And if her father, the Sea King, left the plundered waters of their home and became a harbor fish shop owner? And if instead of a handsome prince, the mermaid had a crush on a local dandy who owns a night club? That’s exactly what the director and art designer Jan Balej, author of the feature-length stop-motion animated film Little from the Fish Shop, thought to himself. He found the idea in the classic tale by Hans Christian Andersen.
“I’ve always wanted to try to tell the story of the Little Mermaid from a slightly different perspective, not downright fairy tale-like,“ says the director Jan Balej. “This will be rougher, set in the present time, yet we’re still trying to maintain the fantasy element in the story. It’s two worlds combined. The calm world of the sea Little hails from and the real world of everyday life where the mermaid falls in love with a human and longs to become human too. We simply tell a love story.“
Andersen’s The Little Mermaid offers a beautiful and powerful story full of artistic inspiration, abundant in different settings, featuring identifiable, lovable and unique characters, giving us the opportunity to work with fairytale archetypes.
The mermaid who has fallen in love with a human “prince”, for whom she has decided to become human, is and has been a classic example of “love”. We wanted to stick to Andersen’s story but we transposed it into the present so that it is comprehensible to current audiences. Thus there is a chance of shifting Andersen’s story even further, to the questions of the moral values of today.
The family of the Sea King symbolizes people coming from remote exotic countries and cultures with a hope for something better. However, our world will often reject them, so that they become a minority, withdrawn in their own small community.
We have chosen the bizarre setting of a harbour city on purpose. For one thing, these places have always been a mixture of various ethnic groups and influences, providing them with a specific atmosphere; this setting is perfect for the confrontation of purity and innocence with the filth and the darker side of our time.
Also, these cities are a rich source of artistic reference allowing us to make excurses into various untypical settings. And finally, there is the mysterious underwater world representing an independent yet inseparable chapter.
All the above said is associated with the artistic rendition stemming from Andersen’s rich narrative with its abundance of characters and settings, and my true desire, as the designer, to make this film visually impressive and distinctive. Therefore I chose puppet stop-motion animation based upon the rich tradition of Czech animated films that I’ve been working with since the very beginning of my film career. It is the typical “roughness” or “graininess” of the animation technique paired with the feel of authenticity of the scenery that helps us evoke the dreary atmosphere of a harbour district. Other locations as e.g. the underwater world or the sky with its range of atmospheric effects, clouds made of smoke or the rare gold fish in Sea King’s aquarium, call for computer generated animation – 2D,3D, CGI.
Most of the sets are made non-digital way. As for the digital parts (e.g. streets’ back plans) we first photograph the individual set elements from different angles, reconstruct them later in the digital environment to create an entirely new setting.
Thanks to this technique we are able to maintain the unique compactness of the sets and at the same time fill the space of larger sceneries that would otherwise be impossible to make by means of the “puppet” method.
Positively crucial for the film are the music track and the sound effects track. We substitute the absence of dialog by building powerful music themes and introducing a unique emotional charge into the film that defines each character, thus influencing the whole storyline fundamentally and moving it forward. Although the characters do not speak, they express their feelings and emotions through the visual and music segment. This is where the NARRATOR gets involved, to establish and unfold the storyline, he’s sort of a conductor of musical emotions this film is abundant with.
Magic combined with reality is something I have been interested in and enjoying for a very long time now. I’ve tried to use the same kind of narrative and angle of vision in my previous films, too. This makes Little from the Fish Shop the next step on this journey.
director / designer / sreenplay co-writer