Friday, September 26, 2014

The Triplets of Belleville Review

Upon seeing the trailer for The Triplets of Belleville (2003) I was captivated by the remarkable and surreal animation. I discovered it around the same time I found The Secret of Kells and only now got around to it since it became available on NetFlix Instant Play. The animation of each movie are worlds apart from each other, but were made by a common studio. It's a pretty weird movie, but it's really good as well.
Madame Souza, an elderly woman, instills in her grandson, Champion (for who she acts as his guardian), a love of cycling. As a young man, he does become a dedicated road racer with his grandmother as his trainer. During a mountainous leg of the Tour de France in which Champion is racing, he goes missing. Evidence points to him being kidnapped. Indeed, he and two of his competitors were kidnapped; the kidnappers want to use the threesome's unique skills for nefarious purposes. With champion's overweight and faithful pet dog Bruno at her side, Madame Souza goes looking for Champion. Their trek takes them overseas to the town of Belleville. Without any money, Madame Souza and Bruno are befriended and taken in by three eccentric elderly women, who were once the renowned jazz singing group The Triplets of Belleville. The triplets help Madame Souza and Bruno hatch some ridiculous schemes to try to locate and rescue Champion.
Contrary to my usual pattern, you'll notice I haven't listed any cast credits. The reason for that is there is basically no dialogue in The Triplets of Belleville. You hear some characters chuckle every now and then, but that's about the extent of any vocalization. There are voice actors credited to the movie, but it doesn't specify who they were supposed to have played. Along the same vein as Wall-E, this is essentially a modern silent film, though Triplets has even less dialogue. None of the characters actually speak; the majority of the film is told through song and pantomime. As such, the characters are very expressive even when silent. It's simply amazing how much story is told without any major speaking roles.
The Triplets of Belleville was written, directed, and designed by French comic writer, animator, and film director Sylvain Chomet. His style of animation is positively fascinating to watch. It's full of intricate details, surreal characters, meticulous designs, and gloriously smooth movement both subtle and overt. Many of the characters here have odd proportions that I found distracting at first, such as enormous noses that would probably keep them from seeing properly. Yet it was animated in such a way that as I watched these characters move and go about their business, the distinction between animation and live action becomes less obvious. They move in such a realistic and believable way that at length you forget it's animated if not for the grotesquely proportioned characters. Champion, for example, has large bulging thighs and calves from biking so much, but his upper body is whip thin. I also liked how the villain's henchmen were animated as if it was one large rectangular person when walking side-by-side.
While I generally enjoy foreign films, I don't have a lot of experience with French films specifically. There is a stereotype that French films tend to be slow paced. On the one hand The Triplets of Belleville gets a good story told in only an hour and twenty minutes, but on the other hand it thankfully doesn't move at the insane dizzying speed of most American animated features aimed at kids. Because of the usual breakneck pace of American animated features, most American viewers will probably expect loud, eccentric tempo in any animated movie. The Triplets of Belleville will seem slow-moving by comparison, but it's not dull or uninteresting. The movie is rated PG-13 for "images involving sensuality, violence and crude humor," which seems a little harsh to me, although there are a couple of images I wouldn't expect most parents of young kids to wish for them to see. There's a brief shot of a topless woman in an early scene. While not exactly sexual, the only thing I can think to say to explain it is it's a French film.
The Triplets of Belleville mocks animation studios that exclusively do 3-D CGI movies these days. The animation is beautiful, the imagery is surreal, and the funny and quirky characters are engaging. Sylvain Chomet's unique style makes this film all the more interesting to watch. It has a slower pace than most bombastic American animated movies and it's basically a silent film. That might put off some viewers, but if you can get around that, I highly recommend seeing this obscure gem. It was up for Best Animated Feature but lost to Finding Nemo. This has a 94% on It's worth seeing at least once.

Here's the trailer for The Triplets of Belleville so you can get a taste for the animation:

Sylvain Chomet recently did a guest animated "couch gag" on The Simpsons not long ago you can check that out here if you like:

No comments:

Post a Comment