The Little Norse Prince Review

Though Studio Ghibli didn’t officially exist until 1985, its history can be traced back to 1968 and The Little Norse Prince (aka The Adventure of Hols, Prince of the Sun, Little Norse Prince Valiant or, in the original Japanese Taiyo no Oji Hols no Daiboken). For it was on this venture that Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki first collaborated, the former as director and the latter as principle animator. As such it is, of course, in possession of a certain historical interest, but the key question here relates to whether or not it goes any further. In other words, is this a disc strictly for the completists?

We receive an answer almost immediately courtesy of a remarkable pre-credits sequence. Much like Miyazaki’s later Princess Mononoke it begins with an astonishingly kinetic action sequence albeit almost thirty years earlier. Indeed, it also matches it for imagination – not simply owing to the manner in which its events have been rendered (the use of depth is genuinely startling) but also to the story itself. A fight between our young hero Hols and a pack of wolves gives way to the introduction of Mogue, a giant rock monster with oversized nose, and the sword of the sun which will prove integral to the later storyline.

Certainly, The Little Norse Prince is a film which makes heavy use of its fantastical elements. The central trajectory is that of revenge as Hols sets about avenging the villagers who see their homes destroyed by Grunwald, “the strongest one in the world”. Plus we have animals who are able to speak and there’s a clear line between good and evil even if some are unsure as to which way they should cross. Moreover, this is a film which deals in clearly defined concepts of honour, bravery and solidarity – and in this respect it could be said to follow the expected routes; set piece for set piece we know exactly where the film is going.

Yet The Little Norse Prince is a difficult film to dismiss owing to its youthful energies on both sides of the camera. Just as Hols is seemingly unperturbed in his effervescence, so too are Takahata and Miyazaki. Their story has been pared down to the essentials and their visuals likewise. Taking a much more basic approach than the current Ghibli norm, The Little Norse Prince nonetheless manages an often astonishing level of expression. Though cutesy, there’s a great deal of shade in the characterisations which gives the film a punchy quality perfectly matched by the brisk, to-the-point dialogue. Indeed, still images rarely do justice to the pair’s achievements – you really have to see Hols in action (attacking a giant pike, scaling a mammoth made of ice) to truly appreciate their efforts.

In other words we are offered simple storytelling, but expertly told. And it is this which overrides any misgivings over its more familiar aspects. As such it doesn’t quite live up to the later efforts of Takahata and Miyazaki (which have melded their distinctive visual styles to equally distinctive narratives), but it’s a fine achievement nonetheless. Indeed, their own love for the story is never in doubt; just look at how they almost pause the action at times as they immerse themselves in the villagers’ lifestyle of “picking flowers, embroidery and marrying”. All of which may produce the odd additional longueur, but then it also becomes undoubtedly clear that Ghibli would be founded on a genuine passion. The Little Norse Prince succeeds in providing both historical and entertainment value; it’s not simply a work for the fans, but anyone with an interest in cinema.

The Disc

Another in Optimum’s range of Region 2 Ghibli releases, The Little Norse Prince arrives in acceptable, if not perfect form. Most prominent is the fact that this is an NTSC to PAL transfer, resulting in some highly noticeable ghosting especially during the more hectic scenes (which is generally more often than not). Also worth pointing out is the aspect ratio as this is not quite a match for its original. We get the film framed at 2.10:1 and is therefore slightly cropped on the right hand side from the intended 2.35:1. Admittedly, some will see this as a minor flaw, but it’s nonetheless worth noting. Otherwise, the print is generally clean (very minor damage does reveal itself at times) and we are also treated to an anamorphic transfer. It’s ultimately never less than watchable despite not being as good as it could have been.

As for the soundtrack, here we find original Japanese mono in pleasing form. It remains crisp and clear throughout and comes with optional English subtitles of the white variety unlike those found on some of the other Ghibli titles released thus far from Optimum.

Extras, however, remain neglible, amounting solely to a handful of trailers: for the film itself plus The Castle of Cagliostro and Grave of the Fireflies.

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Last updated: 20/06/2018 07:56:36

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