sweep whose hated portrait is on the opposite wall. At night the paintings come to life and attempt to escape from the palace, but are pursued by a non-cross-eyed painting of the king that also has come to life, deposed the real king and has taken his place. He orders the capture of the shepherdess and the sweep, but the bird is there to help when called upon.

Later, the shepherdess and the Chimney sweep find themselves in the lower city, where the inhabitants have never seen the light. Meanwhile, the king summons a robot built for him, and he attacks the village. He takes the shepherdess and captures the chimney sweep, the bird, and a blind organ grinder from the village, putting the organ grinder in a pen of lions and tigers. The King forces the shepherdess to agree to marry him, threatening to kill the chimney sweep if she does not accept. When she does, the King sends the chimney sweep and the bird to paint manufactured sculptures of his head on a conveyor belt. They begin to ruin the sculptures, and are sent to jail, where the lions and tigers have been listening to the organ grinder playing. The bird convinces them to help the shepherdess, saying that her marriage to the King prevents her from tending to the sheep, which the animals eat. The animals break out of the jail and attack the interviewers and king in the chapel. The bird and his sons take control of the robot and start destroying the castle. Once the castle is in rubble, the King attacks the couple, but the robot grabs him and throws him into the distance. Sitting on the ruins of the castle the next morning, the robot sees one of the Bird's sons trapped in a cage. After freeing the bird, the robot smashes the cage, symbolizing the birds' freedom and the movie ends.

Only the early scene in the secret apartment is based on "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep", while the rest of the movie focuses much more on the king and the bird, hence the ultimate title. In Andersen's tale, the shepherdess and the chimney sweep are china figurines, rather than paintings, and a wooden (mahogany) satyr wishes to wed the shepherdess, supported by a Chinaman, rather than a king and a classical statue. In both tales, the Chinaman/statue breaks, and the duo escape up the chimney, and delight in celestial bodies, but in Andersen's tale the shepherdess is afraid of the wide world and the duo return; this is echoed in the movie where the statue predicts that they will return.


  • Pierre Brasseur (1952 version), Jean Martin (1980 version) as l'oiseau (The Mockingbird), the King's worst enemy whom he constantly taunts. It is implied that the King may have killed his wife. He is the father to four baby chicks.
  • Fernand Ledoux (1952 version), Pascal Mazzotti (1980 version) as King Charles V + III = VIII + VIII = XVI, the megalomaniac yet lonely tyrant who is in love with the Shepherdess painting on his wall.
  • Anouk Aimée (1952 version), Agnes Viala (1980 version) as the Shepherdess, she is in love with the chimney sweep painting at her right
  • Serge Reggiani (1952 version), Renaud Marx (1980 version) as the Chimney Sweep, he is in love with the shepherdess painting next to him.
  • Raymond Bussieres as the Chief of Police, who is fierclely loyal to the King.
  • Hubert Deschamps as the sententious, a gigantic automan built by the King to symbolise his power. It seems to have a soul of its own.
  • Roger Blin as the blind barrel organ player who hopes for a better world.
  • Philippe Derrez as the elevator operator and speaker
  • Albert Medina as the Beastmaster and high-howler
  • Claude Piéplu as Mayor of the Palace

1952 English version[edit]

(Supervisor: Pierre Rouve)


Originally titled La Bergère et le Ramoneur (The Shepherdess and the Chimneysweep), Grimault and Prévert began the film in 1948 (following their first collaboration, Le Petit soldat (The Little Soldier), also a Hans Christian Andersen adaptation), and it was highly anticipated, but in 1950 the film was taken out of their control, and subsequently the expense of the film caused the failure of the studio (Les Gémeaux). Grimault’s partner André Sarrut (the producer) then released the film unfinished in 1952, against Grimault and Prévert’s wishes, which caused a rift between partners, and they went their separate ways. In 1967, Grimault regained possession of the film, and spent the next decade trying to finance a new version under his supervision. By 1977 he had arranged financing,[4] and thus the film was completed over the two-year period of 1977–79. In 1980 the finished film was finally released under a new title, Le Roi et l'Oiseau – to make clear the distinction from the earlier version – and shortly after the death of Prévert, to whom the film is dedicated.

The completed film uses 42 of the 62 minutes of the 1952 footage,[4] and, at 87 minutes, includes significant new animation, completely different music, and a very different, more symbolic ending. Some footage is cut, such as the bird taking over the role as announcer at the wedding and the original ending. The new footage includes both entirely new scenes, and changes to existing scenes. For example, in the completed film, the initial scenes of the king practicing target shooting and having his portrait painted are new, while the scene of the king shooting at the baby bird, which falls between these two, is from the 1952 footage. The differences between the old and new animation are visible at some points in a single scene, most noticeably in the lion pit, where the lions are drawn in two very different styles;[5] the simpler, more abstract lions are the new animation.

The production of the music is unusual in that Grimault left it entirely in the hands of Wojciech Kilar – Grimault gave no instruction as to what music he desired, nor was there any back-and-forth, but simply shared the movie with Kilar, who studied it carefully, then went to Poland, recorded it, and returned with the completed score, which was accepted unchanged.[4] The music, while was made available on a soundtrack album, does not exist any official edited music sheet for this music. However Simon Bozonnet, an amateur musician and fan of the film, released a faithful transcription of the piano theme on his website.

Cultural references[edit]

The movie is rife with cultural references.[6][7] Most basically, the castle is similar to 19th century fairy-tale castles, the best known of which is Neuschwanstein Castle, while the best-known such model in France is the medieval town Carcassonne, which notably has a surrounding ville basse (lower city), as in the movie. The city, with its dark, industrial underbelly recalls Metropolis by Fritz Lang,[6] and the enslaved work recalls Modern Times of Charlie Chaplin.

The long staircases in the film recall the walk down from Montmartre

The castle, presiding over a city, has been compared to a "Neo-Sacré-Cœur",[4] this basilica being the highest point of Paris, presiding over the city from the top of Montmartre. The visual style is painterly, with strong perspective, recalling surrealist artists, most notably Giorgio de Chirico, but also Yves Tanguy,[7] friend of Prévert's youth. See this article[8] for a sampling of scenes.

There are extensive allusions to Germany, particularly connections between the king and Adolf Hitler, most obviously in the king's appearance on leaving water (mustache and hair strongly resembling Hitler's) and in the cult of personality, but also in the king's statement that "work…is liberty", alluding to the infamous "Arbeit macht frei" (work sets you free), written over the entrances to concentration camps, and also the iconic Stahlhelm (steel helmets) seen in places.

The king's number alludes to Louis XVI of France, though visually the film recalls more the "Sun King" Louis XIV,[7] and parts of the castle resemble Venice, with the canals, gondola, and bridge of sighs. The mustached, bowler-hatted police recall Thomson and Thompson (Dupont et Dupond) from The Adventures of Tintin.[6]

The robot's behavior recalls King Kong,[6] notably both in his chest-pounding and in his waving off the circling bird. He also rests in the figure of The Thinker, by Auguste Rodin.

Some potentially unfamiliar phrases and concepts used in the movie include lettres de cachet, gallows birds (gibier de potence), lèse majesté (Contempt of the Sovereign), and the Mayor of the Palace. The bird also mentions having seen Les cloches de Corneville, having been to the Place d'Italie, and having attended the Neuilly festival (Neuilly-sur-Seine is the birthplace of both Prévert and Grimault). It also mentions dernières cartouches (Last Cartridges) which alludes to an episode in the Franco-Prussian War involving the Blue Division of the French marines, memorialized in a painting by that name by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville.

Others see connection with Ubu Roi (King Ubu) of Alfred Jarry, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and Magritte.[6]

Grimault details some of the specific inspirations: for example, the bird was inspired by Jean Mollet (secretary of Guillaume Apollinaire) and by actor Pierre Brasseur, playing the character of Robert Macaire (via the character Frédérick Lemaître) in Les Enfants du Paradis.[4]

Connections with other works[edit]

In the context of the principal authors' other works, it is notable that this is not the only Andersen adaptation that this pair animated – Grimault and Prévert also adapted The Steadfast Tin Soldier as Le Petit Soldat (The Little Soldier) (1947), which is included in La table tournante (The turning table) on the deluxe edition of The King and the Mockingbird. In the early 1970s, Prévert and Grimault also made two dark animations, one apocalyptic – Le Chien mélomane (The Megalomaniac Dog) (1973), which features a dog wielding a violin that caused destruction at a distance and leaves the world a gray waste (as in the end of Le Roi); both are collected in La table tournante.

Grimault did not directly reuse characters between his animations, but similar characters recur – the twin police officers in Voleur de paratonnerres (The lightning rod thief) are recalled by Le Sir de Massouf in La Flûte magique (The Magic Flute), then reappears as the chief of police in The King and the Mockingbird. Similarly, Gô from Passagers de "La Grande Ourse" (Passengers of "The Big Bear") is recalled by Niglo in Marchand de notes, then becomes the chimney sweep in The King and the Mockingbird.

For Prévert's part, he had previously written a poem about the Neuilly festival, mentioned by the bird ("La Fête à Neuilly", in Histoires, 1946), featuring lions, and a lion character features prominently in Children of Paradise, as do other bombastic characters, recalling and in fact inspiring the bird. He also wrote of birds in "Pour faire le portrait d'un oiseau" (To make [paint] a portrait of a bird) in Paroles (1945),[9] which, fittingly, given the long production of the movie, includes the lines "Parfois l'oiseau arrive vite / mais il peut aussi bien mettre de longues années / avant de se décider" (Often the bird arrives quickly / but he can also take many years / before he decides himself).

Reception and influence[edit]

The King and the Mockingbird has been called one of the greatest animated films produced in France.[10]

The film had a profound influence on Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, who later founded Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki states, inter alia, that "We were formed by the films and filmmakers of the 1950s. At that time I started watching a lot of films. One filmmaker who really influenced me was the French animator Paul Grimault."[11] and "It was through watching Le Roi et l'Oiseau by Paul Grimault that I understood how it was necessary to use space in a vertical manner."[12] For his part, Takahata states "My admiration towards Paul Grimault and Le Roi et l'Oiseau has always been the same, probably because he achieved better than anyone else a union between literature and animation." The influence is also visible in The Castle of Cagliostro, whose castle resembles the castle in The King and the Mockingbird. They discuss this at length in a documentary on the deluxe edition of the Japanese DVD, noting for example that they took frame-by-frame photographs of some sequences (such as the king elbowing the court painter aside) to be able to study how the animation was done.[13]

In July 2006, Studio Ghibli secured the Japanese distribution rights of the film and released a Japanese-dubbed version to theaters through their Ghibli Museum Library imprint under the name The King and the Bird (王と鳥, Ō to Tori). Starting in just one cinema, it became a hit and spread out to many other theaters, eventually reaching over 20,000 people.[citation needed]


The King and the Mockingbird has been released in various editions, in various languages. Beyond the fundamental distinction between editions based on the incomplete 1952 version and the 1980 version, the film has been dubbed in many languages including Japanese and Dutch.

In the 1950s, the 1952 version was released in the States and given an English-dubbed soundtrack under the title of The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird. Peter Ustinov narrates and provides the voice of the bird in this version. Since then, the Mr. Wonderbird version is now in the public domain and has been released as bargain video releases. Mr. Bird to the Rescue and Adventures of Mr. Wonderful were names given to this version among many of its releases. Now Mr. Wonderbird is available for free online on the Internet Archive.

The 1980 version of the film was released with English subtitles for the first time on October 7, 2013, in the United Kingdom.[1] It is scheduled for wider theatrical release in the UK in 2014,[2] with DVD sales from April 2014.[3] Previously, it not available in the English-speaking world except by import of the French and Japanese editions. Although the film does not contain a lot of dialogue, fan-created English subtitles for the completed 1980 edition are available at this page at Open Subtitles.

A French deluxe version DVD includes a collection of Grimault's shorts and a 1988 documentary of Grimault and his work, La table tournante, (The turning table), filmed by Jacques Demy, together with various shorts.

A Japanese subtitled version DVD, translated as King and Bird (王と鳥, Ō to tori), is available through Ghibli Museum Library, and went on sale 2007–4–4, following a theatrical release in Japan starting 2006–7–29.[14]

In 2013, the film was restored and re-released in French cinemas in the summer, by Sophie Dulac Distribution.[1] It was then released on DVD in Germany from September 5, in the UK from October 7, and in France in both a standard DVD edition, a Blu-ray edition, and a collector's boxset on October 15.[1]

See also[edit]

Other animated films with long production histories[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d The King and the Mocking Bird (Le Roi et l'oiseau), 10/08/2013, StudioCanal
  2. ^ a b "The King and the Mockingbird", Independent Cinema Office
  3. ^ a b The King And The Mocking Bird [DVD], Amazon
  4. ^ a b c d e Dossier de presse, Le Parc distribution, from Le roi et l'oiseau page (in French)
  5. ^ Video - Le Roi et l'oiseau (The King and Mockingbird), The Ghibli Blog, by Daniel Thomas MacInnes, 23 April 2009, comment by Chris
  6. ^ a b c d e Le Roi et l'Oiseau de Paul Grimault (1980) – commentary
  7. ^ a b c Quelques propositions d’activités – Le roi et l’oiseau, Paola Martini et Pascale Ramel, p. 4
  8. ^ The King and the Mockingbird, Eaten by Ducks, Aeron, January 19, 2007
  9. ^ Le Roi et l'Oiseau, de P. Grimault et J. Prévert – Poésie et politique 16 August 2008 (in French)
  10. ^ Noel Megahey (December 12, 2003). "Le Roi et L'Oiseau". DVD Times. Retrieved 2006-10-24. 
  11. ^ Midnight Eye
  12. ^ Le Monde, quoted on
  13. ^ See Le Roi et L’Oiseau, Home Cinema discussion
  14. ^ 王と鳥, Studio Ghibli
  • Traits de mémoire, Paul Grimault, Éditions du Seuil, 1991; preface by Jean-Pierre Pagliano – Grimault's autobiography (in French)
  • Jeune Cinéma, n° 128, July 1980, interview with Grimault (in French)
  • Dossier de presse, Le Parc distribution, from Le roi et l'oiseau page (in French)
    Includes "Entretien avec Paul Grimault" (Interview with Paul Girmault) about the movie, collected from 3 interviews (with Bernard Marié (Cinéma Français n° 32), with Robert Grelier (La Revue du Cinéma, March 1980), and with Monique Assouline (film's press agent in 1980))
  • Fiche Film, Le roi et l'oiseau de Paul Grimault, Le France

External links[edit]