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Review: The Pied Piper (1986)

Czech filmmaker Jiří Barta’s stop motion adaptation of The Pied Piper is a triumph of style as substance. Every frame is both immaculately crafted and dense with meaning.

The imagery draws obvious inspiration from German Expressionism: the sharp angles, bizarre proportions, ambiguous perspectives, and jagged, asymmetrical architecture contribute to the story’s eerie, haunting atmosphere. The characters that populate this surreal setting are likewise twisted—crude figurines of blocky wood and wiry metal, their features vague and indistinct; some are even carved directly into the scenery, indistinguishable from the environments that they inhabit. The implication is clear: in the city of Hamelin, human beings are only as valuable as their labor—synonymous with the goods that they produce or the services that they offer, mere cogs and gears in an all-consuming machine. It’s a nightmarish vision of industry and commerce gone awry—which is, of course, perfectly consistent with the subject matter, a decidedly anticapitalist interpretation of a folk tale that already explored themes of greed, avarice, exploitation, injustice, and karmic retribution.

I could argue that The Pied Piper probably influenced a number of critically acclaimed spiritual successors (including The Wolf House and Phil Tippett's Mad God), but such comparisons honestly feel reductive and superficial; the movie has a wholly unique voice, standing out within its very niche medium. Emotionally resonant and socially conscious in equal measure, I won’t soon forget this poignant animated parable.

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