Sep 17, 2015
sagittas (All reviews)
We all have a little magic inside of us. At any time, all we have to do is close our eyes and use the words of the heart, and we can become anyone and go anywhere we want to. Regardless of gender, age or ethnicity, we are all capable of it. Much more powerful than any spell, this magic is the strongest force on Earth.

Princess Arete is an exceptionally empowering animated picture by Studio 4°C, based on the book The Clever Princess by English author Diana Coles. While it was originally targeted towards children, the movie itself is a remarkably mature deconstruction of the traditional fairy-tale model. It uses clever metaphors and sensible story-telling to address its primary underlying theme: the reaching for freedom through self-discovery. Arete must face her journey alone – no one will come and save her. The only way she can be set free from her predicament is by her own hands. She must re-discover the magic inside to shake off the shackles that bind her.

Fairy-tales have been universally used as a way to educate children and pass forward values through the generations. By adopting a fairy-tale format, Princess Arete is making a point: there are certain traditional values that have no place in modern day society, and should be replaced at once. It wants to pass on its own values, but does it appeal to its target audience? Modern media geared towards younger viewers is often the polar opposite of what Princess Arete is. Fast-paced, loud and brightly colored, it tends to reinforce the worrisome belief that children are not capable of introspection and should not be challenged intellectually and emotionally. Arete's story does not need dragons and magic to be stimulating. All it needs is a relatable heroine facing a relatable conflict.

Arete is a curious little girl, who also happens to be a princess. Clever and resourceful, she is the epitome of cool, and a truly inspirational role model. She is empathetic to the core, and tries to understand the reasons behind other people's actions before judging them, though she has her own problems to worry about. Deprived of freedom and objectified as a prize for men to win, she never lets her circumstances dim her bold soul. She is obstinate and refuses to accept what she doesn't believe in; her love of life is what keeps her ever hopeful, and because she never feels sorry for herself, we don't either. The sight of such a rich spirit confined in a cage is certainly sad, and is undoubtedly what gives the first half of the film its air of melancholy. But we never pity Arete – we root for her. Her character development is beautiful, and seeing her grow from a timid but intelligent princess into the brave adventurer she becomes is extremely satisfying. We are often teased with the notion that she will be saved by someone else eventually, but she ultimately puts an end to her misfortune using no magical object or outside help, but with her wits alone.

Though Arete is the focus of the film for the most part, that is not to say the supporting cast is devoid of value. In fact, the main antagonist Boax is done quite brilliantly. A wicked wizard on the outside, he has the soul of a spoiled and simple-minded child. He insists on glorifying a past long gone, and cannot deal with the sight of his world crumbling around him. His own long and enduring existence is soon coming to a halt, and that thought terrifies him. To say he is an allegory for patriarchy would be an understatement. He represents a whole set of values which slowly but surely are losing their influence over societies around the world. And yet, he remains a relatable and charismatic character with a whole lot of individuality. While Ample is not as charismatic, she is an important ally to Arete. Both are forced into a submissive position; nevertheless, while she never actively helps the princess, though she tries to, it's their mutual empathy what makes the cook share the precious piece of knowledge Arete uses to save herself. By joining forces, these two competent, empowered female figures weaken others' influence over their lives.

Studio 4ºC is well known for its smooth animations and appealing visuals, and it does not disappoint with Princess Arete. The relaxed pacing allows the movie to take its time and layer each scene so that they all feel dimensional. Movements all look fluid, whereas the minimalistic character designs are cute and fitting of the fairy-tale premise. While the color scheme complements the medieval setting, the faded colors do make the movie look a bit dated, though everything else looks so pretty this detail can be easily overlooked. Backgrounds seem as if they came right off a storybook; outside environments look like oil paintings, and the interiors are all very detailed. On the sound department, it is equally superb: the theme song Krasno Solntse by Origa is breathtakingly beautiful, and it complements the melancholic feel of some scenes perfectly. The ending theme Kin'iro no Tsubasa sounds nostalgic, yet heartwarming. As for the rest of the OST, it is consistently solid, with some tracks more memorable than others.

Every young girl should watch Princess Arete at least once. While it will hardly rank as any child's favorite, it is an important film that respects their cognitive skills and that they will certainly learn to appreciate in adulthood. More than an amazing role model, Arete is a relatable character with whom girls will surely identify themselves with – and maybe, like she did, they will be able to find the magic inside too.