Hans Christian Andersen Review
Hans Christian Andersen announces right from the start that this is a fantasist approach to biography, with only limited nods to the actual life of the celebrated Danish storyteller that gives his name to the project. The film is a musical, starring Danny Kaye as Hans Christian Andersen, a poor shoemaker with a penchant and skill for the telling of tales that eventually leads him from small-town Odense to Copenhagen accompanied by his apprentice, Peter.
Andersen’s life in Odense seems to involve more story-telling than cobbling, as the town’s children flock to him to hear his tales, for instance 'The Emperor’s New Clothes'. In Copenhagen he eventually gets involved with the Royal Danish Ballet, being commissioned to make some new ballet shoes for their prima ballerina who is ever-arguing (and making-up) with the dance director, her husband. Andersen becomes embroiled in this situation by falling madly in love with the prima ballerina, eventually writing 'The Little Mermaid' for her – which gets turned into an impressive and yet somehow tiresome ballet which takes up far too much room in the film.
The problem with the film is really in the pacing. Danny Kaye is his usual charming self, but the rest of the cast quite pale beside him, leaving him carrying the entire film. Luckily, he has by far and away the most screen time. The score and the songs are great (including classics such as 'Thumbelina', 'Ugly Duckling' and 'Wonderful Copenhagen'), and when Kaye is singing the film really does elevate itself to another level. The plot with the ballerina and her husband is a bit vexing and 'The Little Mermaid' ballet segment simply overlong at a time we want the film and plot to be chugging along and not stalling in the name of art.
The scenery, art design and costumes were all nominated for Oscars, and deserve it. The distinction between ballet costumes and those of everyday workman Andersen and his apprentice, Peter, is quite precise and well-done, and the sets are beautiful, especially considering this is a film made in 1952.
The picture is given a non-anamorphic 4:3 presentation, the original theatrical aspect ratio for the film, and it's a pretty good video offering for such an old film. Obviously it displays the standard Technicolor look, with vivid, over-rich colours throughout which only add to the 'fairy-tale' quality of the show (in that it's not a real biography and draws on elements of Andersen’s tales for its storylines). This is obviously not a perfect picture, there’s some shimmering of colour, and the odd glitch, but it's really nothing more than I expected considering the age of the film.
The sound is a basic mono transfer, not unexpected given the age of the film, and it does its job well enough without being remarkable in any sense. The music allows dialogue in the background when they switch from songs to talking, and all the mixing seems appropriate for the film. Curiously, it's been dubbed into four additional languages (French, German, Italian and Spanish), and all these audio tracks are also included on this disc.
This release has no extras to speak of, and a fairly ugly static menu to boot!
Hans Christian Andersen is a fun film designed to show off the talents of its star, Danny Kaye. Mixing his entertainment abilities with an OK storyline and then adding some really great songs works well here, and the film is overall a success despite some problems with pacing. This DVD release does well in terms of bringing an old and loved film to a new medium in terms of picture and sound, but the lack of extras is disappointing.