6 stories take shape in 'Tales of the Night': ★★★½

The shadow-puppet animation of French filmmaker Michel Ocelot, who brought us the pearly delights of "Azur & Asmar," presents a wonderful paradox. The designs do all the work for you, casting spell after spell with their beauty, denying you the facial and textural detail customarily part of any animation expert's arsenal. You find yourself peering into his creations, searching in vain for a nose, some arm hair, whatever. Ocelot affords his silhouette creations pairs of eyes, but the rest in the area of the face is blackness — all the better, however, to soak in the multihued dazzlements of his folk tale's African, Aztec, Middle Ages and Caribbean settings.

"Tales of the Night" is Ocelot's latest, now in a week's run at the Siskel Film Center. In its European theatrical release this 84-minute collection of six stories wowed 'em in 3-D. No 3-D at the Siskel, so no need to keep your glasses handy after you see "Life of Pi" at a different theater. No loss, I say: "Tales of the Night" captivates wholly in 2-D.

It starts, and ends, in an abandoned cinema in an unnamed city. There, collaborating on each new fairy tale, an older gent oversees the fabulations of his younger comrades, a young woman and a young man. They debate the value of setting their latest story in this time period, this country, or that one. Each of the six vignettes lasts roughly 10 minutes.

In "The Werewolf," two beautiful princesses fall for the same horseman, who harbors a big, hairy secret. The story ends kindly and well; throughout "Tales of the Night," you're struck by Ocelot's decency and gentleness, as well as his craft.

In the Caribbean story, my favorite, a puckish young man tumbles down a cave (a fantastic image in silhouette) and realizes he's in the Land of the Dead, which is his to claim as his prize. The catch: the king, who has three identical princess daughters, demands several tests of courage, in which the whistling young man pits himself against a giant bee, a giant mongoose and a giant iguana.

For the Siskel Film Center engagement, some screenings of "Tales of the Night" are presented in French with English subtitles; I saw it the other way, in dubbed English, and the voice work is extremely expressive and witty. (Terrific iguana, among other things.)

And so it goes, from a tale of human sacrifice, averted, to "The Doe-Girl and the Architect's Son." Eighty-four minutes is about right for this style of animation. Even at that trim running time, the silhouette approach won't be for everyone. Ocelot's unity of vision, though, cannot be denied. Your kids, even the preteens, will likely fall headlong into his worlds.

mjphillips@tribune.com

No MPAA rating (some stylized violence)

Running time: 1:24

Plays: Friday-Thursday at the Siskel Film Center; for English- and subtitled French-language screening times, go to siskelfilmcenter.org.

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