I was born three years too late to witness the groundbreaking event that was Expo 86. The last world’s fair to be held in North America was key in transforming Vancouver from a relatively sleepy port town into a world-class city. We’ve grown quite a bit since then; taller, denser, richer, and ever more colourful. With this growth has come challenges and conflicts over housing, drug use, traffic and protecting our breathtaking natural environment of ocean, forests and mountains.
April 18 will mark National Canadian Film Daywhich led me to ponder my all-time favourite Canadian film. There are many I like including such titles as Goin’ Down the Road, The Dirties, Weirdos and Heavy Metal, but few that really capture the spirit of Canada that I see and feel around me. We seem to be better at playing Americans, exploiting our stereotypes and even harshly criticizing our identity than actually celebrating what makes us such an amazing country. Growing up, I’ve always seen Canada as a place where the world comes together to live, work, grow and thrive because of our differences and not in spite of them. I can think of no better homegrown film to encompass this than Rainbow War.
Once upon a time in a timeless land, there were three floating kingdoms: the aristocratic Blue Kingdom where Blue is always in fashion, the primitive Red Kingdom who fear any other colour, and the fascist Yellow Kingdom where other hues are suppressed with a vengeance. The animosity among these realms is of little consequence as travel between them is virtually impossible.
This all changes when an inventive young man (Gary Carre) from the Yellow Kingdom creates a powerful flying machine capable of transversing the void between kingdoms. After dazzling the citizens of the Blue Kingdom, he crash lands into the Red Kingdom ruled by (who else?) the Red King (Jonathon Pallone). Here he meets the Red Princess (Saffron Henderson). It is love at first sight as the two exchange gifts; for her, his scarf and for him a rose. A surprise visit from her father’s guards causes him to make a hasty retreat and he promptly returns home where he is given a warm reception by the reigning Yellow Queen (Gillian Barber), but is swiftly punished when he reveals that he had fallen for the Red King’s daughter. As the boy is imprisoned, the Queen decides to use his invention to conquer the other kingdoms. Meanwhile, the foppish Blue King (Simon Webb) has riffed on the boy’s invention, having air balloons constructed so that he may spread the glorious colour Blue.
Soon, both the Blue and Yellow forces descend on the Red Kingdom and a three-way battle is set off. As the primary coloured paint and dust fly, other shades and hues begin to emerge including green, orange and purple, bringing the conflict into question. But with each of the kingdom’s monarchs refusing to yield, it may be up to the Red Princess and Yellow Boy to save the day and restore peace to the kingdoms.
Running a mere 20 minutes, Rainbow Waris a perfect modern fairy tale with a timeless theme and universal language. Aside from some narration at the start, it is told in complete pantomime. There are several themes at play here including intolerance, colonialism and xenophobia. None of these are played too heavily however as the film merely points out that no matter how different we may appear to each other at times, we are always stronger and better off together.
The actors all sell their parts with endless enthusiasm with Gillian Barber a particular standout as the deliciously vile Yellow Queen. Veteran Vancouver actors Bluman Kumba, Colin Mochrie, and Ryan Stiles also make appearances as soldiers, especially Stiles. One could play quite the drinking game spotting his appearances as members of all three armies!
The film is gorgeously shot with the whole colour spectrum exquisitely rendered in a way not seen since the days of Three-Strip Technicolor. The film exhibits a storybook motif throughout utilizing impressive 2-D props, page-turn transitions and forced-perspective settings that perfectly suit this story’s flights of fantasy. The proceedings are aided immeasurably by the fantastic score by David Spear. From the opening frame, the sweet melodies performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra take you on a journey that you never want to end. I actually watched the film twice and listened to my copy of the soundtrack on repeat while writing this review!
I had the immense pleasure of attending a 30thAnniversary screening of the film at Science World two years ago where I not only had a chance to meet the cast, but also got them to sign my soundtrack album! I’ve always had fond memories of this film from when I was younger and it’s only gotten better with each viewing. It’s a truly fine use of the short form that we don’t see enough of these days. Do yourself a favour and share it with your loved ones and your children as I hope to one day.