Several famous avant-garde animators worked on this film with Lotte Reiniger, among them Walter Ruttmann, Berthold Bartosch, and Carl Koch.
An African sorcerer (der afrikanische Zauberer) conjures up a flying horse, which he shows to the Caliph. When the sorcerer refuses to sell it for any amount of gold, the Caliph offers any treasure he has. The sorcerer chooses Dinarsade, the Caliph's daughter, to her great distress. Prince Achmed, Dinarsade's brother, objects, but the sorcerer persuades him to try out the horse. It carries the prince away, higher and higher into the sky, as he does not know how to control it. The Caliph has the sorcerer imprisoned.
When Achmed discovers how to make the horse descend, he finds himself in a strange foreign land. He is greeted by a bevy of attractive maidens. When they begin fighting for his attention, he flies away to a lake. There, he watches as Pari Banu, the beautiful ruler of the land of Wak Wak, arrives with her attendants to bathe. When they spot him, they all fly away, except for Peri Banu, for Achmed has her magical flying feather costume. She flees on foot, but he captures her. He gains her trust when he returns her feathers. They fall in love. She warns him, however, that the demons of Wak Wak will try to kill him.
The sorcerer frees himself from his chains. Transforming himself into a bat, he seeks out Achmed. The prince chases the sorcerer (back in human form) and falls into a pit. While Achmed fights a giant snake, the sorcerer takes Pari Banu to China and sells her to the Emperor. The sorcerer returns and pins Achmed under a boulder on top of a mountain. However, the Witch (die Hexe) of the Flaming Mountain notices him and rescues Achmed. The sorcerer is her arch-enemy, so she helps Achmed rescue Pari Banu from the Emperor.
Then the demons of Wak Wak find the couple and, despite Achmed's fierce resistance, carry Pari Banu off. Achmed forces a captive demon to fly him to Wak Wak. However, the gates of Wak Wak are locked. He then slays a monster who is attacking a boy named Aladdin.
Aladdin tells of how he, a poor tailor, was recruited by the sorcerer to retrieve a magic lamp from a cave. When Aladdin returned to the cave entrance, the sorcerer demanded the lamp before letting him out. Aladdin refused, so the sorcerer sealed him in. Aladdin accidentally released one of the genies of the lamp and ordered it to take him home. He then courted and married Dinarsade. One night, Dinarsade, Aladdin's magnificent palace and the lamp disappeared. Blamed by the Caliph, Aladdin fled to avoid being executed. A storm at sea cast him ashore at Wak Wak. When he tried to pluck fruit from a "tree", it turned into a monster and grabbed him, but Achmed killed it.
Then the witch arrives. Since only the lamp can open the gates, she agrees to attack the sorcerer to get it. They engage in a magical duel, each transforming into various creatures. After a while, they resume their human forms and fling fireballs at each other. Finally, the witch slays the sorcerer. With the lamp, they are able to enter Wak Wak, just in time to save Pari Banu from being thrown to her death. A fierce battle erupts. A demon steals the lamp, but the witch gets it back. She summons creatures from the lamp who defeat the demons. One hydra-like creature seizes Pari Banu. When Achmed cuts off one of its heads, two more grow back immediately, but the witch stops this regeneration, allowing Achmed to kill it. A flying palace then settles to the ground. Inside, Aladdin finds Dinarsade and Dinasade reunited with her brother. The two couples bid goodbye to the witch and fly home in the palace.
Reiniger required several years, from 1923 to 1926, to make this film. Each frame had to be painstakingly filmed, and 24 frames were needed per second.
No original German nitrate prints of the film are known to still exist. While the original film featured color tinting, prints available just prior to the restoration had all been in black and white. Working from surviving nitrate prints, German and British archivists restored the film during 1998 and 1999 including reinstating the original tinted image by using the Desmet method.
The film is screened fairly often on Turner Classic Movies. As of August 2017, the film is available to stream through the subscription-based FilmStruck. English-market DVDs are available, distributed by Milestone Films and available in NTSC R1 (from Image) and PAL R2 (from the BFI). Both versions of the DVD are identical. They feature both an English-subtitled version (the intertitles are in German) and an English voice-over.
Two homages to this movie can be spotted in two Disney films: the duel between a witch and a wizard who both transform in various creatures is found in Disney's 1963 The Sword in the Stone, and a character named Prince Achmed makes a cameo at the beginning of Aladdin. The art style also served as inspiration for the Steven Universe episode "The Answer".
The original score was composed by German composer Wolfgang Zeller in direct collaboration with the animation of the film. Reiniger created photograms for the orchestras, which were common in better theatres of the time, to follow along the action.
The Silk Road Ensemble accompanied the film with a live improvised performance on Western strings and instruments such as the oud, ney and sheng in October 2006 at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, NY. The Silk Road Ensemble repeated the performance at the Avon Cinema in Providence, Rhode Island, in February 2007.
Spanish band Caspervek Trio composed a new soundtrack for the movie in 2014 premiered in Vigo, with further performances in Ourense, Liptovský Míkulás and Madrid.
New York City band Morricone Youth composed a new score for the film in 2012 and first performed it live at Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn on September 28, 2012. Country Club Records released a vinyl 6-song EP of the score in 2016.