Tribute to Lotte Reiniger

The fairy tales of brothers Grimm come alive in animated movies

Lotte Reiniger

VIEW Conference will dedicate this year a special tribute to Lotte Reiniger, a pioneer of animation, by projecting some of his most successful short movies as part of its Digital Movie Festival, VIEWFest.

The retrospective is organized in partnership with Goethe-Institut Turin and is part of the celebrations for the bicentennial of the publication of the first volume of tales by the Brothers Grimm, that Lotte Reiniger has transformed into animated films.

Born in Berlin in 1889, Charlotte Reiniger, still a child, was struck by the shadow-puppets theater. Later she felt in love with cinema, especially with Georges Méliès’ animated movies, and soon managed to get into this world, thanks to her extraordinary ability to draw and cut out shapes from different types of materials. 

In 1923 Lotte had her big chance: the producer Louis Hagen asked her to make an animated movie. The result was The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), the first animated feature movie, inspired by the One Thousand and One Nights stories. The movies failed to find a distributor for over a year, but when it was projected in Paris – with the help of Jean Renoir – it became a critical and popular success.

Since then, Lotte began her career as a director of animated movies. In 1953 she founded her own production company, the Primrose Productions, with which she realized a long series of movies, inspired by the Brothers Grimm’s tales, for two of the most important broadcasters of the time, BBC and American Telecasting.

Lotte Reiniger’s movies are instantly recognizable. In her endless filmography Lotte has used mostly silhouette: black cards which she herself designed and cut, running incredibly natural movements on a white background and giving back the magic and romantic atmosphere of Grimm’s fairy tales.

The initiative is part of Grimmland, the program of events which Goethe-Institut has established to celebrate the brothers Grimm and which aims to investigate the role of fairy tales in contemporary culture. Precisely for this reason, VIEW Conference and VIEWFest, in partnership with the Goethe-Institut Turin, has decided to launch a short animation contest for film schools students and young artists under 35 years, who are invited to revive with an innovative spirit Grimm’s tales. The two winners, one Italian and one German, will be awarded a prize of 1500 €. The winning short movies will also be screened during VIEWFest.




Cinderella (1922)

Director and animation: Lotte Reiniger – Camera: Carl Koch – Produced byInstitut für Kulturforschung, Berlin – Duration: 13’ – b/w

Cinderella is one of the first films by Charlotte Reiniger. The film begins with a pair of scissors cutting out Cinderella from a piece of black card. Once Cinderella is placed into her world, the story begins, rapidly reaching high levels of technical complexity. After the first scenes, depicting Cinderella helping her stepsisters to dress and makeup, some memorable frames follow, as the moment when birds flock in large numbers, to catch the food that Cinderella gives them, the moment in which Cinderella is covered by magic of a beautiful dress, or the wild music that the musicians seem to play during the dance party. A feature of this film is also the fact that in many shots the action is vignetted by jagged edges, as to keep a gap between our world and the fantasy space.


Puss in Boots (1935)

Director and animation: Lotte Reiniger – Assistant: Arthur Neher – Production: Charlotte Cook Cleaner – Music: Hans Horst Sieber – German version, spoken in rhyme: F.H. Heddenhausen – Duration: 13’ – b/w

Lotte Reiniger reinterprets the famous tale of the Puss in Boots remaining, as usual, very faithful to brothers Grimm’s tale, but characterizing it, at the same time, with her unique style. Compared to older films like Cinderella, in the Puss in Boots it is possible to notice a greater attention to the definition of the background. Extraordinary are also the technical skills by means of which Lotte renders not only the human movements, but especially those of the cat, which is the main protagonist of the story. 




The golden goose (1944-47)

Director and animation: Lotte Reiniger – Production: Reichsanstalt für Film und Bild in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, Berlin – 1988 by dubbing studio-tv-film GmbH on behalf of Primrose film for ZDF – Duration: 12’ – b/w

The “hit-and-run” movie by Lotte Reiniger – as she herself called it – was made in Berlin in 1944, in the last months of the war. Although fled from the Nazi Germany, in fact, Lotte had decided to return home because she did not want to leave her mother alone in the hell of war. At that difficult time, and perhaps because of this, Lotte decides to use her silhouettes to tell the story of a Simpleton (in name and in fact) with a good heart. The existential concerns of Lotte are transferred into the world of fiction, undergoing a sort of metamorphosis and resulting in a film full of zest for life, created to comfort and revive the senses. All that in 1944 was no longer available or rationed – bread, wine, eggs, cakes – is thus at least represented in the film, which recreates a sort of country of Cockaigne.


Snow-White and Rose-Red (1954)

Director and animation: Lotte Reiniger – Production: Primrose – Production Team: Carl Koch, Louis Hagen, Vivian Milroy – Music: Freddie Phillips – German version, Speaker: Jörg Hube – Duration: 12’14’’ – b/w  

As many of the films directed by Lotte Reiniger, Snow-White and Rose-Red is also inspired by a fairytale by the Brothers Grimm. A prince goes through the forest with his horse, in search of his brother, who was transformed into a bear by an evil dwarf. During the winter the bear took shelter in the home of two sisters, Snow-White and Rose-Red. When the spring comes, the bear disappears in the woods. The sisters, sad, hope to meet him again in the woods, but run into the dwarf, who is in trouble. Snow-White and Rose-Red offer to help him and the dwarf promises them to free the bear from the spell, turning him back into a prince. Once the two brothers are reunited, a double wedding is celebrated: Snow-White marries the prince, and Rose-Red his brother.

Reiniger’s ability is measured this time with the recreation of the forest landscape, the movements of the animals that live there, and the wind blowing through the trees, dropping leaves.



Hansel e Gretel (1954)

Director and animation: Lotte Reiniger – Production: Primrose – Production Team: Carl Koch, Louis Hagen, Vivian Milroy – Music: Freddie Phillips – Speaker of the German version: Gerard Heinz – Duration: 10’16’’ – b/w

The Hansel and Gretel by Lotte Reiniger contains some important changes compared to the original Grimm fairytale, which relate in particular to the conclusion. Lotte would in fact wanted to respect the original plot and represent the witch burning in the oven. However, after so few years from the Holocaust, representing a scene like that was taboo, especially for the Germans who had fled from their country. Lotte then opts for another conclusion: Hansel and Gretel break the witch’s magic wand, with the help of a squirrel and a goose. The breaking of the wand also produces the disappearance of the witch, which crumbles into a myriad of small pieces.


The Three Wishes (1954)

Director and animation: Lotte Reiniger – Production: Primrose – Production Team: Carl Koch, Louis Hagen, Vivian Milroy – Music: Freddie Phillips – Voice in the German version: Leo Bieber – Duration: 10’ – b/w

Martin is a lumberjack and lives with his wife Grete in a small house on the edge of the woods. His work day begins in the forest with a hearty breakfast. He suddenly hears someone calling his name. The voice comes from an oak tree, where a fairy is trapped. Martin frees the fairy, who gives him in return a ring by means of which he can satisfy three wishes. Martin comes back home and tells his wife what has happened. He decides to give her the ring, to reflect on what is best to ask. Meanwhile at the home of Gretchen and Martin arrives Kaspar, their neighbor, with a keg of beer. Thoughtfully Grete expresses the desire to have a big bowl of sausages to offer and immediately her wish is granted. When Martin gets home and realizes that Grete has wasted a desire, he rages and takes the ring back, but soon he himself unintentionally expresses a desire, by wishing the sausages enter his wife’s long nose. He is thus forced to express the third wish, asking that everything returns as before. Lotte Reiniger decides to give the story a happy ending: the fairy appears on the plate of sausages and takes the ring, but decides to express three wishes for Greta and Martin, ensuring them youth, health and a happy life together.


The Sleeping Beauty (1954)

Director and animation: Lotte Reiniger – Production: Primrose – Production Team: Carl Koch, Louis Hagen, Vivian Milroy – Music: Freddie Phillips – Voice of the German version: Leo Bieber – Duration: 10’14’’ – b/w

Sleeping Beauty by the Brothers Grimm has played an important role in Lotte Reiniger’s early years of life. She loved to tell that, when she was a little girl, she went with her grandmother to see a film adaptation of this story at a cinema in Berlin, but once arrived there, she discovered that the film had already been sold. Disappointed and angry, Lotte was sitting on the steps in front of the cinema, crying bitterly. The cinema owner was so moved by Lotte that he bought the movie again.


The Frog Prince (1954)

Director and animation: Lotte Reiniger – Production: Primrose – Production Team: Carl Koch, Louis Hagen, Vivian Milroy – Music: Freddie Phillips – Voice in the German version: Leo Bieber – Duration: 10’ – b/w  

According to a legend, one of the three daughters of the king will get married by means of a golden ball. The king throws the ball to the first daughter, but she misses it, and so also the second daughter. The third, who is the youngest, manages to grab it. One day, however, the ball falls into a deep well. Near the well is a frog, who offers to retrieve the ball if the princess will become his friend. The princess agrees, but as soon as she gets the ball, she runs away, and forgets the poor beast. The frog then goes to the castle and asks to enter. The King welcomes him and reminds her daughter that a promise is a promise, and must be maintained. The frog is suddenly transformed into a handsome young prince, with the astonishment of the king and princess. The legend comes true and the youngest daughter gets her royal wedding.


The Frog Prince (1961)

Director and animation: Lotte Reiniger – Theatre Coventry – Duration: 3’ – Color

Lotte Reiniger designed the animation of this story as a break of the homonymous Christmas pièce, which was held at the Coventry Theatre in December 1961, and she took the opportunity to explore the use of her coloured silhouettes on a colourful background, consisting of some overlapping surfaces, so as to recreate the effect of the underwater landscape. The part of the film that will be screened at VIEW Fest concerns one of the most poetic moments, when the Frog Prince throws himself into the pond to retrieve the ball of gold lost by the Princess, eventually meeting a series of fantastic animals.