Alain Bidard's Opal

Fantasia 2022: Opal Review

In Alain Bidard’s latest animated film Opal, happiness is a gift that is not to be taken lightly. Set within a magical futuristic kingdom, where villages sit atop floating pods, the prosperity of its inhabitants lies on the shoulders of a young princess named Opal. While royalty comes with its share of burdens on the best of days, Opal’s emotional state is literally a matter of life or death for the kingdom. Like a canteen of water poured over a thirsty plant, her happiness produces the magic that allows crops to grow.

Unfortunately, as some of the inhabitants are noticing, the plants are starting to wilt at a rapid pace. Unsure of what is causing the magic to fade, a local couple calls in the great Iroko, a tribe of powerful entities who oversee the royal family’s use of magic, to investigate. What the Iroko do not know, however, is that the cause of the princess’ sadness is much closer to home than anyone suspects. Desiring to venture out into the world, Opal has become a prisoner in her own home. Told tales of monsters lurking underground by her father the king, it has been ingrained in her that home is the only place where she can truly be safe.

The real monster, of course, is the king himself, who visits his daughter at night and steals some of her magic to maintain a youthful appearance. Despite receiving all of the Queen’s magic on their wedding day, a custom of transferral that Opal will participate in with her own husband one day, the king’s thirst for power cannot be quenched. Making matters worse is that the isolation that Opal feels, mixed with her father’s relentless abuse, is pushing her further into a darkness that can have destructive consequences.

A unique Afro-Caribbean-inspired fairy tale, one where the creole language carries great power, Opal is the type of film that operates on two distinct levels. On one hand, the film’s young protagonist and her cute talking stuffed elephant, given to her by the Iroko, provide an avenue for Bidard to teach younger viewers about dealing with anxiety and sadness. Opal must learn over the course of the film to not only manage her emotions but that sometimes it’s okay to not be okay.

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While such lessons are valuable for all ages, Bidard’s work carries even deeper meaning when viewed through adult eyes. Aside from the subtext of child abuse that flows throughout the film—one gets a chill up the spine when the predatory king states “sweet love, let me in” when confronted with a locked door—there are many other layers here to unpack. Opal not so subtly incorporates elements of psychoanalysis—rooms in the palace are labelled id, ego, etc.—when exploring themes like the arrogance of man and the inner fears that hold us back.

Despite balancing such heavy subject matter, Opal is a rather nimble film. If there is a minor quibble to be had here, it is that sometimes the computer-animated characters look a tad stiff when walking. Thankfully, the afro-futuristic world that Bidard creates is so vibrant and imaginative that one is willing to forgive such things. Speaking of the kingdom, since so much of the action takes place in the palace, it would have been nice to explore the various facets of the land even further. Hopefully, Bidard will give us more worlds like this in future works.

Managing to present its heavy themes in a way that both the young and old can enjoy, Opal announces Bidard as a director to keep on your radar.

Opal screened as part of Fantasia 2022.

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