Hols has lived a quiet life with his father; however his animal friend, Coro alerts him that his father is dying. In his dying words, his father reveals that they used to live in a village across the ocean, but luckily escaped after an evil sorcerer called Grenwald, known by villagers as the devil, destroyed the village and froze all of its inhabitants, and urges Hols to travel to the location of the village and defeat Grenwald to avenge those who died in that incident, and all future chaos he has had a part in. Upon travelling there, he ends up in another village, which Hols saves from a large pike that has been effecting their food supplies for years, and decided to stay there to prepare himself to fight the devil. However, Grenwald foretold this, and uses all his demons to try and kill Hols and make him more feared among people, with legions of wolves and other creatures to danger the town.
In 1959, Isao Takahata graduated from the University of Tokyo and joined Toei Animation after encouragement from a friend of his. Since he didn’t have much skills working as an animator, he wanted to work as a Director, however tough competition meant he didn’t get much of a reputation, getting work as a director on small anime releases and assistant director on a few films. It wasn’t until 1965 were he got the opportunity to work as the director of the project, Prince of the Sun: The Great Adventure of Hols (aka Little Norse Prince Valiant), written by Kazuo Fukazawa. It was meant to take eight months to complete, but the writers and animators wanted to make this film the most captivating film from Toei and in the end it took three years. One person in particular who contributed a lot to this film was a young key animator named Hayao Miyazaki, who ended up contributing so many ideas that he was given the role “scene designer”. The film was released to Japanese theatres in July 1968, and despite highly positive reviews and many recommendations, the box office sales weren’t great enough cover the expensises of the film, and Toei took it off after 10 days. It became Toei’s lowest grossing film in history and Isao Takahata was demoted, eventually leaving the film with Hayao Miyazaki, both making film and TV productions for other companies and the rest is history.
For the animation, nowadays it would seem very primitive and rather simplistic, since this was made in the late 1960s when almost all animated films in Japan mostly had the same level of quality of televised or serial cartoons. This does have some really fluid moments and some great action heavy scenes for its time, and a few effects to make it seem lifelike, to show how much extra effort was put to this considering the boundaries the animators had. However, a lot of the time the restrictions to seem to make the flaws more obvious, as most of the characters appear stagnant and the frames appear jumpy. The worst case of this is halfway through the film where there is a large war scene between the village and a large group of wolves, which would be a more memorable, captivating and suspenseful scene if it was even animated at all, instead, we are shown single images being panned across the screen one after another with the music and dialogue playing as normal, and this occurs a second time when there is a scene showing an infestation of rats. It might’ve been budget constraints but the lack of animation really kills much of the atmosphere and makes the film as a whole unfinished.
The music is pretty good for 1960s animation, a series of both childlike choirs and somewhat alright orchestral score. Fitting with the setting of this film, some of the music has a folk Scandinavian feel and therefore, is very lively and harmonious. It doesn’t give much of an impression nor is it very memorable, but they do help add to the animation, and allow quiet moments to avoid drowning out the dialogue.
The voice acting is tolerable but lacks in any variety. Most of the voices given by the original Japanese all sound pretty much like either young boys, strong built adults or emotional women, all sounding so similar that without the visuals, it’d be very hard to tell between each character. Apparently an English dub does exist and was shown on TBS during the 80s according to IMDB and Studio Ghibli fansite nausicaa.net, although I have yet to find actual footage of this, and the only official English release only contains the Japanese version. The cast apparently consists of small time actors and voice actors of children’s shows, such as Billie Lou Watt, Corinne Orr, and Gilbert Mack, so I can guess that there isn’t much of interest with an English dub.
What I’m going to say now will probably get many Takahata and Studio Ghibli fans mad with me, especially since I am also a fan of Studio Ghibli and Isao Takahata, with his 1994 film Pom Poko being one of my favourite films of all time. The Little Norse Prince was his directorial debut and his team wanted to make something that was completely different from what Disney or Japanese animation hadn’t done before, make an animated film that have the complexity and story like a live action film made for adults while appealing to all ages. On one side, this was successful, as there are messages deep in this about views on life, accepting death, working as a team and possibly a few others that I haven’t noticed. It is also clear that this work is influenced by certain individuals in Japanese animation and elements have followed on in later works by Takahata and Miyazaki, most of which have been given much greater praise than this film.
On the other side, this film has the most generic and dumbest of characters whose stupidity goes into the annoying, and because of that, I originally hated this film. Most of the film’s antagonists are blatant and generic, even when compared to old Disney villains, and yet none of the good or neutral characters notice how antagonising they are infront of them, and the worst of these is Hols himself. What I’ve forgot to mention in this review is one of the other protagonists, the heroine Hilda. Most of what she does in this film would be considered spoilers but basically she’s meant to be an anti-hero who’s a tortured soul, manipulated by Grenwald to doing things that she hates, even though her views fight against it. She is considered by my Ghibli fans to be the archetypal Miyazaki heroine. While I don’t agree with that because being an antagonist who isn’t evil without motivation would make her an archetypal Miyazaki villain, I do agree that she is an interesting character who would’ve been much better off as the film’s main character and not an anti-hero and a possible love interest for Hols at the end. Hols is probably the most annoying character in how stupid he is because he insistently trusts her even though when they first met she admitted she was cursed and brings her into the village with later in the films proves to have been Hols’ dumbest move. It is not even made clear what Hols’ views are towards Hilda to trust her throughout the entire film and he seems surprised when she gives hints that she might be evil. After all that the film ends in a generic climax of everyone teaming up to defeat Grenwald, adding in a deus ex machina to help, so ends on a really generic moment.
I’m not sure what I can say about this film. It certainly has its place in the history of Japanese animation, Isao Takahata and even Miyazaki, it has had some influence on much greater films and without it I wouldn’t have films that I’ve enjoyed for some time. However it is still generic storytelling with really stupid characters mixed in with interesting ones, it has flaws in its animation and the rest of it is lacklustre.
The Little Norse Prince is available from Optimum Releasing, now known as Studio Canal UK. Even to this day there hasn’t been a US release of either the original Japanese version or the US dub that was shown on Turner Broadcasting back in the 1980s. The film has also had releases in French, Portuguese and most recently in India.