The Legend of the White Serpent (a.k.a. The Tale of the White Serpent, The Great White Snake, The White Snake Enchantress, or Panda and the Magic Serpent) was a Japanese animated film first released in 1958 in Japan.
Note that I didn’t call it anime. In my personal opinion, the anime style hadn’t been defined yet (Osamu Tezuka would begin to do that with Astro Boy several years later), and this film looks like an early Disney or Fleischer cartoon. It has far more to do with Snow White or Gulliver’s Travels than Astro Boy or Gigantor.
But this was one of the first
It’s an adaptation of a Chinese myth, about a boy who’s forced to abandon a pet snake, which returns years later as a beautiful woman to seek his side. They face many challenges — particularly from a priest who wants to exorcise the snake spirit — but they are truly in love.
By modern standards, the animation in Legend is relatively stiff and straightforward, and the direction is full of simple jump cuts. The art direction, on the other hand, delivers delicate watercolor backgrounds reminiscent of
It’s a fairy tale, so the characters are exceedingly simple: the wondering hero, the enigmatic serpent woman, the joyful servant girl, and the helpful forest creatures who follow them around. Yes, even back then, we had cute animals that could easily be turned into plushies.
The voice actors do their best, but this was not an era with a vast stable of seasoned Japanese voice talent. Similarly, the music twangs with traditional Chinese melodies, rather harsh to my Western ears but not unpleasant.
But it is a lovely story, and beautifully drawn. It’s hard to recommend this film unilaterally; it’s an anachronism. But anachronisms are worth remembering and cherishing for their contribution to our world.