The coastal West African landscape of Michel Ocelot's childhood provides the backdrop for his riveting animated tour de force Kirikou and the Sorceress (opening February 18), which follows its tiny hero's quest to save his village from the vengeful sorceress Karaba. Kirikou must contend not only with treacherous waters, wild boars, and his own self-doubts but also with the skepticism of his peers, a feeling the French-born Ocelot knows well. He worked six years in five different countries to finance and film Kirikou, "and always, I had people trying to give me the right recipe of how to get the film to countries everywhere," he says from his home in Paris. Most problematic was his insistence on sartorial authenticitywhich meant bare-breasted female villagers and a consistently nude Kirikou. "They're not naked, just clad normally, and I always saw people that way," explains Ocelot, whose parents were Catholic schoolteachers in Guinea; he and his brother were among the only white students in a school "where no one told us the blacks and whites were supposed to have a problem, so we didn't." Ocelot continues, "In the film, people fear many things, but they don't fear having a body. In Judeo-Christian societies, we're so afraid of the body that we go insane and become sex maniacs!" At one point, according to Ocelot, a French TV channel proposed "two choices: Either stop making the film or draw in bras." The director stood firm, and Kirikou is now among the fastest-selling children's videos in France. Peppered with considerable violence and intimations of rape, Kirikou, with its multidimensional characters and complex moral themes, provides kid-aimed but decidedly uncuddly viewing; Ocelot maintains, "I meet children who see it, and they understand that Karaba is bad because bad things have happened to her. They ask me about her, but they don't worry so much." Neither does Ocelot these dayswith Kirikou's success, he says, "Doors are opening. I don't even have to ring the bell."