Kirikou and the Sorceress
seen online via YouTube
Once upon a time... in a small but culturally-diverse village called Queens...
...there lived a young(ish) blogger named Antonello. He loved to write about all manner of things, from the books he read to the places he went to. He wrote about the quality of fruit sold at the market he shopped at. He wrote about the jousting tournaments held every month at the village green. He wrote about the duke and duchess, especially when the local paparazzi took pictures of them drunk and bickering outside Astor's Tavern late at night and posted them all over Instagram the next day.
But none of it paid very well.
Antonello worked for his wicked step-father's website, a general news and entertainment site about Queens, and was paid a measly pittance, not even enough to buy a cup of tea and a muffin at his favorite coffee shop (which he went to every day because they had the best Wi-Fi). He would have to pay by cleaning out the coffee filters and chopping wood for the fireplace in winter! Poor Antonello!
Antonello dreamed of having more readers for his blog. He imagined himself escorted to the heart of the Concrete Kingdom of New Amsterdam within a gilded carriage drawn by a team of horses, for an exclusive interview with the King and Queen! He begged his step-father to assign him a beat at Rockefeller Castle, but he would always refuse. If only Antonello could write the one blog post that would impress his step-father enough to let him work at the Castle!
Then one day, a summons arrived via e-mail: Princess Fritzi of the Kingdom of California called upon bloggers everywhere to participate in... a blogathon! This was a rare opportunity for bloggers far and wide to gather and display their work online, and it was well known how much the Silent Princess enjoyed such gatherings. If Antonello could write a post that would find favor with her, perhaps his step-father would let him go to the Castle!
"You're on deadline," he said when Antonello asked him about it. "I need 2000 words on the pig farmer scandal by tomorrow. Make it juicy, give it some real sizzle."
"Tomorrow?" said Antonello. "But the blogathon will be over by then!"
"Not my problem. I got a website to run."
So there he was, laboring into the night on a frivolous article he didn't care about one bit, when all of a sudden, a strange sound came from outside his room. He looked out the window - and quickly jumped out of the way as a large metal object crashed through the wall!
Antonello stared at it. It was long and low, with four wheels, almost like a wagon, but made of metal all around. A door opened on one side, and out stepped a woman like none he had ever seen before.
"Oh, gosh, I'm sorry about that," she said, rubbing the back of her head. "I came this close to getting sideswiped by some jerk on the turnpike!"
Antonello gaped at her. "Who... are you?"
The woman dusted herself off. She was short, with close-cut sandy brown hair, wearing what appeared to be spectacles on her face. "Oh, that's right, we've never actually met before, have we? My name's Aurora. I'm what you might call your fairy blogmother."
"My... fairy blogmother?"
"Bet you didn't know you had one, huh?"
"I... didn't know they existed. What is a... fairy blogmother?"
"Um... you could say we're like patron saints for bloggers. We show up in time of great need, lend a helping hand, that sort of thing. Heard you were having a hard time, so -- here I am!"
Antonello blinked. "Wow."
"Don't get me wrong; we don't make a habit out of this. We got our own lives, y'know? When I say great need, I mean great need!"
"Yeah, I guess that describes me. I've got this really dumb article I have to write up for the website tomorrow -- "
"No, no, no, I don't mean that." Aurora poked him in the chest with her finger. "There's something else you'd rather be writing, isn't there?"
He took a step back. "How... how did you... I never told anyone but my step-father!"
She grinned. "Hey, I ain't a fairy blogmother just for the bragging rights, y'know." She walked past him and propped herself up onto his desk where his laptop lay. "Now, the Silent Princess' blogathon ends tonight at midnight, right?"
"So what's the one thing you wanna write about more than anything else?"
Antonello gave it some thought. "I want to write about... a movie!"
Aurora nodded. "Can't go wrong there. Which one?"
"In the Concrete Kingdom, there's a movie that I read about online, playing in a theater called the Cinema Village. An animated film from a far-off country!"
"Yeah, yeah, okay, I know what you're talking about." Aurora snapped her fingers and the door to the metal wagon opened. "Hop in. My car'll take you there."
He looked at her, and then at the conveyance she called a... car. It hardly seemed real!
"Go on, go on, you won't get hurt." She scooted off the desk and tugged on her silken blouse at the waist. "I promise, you'll be able to see the movie, write about it, and submit it to the blogathon in time."
He took a tentative step forward towards the car, and then another and another. Then he turned around. "But what about my other article?"
Aurora snorted. "Please. Pig farmers? I think I can handle something like that. Don't sweat it, kid, just go have a good time."
Antonello stepped around the open door of the car and looked inside. The seats looked soft and comfortable. He looked at Aurora one more time. "Thank you. If there's anything I can do to repay you -- "
"Write a great article; I'll call it even. Oh, wait," she said. "You'll need this." From out of the pocket of the pantaloons she wore (a woman wearing pantaloons?) she pulled a glowing red ticket.
He hesitated. Then he gently took it from her hands and stepped inside the car. The door automatically closed behind him. He looked at the wheel in front of him, which put him in mind of the steering wheel on a ship. Was he supposed to steer this metal monstrosity?
"The car'll do all the work, kid," Aurora yelled as the car back up out of the hole in his room. "You just hang on!"
The car made an exploding noise --
* * *
Antonello gaped at the marquee above the Cinema Village theater as he stepped outside the car. In the blink of an eye, he was in the heart of New Amsterdam, the Concrete Kingdom! He wasn't sure how, but he knew he didn't have time to waste. He walked up to the box office, handed the clerk his red ticket, was handed back the stub after the clerk ripped it, and he walked inside, heading for the auditorium.
He had never been to this place before. The auditorium was a small room, with two banks of seats facing the screen, bisected by a center aisle. He took a seat on the aisle, near the front, and just like that, the movie started.
The film was called Kirikou and the Sorceress. He had forgotten where online he had read about it, but from the moment he did, he was intrigued enough to want to see it for himself. It was written and directed by a man named Michel Ocelot, also French, and it was indeed an animated film, rendered in bright colors, lively shapes, and brilliant textures.
It was set in West Africa, inspired by folk tales from the region. It centered around a little boy named Kirikou, who was born self-aware and knowing about the world. He goes on a quest with his uncle to search for the evil sorceress Karaba, who has dried up the village spring and eaten all the other males. Kirikou faces many obstacles along the way, but he is very clever, always questioning, always thinking up a way to trick his opponents. It turns out there is more to the sorceress than what is believed to be true about her, and everything changes once Kirikou discovers the truth.
Antonello was somewhat surprised at first to see that many of the characters, including Kirikou, are either naked or nearly so. He remembered reading that this was a big deal here in America when it was first released, even though the film itself has no sex. Idiots, he thought. Even when sexuality is taken out of the equation, people still freak out over the sight of a naked body in a movie.
In a leaflet by the entrance, Antonello learned that West African actors, adults and children, worked on the original version, speaking in French, before it was dubbed into other languages, including Swahili. The world-famous musician Youssou N'Dour composed the score. The film was co-produced by studios in three countries, France, Belgium and Luxembourg. The leaflet also quoted the director, Ocelot, who described the important themes of the story:
...The main topic of the story is the question that Kirikou raises throughout the tale: "Why is the sorceress wicked?" Adults have ready-made answers, when they do have them. But Kirikou will reach the truth, his actions are not pre-determined, he does not simply kill Karaba as in the original story.
The second topic is that one should never fear "sorcerers" and that you will achieve what you want, not by believing in superstition and lucky charms, but by taking matters into your own hands. My heroes are independent: Kirikou, his mother, his grandfather and Karaba.
Antonello took the leaflet with him as he exited the theater. He stopped before the car, still uncomfortable at the sight of such a device. It traveled faster than the fastest horse, with a power unknown to men of his time. It seemed safe in his presence, but what kind of danger could such a thing cause if not handled properly? He hoped he would never find out.
He stepped inside and gripped the steering wheel.
The vehicle roared in response --
* * *
Antonello woke up the next morning in front of his laptop, back in his room. Slowly, he sat up, and as awareness returned to him, the first thing he noticed was that the hole in the wall caused by the car, as well as all the debris, was gone, as if it was never there. Then he remembered: the blogathon! Did he submit his article in time? He turned on his laptop and loaded Princess Fritzi's page, and sure enough, there it was, on the list!
Then he also remembered the article for his step-father. He checked the desktop page on the computer. There it was, saved in a file marked "pig farmer." He opened it and looked it over. Not only did Aurora complete his article, she even wrote it in a close approximation of his writing style. At the bottom of the file, he spotted this note addressed directly to him:
You got potential, kid. Your movie review will lead to good things down the road. I've seen it. That's why I came to you in the first place. You won't need me anymore after tonight. Trust me.
But you really need to put more oomph into your writing. Use a little imagination! It won't hurt none if you give your readers something unexpected every now and then!
And as Antonello pondered that for a moment, his e-mail alert pinged. "Where's my story?" his wicked step-father wrote. "I got a website to run!"
Antonello deleted Aurora's message and sent the pig farmer article... and he attached the movie review as well. Maybe his step-father wouldn't be impressed with it. But then again... maybe he would...!
...and they lived happily ever after. More or less.
(Meanwhile, back in the real world... I really did see Kirikou at Cinema Village, around the time it came out, and I loved it. I remember there were a few kids in the audience, and they were dancing around to the music of the closing credits as the film ended, while their parents watched. No one made a stink about the nudity. It's an excellent movie. See it one day.)