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22 years later, the captivating Kingdom of Kensuké by Michael Morpurgo finally adapted for the cinema

By Morpurgo! Its name already sounds like a call to the imagination and literary journeys.

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22 years later, the captivating Kingdom of Kensuké by Michael Morpurgo finally adapted for the cinema

By Morpurgo! Its name already sounds like a call to the imagination and literary journeys. In a story, we would see him as a crazy musician playing from village to village or as an enlightened prince, master of a distant kingdom returning from war. Except that Michael Morpurgo is not a character. This octogenarian with such British courtesy does not belong to any fiction, he writes them. Ambassador of children's literature in the United Kingdom, he is the author of more than 150 books and has sold nearly 35 million worldwide. An animated film magnificently adapted from his eponymous novel published by Gallimard, The Kingdom of Kensuké immerses us in his world as eventful as it is moving.

It tells the story of the team of Michael, a teenager who left with his family to sail around the world. But during a storm, he goes overboard with his dog Stella and ends up on an island. He quickly discovers that he is not alone. Kensuké, a former Japanese soldier, has lived there as a hermit since the Second World War, after the ship on which he served sank. At first hostile, the lonely old man welcomes the young boy into his kingdom, in a house built among the trees. He will teach him to live in harmony with nature and its inhabitants, including a tribe of orangutans that he protects from ferocious poachers from the seas. An ecological fable full of poetry and an adventure film with multiple twists and turns, The Kingdom of Kensuké is a wonderful ode to human bonds and the beauty of the planet. With very little dialogue, served by sumptuous music and images, it takes us through all the emotions, from wonder to tears.

In France, animation is a serious business and it is aimed at all audiences. As evidenced by, to name but a few, the formidable Mars Express, The Red Turtle and I Lost My Body. In England, it's a different story and the film almost never existed due to lack of financing. “I received the request to adapt the novel twenty-two years ago,” says Michael Morpurgo. I immediately said yes and that was the start of a very long wait. In our country, animated films are neither popular nor commercial, unless they are Disney branded and aimed at young people. The film's budget was £10 million. They went to tear them off one after the other. The years passed, a partner dropped us and we fell back by 2 million again. At the end of 2020, I received a phone call from one of the producers, Barnaby Spurrier, who has since become a good friend. He tells me that he has tried everything but that he is sorry: he is still missing 1.5 million. There is only one last card left to play, that of the British Film Institute, otherwise it is all over. Two weeks later, Barnaby called me back crying. Because of Covid, there had been no filming and the Institute had money to spend. We finally had the 1.5 million, the most important aid ever given!”

Michael Morpurgo had already learned to be a patient man. War Horse, his most famous novel, “found its moment” twenty-five years after its publication, when it was adapted for the stage by the National Theater in London and then by Steven Spielberg for the cinema. This story of friendship between a boy and his horse sent to the front in 1914 was not to everyone's taste at the beginning. Around thirty years ago, the book was selected for a major literary prize, chaired by the great Roald Dahl.

The author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory summons his author to speak to him. “Morpurgo, do you know that children don’t like History? The past is not interesting. This sentimental story of a horse in the middle of war is not for them.” You can still find works from the first edition sold in less than 700 copies but they now cost twice as much as the sum received at the time by Michael Morpurgo to write them!

President of the Book Trust in England, this former schoolteacher is surely one of the finest advocates of children's literature. A fervent activist for the right to read for all, he remembers the eccentric school principal who summoned him and the other teachers one Monday morning to share her idea. That of reading in class every end of the day a book that we really like but without questioning the children afterwards, to leave the story and the music of the words in their heads. “I left school to start writing but I kept that. It is much more important to capture the spirit of a work than to memorize the facts, analyze the characters or the plot. For the best things, sensitivity and love of literature, exams are useless. Reading is not an inquisition.”

The Note of Figaro: 3/4

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