Inside Screen Worlds: Animation Antiques

The Adventures of Prince Achmed

The Adventures of Prince Achmed

Tucked away in the Screen Worlds exhibition, like an ancient jewel waiting to be discovered, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Lotte Reiniger, 1926) plays on a small screen. It would be easy to miss it and walk on past to a bigger, shinier exhibit, but to do so would be to miss out on an iconic piece of film history. The Adventures of Prince Achmed is, after all, the oldest surviving animated feature film in the world.

To look at this film, you wouldn’t necessarily think it had been made in the 1920s. My first instinct was to compare it to 1980s videogames with 2D silhouette graphics and linear movements – think Pac-Man and Space Invaders. In saying that, the animation is also quite beautiful and delicate, as the ornate details of the black cut-outs are contrasted against brightly-coloured backgrounds. German animator Lotte Reiniger developed this silhouette technique herself using cardboard and thin sheets of lead under a camera. She was one tech-savvy lady.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed

The Adventures of Prince Achmed

There is perhaps one thing that gives away this film’s ripe vintage. Prince Achmed was made in the days of silent films, so it has no dialogue. It is accompanied by an orchestral soundtrack and intertitles (quite sweet ones, too). An effort was made to synchronise the music with the vision to give a more modern touch, but the lack of dialogue and that quaint, familiar structure that accompanies silent films are dead giveaways that this film is old!

But it wasn’t just the animation that made this early film remarkable – Reiniger was also a trendsetter in another way. While the idea of adapting classic fairy tales into animated film is most often associated with Walt Disney, he wasn’t the first. Eleven years before Disney’s release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Reiniger used stories from 1001 Arabian Nights as the basis for The Adventures of Prince Achmed.

Ultimately, this film was way ahead of its time, leaving a rich legacy for animators to follow. And the fact that this little gem is tucked away at the back of Screen Worlds? I like it. It means I can have the prince all to myself.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed can be viewed in ACMI’s free Screen Worlds exhibition, open daily from 10am to 6pm.

Take home a piece of Prince Achmed!

This gorgeous film now has its own range of merchandise available at the ACMI Store, including an articulated puppet fridge magnet, a flip book, a cloth-covered notebook, a pack of die-cut notecards, a badge and a book of postcards.

To win a prize pack of Prince Achmed goodies (RRP $79) simply leave a comment telling us your favourite story from 1001 Arabian Nights. Winner drawn Fri 18 Feb. And if you mention the codewords ‘Screen Worlds’ at the ACMI Store during February, you’ll receive 20% off the range of Prince Achmed merchandise.

Read more about Prince Achmed over at the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archive blog.

'The Adventures of Prince Achmed' prize pack

'The Adventures of Prince Achmed' prize pack

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15 Responses to “Inside Screen Worlds: Animation Antiques”

  1. Silvertongue 11. Feb, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    I love The Fisherman and the Jinni – layers of narrative magic weaved with darkness and distorted morality. Simply amazing storytelling.

  2. Belinda Smith 11. Feb, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    “The Three Apples” – one of the first and thrilling mysteries, and in Arabic literature !

  3. Cameron Chamberlain 11. Feb, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    My favourite is definitely Sinbad the Sailor. I love reading about his adventures, each more perilous than the last. He is always the only survivor, but greed causes others to join his voyages.

  4. Kelly Robson 12. Feb, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp was known to me and due to the Disney animated film duing 1992 was one of the many Disney films I grew up watching.

  5. Christine Moffat 18. Feb, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    I love the old man of the sea. It’s was so frightening when I first encountered it, truly horrific.

  6. Ruth Richards 18. Feb, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves was always the one that got me hooked. I read it through non-stop, it was the most exciting of them I think.

  7. Luke 18. Feb, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    My favourite is Ali Baba and the Fourty Theives – open sesame!

  8. Lorraine Bauer 18. Feb, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman

  9. Kylie Plester 18. Feb, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp is a glorious tale of wishes and love that can sometimes go your way but often have consequences. And proves that greed often doesn’t pay. Plus Disney have brought the story to life for so many people to enjoy that they wouldn’t otherwise know of its existence

  10. Ross Murray 18. Feb, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    ‘The Young Woman and her Five Lovers’

    The title says it all really!

    But I also have a soft spot for ‘The Historic Fart’

  11. Kate Westhead 18. Feb, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    Definitely the three apples! It has murder, relationships, mystery, intrigue, and the story keeps you hooked until the end.

  12. Jean 18. Feb, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves … the 1st fictional character from medieval Arabic literature that i read… :)

  13. ACMI 18. Feb, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    Thanks for some great entries, guys! You’ve inspired us to seek out the ones we haven’t read before (Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman was a surprise!).

    We’ve now drawn the winner and it is (drumroll…..) Ross!

    Congratulations Ross, the Prince Achmed prize pack is coming your way. We hope your fridge appreciates the amazing articulated puppet fridge magnet.

  14. Elle 24. Jul, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    Could someone please tell me what the label says for the puppets next to the film. From memory there were a few different puppets displayed in light boxes. Unfortunately I am not from Melbourne so I can’t go down to check. Are they from the film?

    Thank you!

  15. ACMI 18. Aug, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Hi Elle, the puppets are not from Prince Achmed. They are Balinese Wayang Puppets – traditional Indonesian shadow puppets. Apparently they are back-lit using coconut-husk lamps!

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