Based on legends from The Arabian Nights, it tells the story of the travels of Prince Achmed, who is tricked by an evil magician into riding a flying horse that takes him to distant magical lands. He falls in love with (and kidnaps) Princess Pari Banu, and must fight to return home with her in time to stop his sister, Princess Dinarsade, from marrying the evil magician. Dinarsade's former husband Aladdin (of the magic lamp fame) and a helpful witch who is the magician's arch nemesis join him on his quest.
In addition to its age, the film is most notable for Reiniger’s highly unique animation style, which uses black silhouettes of the characters and set pieces against painted backdrops. While this might be perceived as limiting, the characters remain highly distinct and expressive. Each silhouetted figure in the film was hand-cut and animated by Reiniger frame by frame – a labor of love that took three years to complete.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed provides examples of:
- "Arabian Nights" Days: Beyond the general Arabian Nights vibe the story has, the main plot is taken from the Arabian Nights story "The Ebony Horse", with the story of Aladdin added to the second half.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Played with. The heroes are all conventionally attractive, and the wicked magician is suitably grotesque. On the other hand, the ugly witch is a heroic character and the one who ultimately defeats the main villains.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: Rather than killing Achmed, the evil magician leaves Achmed stuck on top of a volcano while he swoops off to reclaim Dinarsade. Achmed then falls into the volcano's caldera, where he meets the witch, who agrees to help him.
- Cat Fight: When Achmed finally gets control of his horse and lands in the islands of Wak Wak, he finds himself in a castle populated by five beautiful women. They are all eager to kiss him, but when they start brawling with each other over Achmed's attention, he escapes.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Each frame of the movie was tinted to convey the location and/or time of the scene. Day scenes are yellow, night/caves scenes are blue, some indoors scenes are green.
- Cool Horse: It flies!
- Crossover: Of several stories featured in The Arabian Nights.
- Damsel in Distress: Both Peri Banu and Dinarsade.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: The heroes have to go through a lot of crap.
- Enemy Mine: The Witch allies herself with Achmed mostly because she just wants to kill the evil magician. "He is my greatest enemy! And we are friends!" (Hilariously, she tells this to Achmed right after she tries strangling him.)
- Flashback: The story of Aladdin is told to Achmed by Aladdin in an extended flashback.
- Good Witch Versus Bad Witch: The Witch of the Fiery Mountain allies herself with the heroes to defeat the evil magician.
- How Do I Shot Web?: Achmed can't figure out how to make the horse fly down at first.
- How We Got Here: After Achmed rescues Aladdin from a monster, Aladdin tells him his whole story, up to the point where he meets the monster.
- Hydra Problem: Towards the end of the film, Achmed fights a hydra-like monster, and every time he chops off one of its heads, two more grow back. Fortunately, the Witch intervenes and uses her lamp to cauterize the severed necks, thus preventing the heads from growing back.
- I Have You Now, My Pretty: The Emperor of China to Peri Banu. The evil magician never really manages to do this with Dinarsade.
- Incest Subtext: Might be a Values Dissonance thing, but a scene from early on in the movie will raise an eyebrow or two — when Achmed protects his sister Dinarsade from the sorcerer, they proceed to stare at each other intensely, with Dinarsade carressing Achmed's cheek.
- Playing with Fire: The witch and evil magician both resort to throwing fireballs at one another. The witch wins.
- Race for Your Love: Achmed, Aladdin, and the witch race back to stop Peri Baru's forced marriage to the Emperor of China's weird little troll buddy.
- Rescue Sex: It's implied that Achmed and Pani Banu have sex in China.
- Shapeshifter Showdown: The witch and the evil wizard have one of these initially, then start throwing fireballs at each other when neither can beat the other that way.
- Shapeshifting Lover: Peri Banu and her handmaidens use feathered gowns to transform into birds. Which is a nod to the shapeshifting "Swan Maidens" and their feathered clothes in the folklore of Europe and Asia. Nearly every European country has a variation of the tale.
- Shipper on Deck: At the very least, Achmed seems okay with his sister marrying Aladdin.
- Stockholm Syndrome: After the shock of the original kidnapping wears off, Peri Banu seems more than happy to stay with Achmed. After Achmed is willing to let her go, she takes pity on him and even resists when the spirits of her homeland try to bring her back.
- Stop Motion: Being the oldest surviving animated feature film period, this is also the oldest surviving example of a stop-motion animated feature, although the trope actually dates back at least as far as The Cameraman's Revenge (1912).
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The horse is left behind in China when the sorcerer flies Achmed to the mountains.