THE MAGIC OF THE KITE is most assuredly an attempt to recreate the atmosphere (and success) of Albert Lamorisse’ classic allegorical fantasy, THE RED BALLOON (1956), embellished to feature length. Much of the same territory is covered, literally as well as symbolically. In addition to overt narrative similarity (children in postwar Paris seek to possess airborne toys which trigger spiritual growth), there is the whole notion of a placing a child’s psychological journey in a modern urban backdrop. There’s also a similarity here to Francois Truffaut’s upcoming THE 400 BLOWS (1959); the restless, oftimes mischievous wanderings of French child gangs in a vaguely oppressive citified environment.
Truth be told, KITE lacks the effortless lyricism of THE RED BALLOON or the bold frankness of THE 400 BLOWS; it lies somewhere amidst straight narrative and fairy tale, and doesn’t achieve ascendancy in any of these areas.
Still, …KITE is a visual and narrative delight. It offers many marvelous scenes of Parisian children in urban settings, doing typical group activities. Likewise, the scenes with Peking children in their natural environment are wonderful. The many neo-realistic sequences set in downtown Paris, and Peking, circa 1958, make …KITE an amazing and dear cultural time capsule. In addition, there is the pleasant, if predictable fantasy element. The story, simplistic to a fault, is fairly engaging.
Of course, there are downsides to a quaint time capsule; the villain of the piece, mean Bobby, comes across as entirely effeminate in his little blue shorts and tight red blouse and ballet-like slippers (obviously acceptable garb of the day). He’s hard to take seriously as a bully, probably even to matinee kids of the early 1970’s.
As curious as Bobby is as a villain, his breathtakingly sudden change of heart really comes as a shock. We had previously seen Bobby as the evil emblem of hate in Peter’s adventure or fantasy or dream, whatever it is. When we next see the bully, he is all hugs and kisses. As we never find out what caused the turnabout, we have no reference point to follow along on his journey of awakening.
The overall melodrama of …KITE might be too dated for a contemporary audience, and Peter is a most curious protagonist. He is good-hearted no doubt, but he also seeks power and enjoys conspiracy. He is a very “real” child in that he has rough edges which make him less than a hero, less than an angel.
Kid sister Nicole is Peter’s spiritual shadow; she is brave and adventurous where he is cautious and confused. More than once, Peter finds Nicole ahead of him in some desired activity, and he follows her lead without acknowledging it. Is Nicole just oblivious to danger, or does she know the truth about reality? In other words, does Nicole not know fear, or is she fearless against death?
Lessons learned? The myriad joys of international brotherhood, the efficacy of communication through gathered community, the similarity of child group activity the world over, the sacred spiritual purity of youth, and the advantages, and powers, of a group working in harmony toward an altruistic goal.
Indeed, the film itself is a glorious, too-rare example of distinct cultures working in tandem to create enduring art. A Chinese-French co-production, …KITE is a very rare bird for its genre and time period, a charmingly naive film which is not a masterpiece, but awfully close, and definitely worth a look.
The English-Language version boasts broad dubbing, and a rather lethargic theme song. THE MAGIC OF THE KITE was released to U.S. and Canadian Kiddie Matinees in 1971 by the short-lived Xerox Films of Connecticut, and re-released in 1974 by Paramount in its successful “Family Matinee” series.
Video/DVD availability: VHS (Studio Off-Hollywood Entertainment, 1993, “Specially for kids” series, volume 2, oop)
Peter and Sun Sou Sing finally meet, and fly the magic kite together.
In a terrifying nightmare, Bobby finds himself battling Emperor Bobby and his guards!