Before Wes Anderson, before Tim Burton, before Terry Gilliam and The Monty Python series, there was Czech director, Karel Zeman (and I suppose before him, you could argue, there was Georges Méliès). His consolidation of live action drama and animation is eye-catching and fresh even today – no amount of spiritual successors will obscure the fact that you know full well when you’ve watched something concocted by Karel Zeman.
Zeman’s A Jester’s Tale boasts a similar aesthetic to his fabulous The Fabulous Adventures of the Baron Munchausen (although A Jester’s Tale is exclusively in black and white). The functional live action cinematography is enhanced by the fusion of animation and a striking use of sets and props.
For instance, a battlefield in reality consisting of just a handful of soldiers lined up is now a scene filled with hundreds of troops thanks to painted backdrops extending the scene. Like all of the effects in general, it is unashamedly ropey and unconvincing, but it is very much part of the film’s charm.
The story itself, regardless of its satirical undertones, is a lightweight, predictable affair. It’s a pseudo-historical recounting of the Thirty-Years War told from the perspective of an all knowing jester, reminiscent of the swashbuckling Fanfan la Tulipe.
It’s a shame Zeman’s ability with special effects did not trickle down to making the most of his three-dimensional actors, but A Jester’s Tale is an enjoyable and utterly ridiculous visual cavalcade. (6)