Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Triplets of Belleville
Review by Sombrero Grande

The Triplets of Belleville is a gorgeous piece of art. Yep, I said “art”. Not “art” as in “any film is art” but “art” as in “this is truly a work of art”. Leave it to the French to take the genre of modern animation and revert it back from essentially a merchandise springboard to moving drawings that mean something. The film is full of tiny commentaries, from the Statue of Liberty depicted as a morbidly obese woman lifting high an ice cream cone instead of a torch, to a cluster of feces which forms the precise shape of a hidden Mickey Mouse head.

Okay, so the French are having a little fun at we Americans’ expense. Big deal. Sombrero Grande isn’t some Nazi wacko who can’t take a little clever ribbing about his culture. It’s all in fun.

The film’s sense of humor is very subtle and clever. Bruno is a dog who, as a puppy, accidentally got his tail run over by a toy train. To this day he hates trains and will haul his hefty body up a flight of stairs over and over again to bark his displeasure at every train that passes by his home’s second story window.

Now just because this is a French cartoon don’t worry your pretty little head about constantly being distracted from the animation by subtitles. You could probably count the number of spoken lines in the film on your fingers. The action unfolds almost entirely through visuals, music and sound effects. The result is something not too unlike a silent film, which presents wonderful opportunities for cleverly conceived segments. One of the earliest segments in the film, in which Madame Sousa tries to find something that her grandson, Champion, could get interested in, is so tasty I wish I could eat it. No words, just very expressive animation and subtle direction tell the emotional tale of a grandmother trying to please and comfort her grandchild after he moves in with her in the wake of the death of his parents.

I won’t say much about the story because this is the kind of film where you can bask in the surprise of never knowing what’s coming up next. You may find yourself thinking, “what the Hell?” at several points in the film, but ultimately it all seems to makes sense somehow within the highly stylized, surreal world that is presented. I personally love the exaggerated and occasionally downright bizarre look of the film and its characters, though I know they may not be for everyone; my wife, for instance, could never get past the fact that many of the characters are rather grotesque and “scary”. Certainly no Happy Meal toys were ever in mind when the artists set about designing this cadre of characters.

From the goofy yet determined Madame Sousa to the far-from-identical triplets, I found each and every character in The Triplets of Belleville enjoyable. Probably my favorite character in the film is the very mousy mechanic who looks like a cross between Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse and speaks only in squeaks. The block-like goons who surround their tiny mob bosses with an almost fluid-like melding ability were great fun. Bruno’s personality makes him the most unique and realistic canine I’ve ever encountered in animation. Even the background characters seemed to have their own unique personalities conveyed through their design.

I can’t finish this review without mentioning the title song, which I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I saw the Triplets of Belleville trailer in theaters. “Catchy” just doesn’t seem to fulfill the bill of defining this song that had me tapping my remote control on my knee like a drumstick as I watched the credits.

While it may not be for all tastes, I absolutely loved watching this film and I’d highly recommend it to any animation nuts, silent movie fans or people searching for something “different” to watch. For those of you I just mentioned, the trip to Belleville is sure to be a “trip” worth taking.


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