Hänsel and Gretel are living with their parents in a simple house next to a large forest. One day, while deeply engrossed in their play, they begin to follow a lively squirrel. Accompanied by a deer and a hare, they move further and further into the forest and suddenly find themselves standing in front of the candy cottage of the evil witch. She bewitches the children with her cane, so they cannot leave her garden. Gretel has to do all the housework, while Hänsel is locked away with the goose to be fattened. Despite this seemingly hopeless situation, Gretel joins forces with the squirrel and they decide to defend themselves. Gretel, the squirrel and the goose overpower the witch. Her cane is broken and she and her candy cottage vanish. Hänsel and Gretel can return home, unharmed. Accompanied by the goose and squirrel, they return, and the worried parents and their children are reunited.
Lotte Reiniger’s Hänsel and Gretel varies slightly from the Brothers Grimm original, particularly at the end. She herself would probably have loved to adhere to the original and would have had the witch burn in the oven, but the producers, having emigrated from Germany, regarded this as a taboo so shortly after the Holocaust, even for a silhouette film. Symbolised by the witches’ cane, evil is destroyed, which can be regarded as an unambiguous symbol – by no means an accident on the part of Lotte Reiniger. —Christel Strobel, BFI
Among the great figures in animated film, Lotte Reiniger stands alone. No one else has taken a specific animation technique and made it so utterly her own. To date she has no rivals, and for all practical purposes the history of silhouette animation begins and ends with Reiniger. Taking the ancient art of shadow-plays, as perfected above all in China and Indonesia, she adapted it superbly for the cinema.
She was born in Berlin to cultured parents, and from an early age showed an exceptional and, it seems, self-taught ability to cut free-handed paper silhouettes, which she used in her own home-made shadow-theatre. Initially she planned to be an actress, studied with Max Reinhardt, and used her skill at silhouette portraiture to attract the attention of the film director Paul Wegener. He invited her to make silhouettes for the intertitles to his films Rübezahls Hochzeit (Germany, 1916) and Der Rattenfänger von Hameln (Germany, 1918).
Wegener introduced Reiniger… read more