I think I said before that one of the most strange memories from my childhood was seeing "Jack and the Witch" while suffering a high fever. I didn't have a fever when I saw "Little Norse Prince Valiant" (a.k.a.Taiyou no ouji Horusu no daibouken), but it had a similar effect. I think it was because it was the first cartoon I saw that was almost adult in nature. I had no frame of reference and it blew my little mind.
It starts with our hero fighting a pack of wolves with a hatchet on a string. Though it pulls it punches (or lunges and slashes in this case) it is still obvious he hitting wolves with an ax something you didn't see in hanna barbara cartoons at the time. Things look grim though till the very ground rises up into a literal mountain of a man. The wolves go away and the boy, who's name is Hols which I found funny, takes the sword of the sun from the shoulder of the giant. The giant says when the sword is sharpened again and Hols knows how to use it, then the giant will come and witness him as Prince of the Sun.
Wow, what an adventure and things are just starting. His friend (a talking bear) comes suddenly and tells him that Hols' father is dying. On his death bed Hols' father tells them that their village was destroyed by the evil Grunwald, the King of Frost. He took his son and ran away and has regretted his decision. He asks Hols to return to the village and help them. After father dies (again another thing you didn't see in cartoons of the time), Hols gives him a viking funeral and makes for the homeland with his bear friend.
On their way they are attacked by eagle/crows and Hols is dragged to the mountain tops. There he meets Grunwald. Grunwald, though the cartoon doesn't make it clear, obviously knows something about the Hols and the Sword of the Sun, and says he's been waiting for him and has an offer. Join me and rule with me, or die. Hols being made of hero's stuff says no way to the whole joining with evil thing and Grunwald lets him fall off the mountain. Grunwald by the way isn't all that scary as a villain, he comes off more petty. Also, when I look at him now he looks like the villain from G force/battle of the planets, and how scary is that?
As I said, though, Hols is made of strong stuff. He is found floating down the river and taken to the village he was going to. Most people are very hospitable except for the village mayor and his doofus "gee I'm so naughty evil" deputy. Still, hospitality can only go so far. The trouble is that this is a fishing village with no fish. It turns out there is a giant pike stopping the fish from getting to the village.
Though the pike has already killed men from the village, Hols decides to take matters into his own hand. This is an incredible scene. The pike is horrible, almost mutated looking and has spears dug into its side. The battle goes back and forth and the pike is very tricky often playing dead before almost swallowing our hero whole. In the end an avalanche buries the pike and the village gets a huge fish run.
Everyone treats Hols as the hero which makes the Chief and his deputy jealous. After an attack by wolves, things are further complicated when Hols brings Hilda to the village. Hilda was found in an abandoned village and she says her village was destroyed by Grunhild and since then she has been forced to live alone. Touched by her story Hols brings her to his village along with her friends (a talking owl and squirrel). She is a beautiful girl and her singing can hypnotize everyone who hears her. She is distant and mysterious. What is her secret?
So, Grunwald tightens his trap. Rats attack the village, and people become suspicious of Hols driving him away. Finally, the truth comes out. Hilda is Grunwald's sister! Granted immortality by Grunwald's necklace of life, she is obliged to destroy Hols though her heart is not in it. She still manages to dump Hols into the psychotic/psychedelic lost woods. Now Grunwald is free to destroy the village his way with frost and monsters of ice and snow.
Of course Hols gets free and saves the village. What made this so good then and even now though, is the fight for the soul of Hilda. She is Hols enemy, but Hols tries to save her. To bring her to humanity. What really makes it good is that she doesn't just bend to his will but makes her own choices and finally comes to reject Grunwald on her own terms. First, she stops fighting Hols, she fades away and tells Hols to save the village. Later she gives her necklace to a child freezing to death in the snow, knowing full well that it will probably kill her. This last scene is so powerful, as Hilda is alone in the snow as wolves of frost attack her slowly forcing her to her knees.
This isn't by any stretch a bad film, but it was badly treated. It was translated by AIP and it's definitely rocky, also the American prints are old and damaged. But even if you watched the American version you'd see a compelling story and sometimes incredible animation. The animation isn't consistent, you can tell they were still searching for a style, but there are individual scenes of great beauty.
I would definitely loved to see this remade. Today's animation would definitely improve things. Also, a better respect for japanese animation would help keep things intact. Until then you can check out the original japanese version on You Tube.