For this installment of “I’d Love to Turn You On” I have the pleasure of reviewing Sylvain Chomet’s 2003 animated masterpiece The Triplets of Belleville. At first glance this is a very simple story told in a very innovative and eccentric way. However when you dig a little further into this simple and brief tale of mystery, intrigue and love you’ll find that it is quite a rich and very well told tale. Additionally it has some of the best and most interesting animation I have ever had the pleasure of watching and a soundtrack that is as stunning as it is odd. Simply put this is a film that has very few lines of dialogue yet tells a very strange and convoluted but beautiful story.
The first thing that strikes me when watching this movie is just how amazing the art and animation is! In a world that was already evolving into the computer animated, Pixar-obsessed world of today, it is truly a treat to find such a painstakingly and carefully hand animated film. Each character is designed in a unique and particular way, and then given a very specific nuanced movement and personality. Through this animation process the characters come alive in a very special and often forgotten way. It brings to mind the old animated classic cartoons but in a bizarre and extraordinary way that differentiates it from the more crude cartoons of old. While I have now spent a few sentences attempting to the striking animation justice, I am finding myself at a loss. I don’t believe that words are enough to fully describe the magnificence embodied in the aesthetics of this film. The settings, the scenery, the characters and the detail involved in all of these things are simply something that you MUST see and experience in order to fully understand.
The second thing that strikes me when writing this piece is just how bizarre and intriguing the storyline is. Simply put a Grandma is attempting to raise her grandson. She tries her best to find things that will interest him and turn his life around so that he can live a happy and fulfilling life. After a few failed attempts she stumbles upon his journal and discovers that he has a bit of an obsession with bicycles. Ecstatic that she has possibly found the thing that will provide her grandson with lifelong happiness she buys him a bike, and he is elated. Flash forward a decade or so later and the little boy has grown into ‘the Champion’ and is training for the Tour de France with the help of his loving grandma, Madame Souza, and their loyal dog Bruno. However during the race two mysterious rectangle-shaped-sunglass and moustache-clad henchmen kidnap the Champ during the race. Discovering that something is amiss, Madame Souza and Bruno find and follow the rectangular thugs across an ocean to “Belleville” (a sort of American amalgamation). It is here that Souza and Bruno take up with the musical Triplets in order to continue their search for the Champ. Why did the mysterious brutes kidnap the champ? Will Madame Souza and Bruno ever find him? Where do the musical Triplets come into play? All of these questions and more are delightfully answered in this short but constantly entertaining and engaging plot.
The third thing that I find to be particularly amazing is the fact that the film and its rather complex plot are told through very sparing use of dialogue. Instead the film relies very heavily on subtle expressions from the characters and a well-orchestrated and emotive soundtrack, put together by Benoît Charest (alongside Chomet). While this might initially seem to limit the film in its ability to convey a story successfully I assure you that the movie not only develops and tells a beautiful and complex tale but it does so in a way that is amusing and heart wrenching. This is a glorious example of a movie that will make you laugh and cry, humorous and at the same time quite touching. Chomet is even able to execute some sly commentary through the character designs (which is best experienced and not described) and the use of animal personification in the characters and different types of people - the racers are given horse characteristics for example, and the mechanic for the bad guys is given the characteristics of a rodent. All of this just adds to the immense charm of the film.
While I could go on for hours about how amazing this movie is, I suppose that I should get down to brass tacks: why should you take a chance on this film? Because it is a perfect representation of an almost forgotten art (hand animation), because it has an always intriguing and entertaining story line, because it has a fantastic soundtrack, and because it is brilliantly told even with almost non-existent dialogue. This is truly an anomaly of a film and I implore you to take 80 minutes and experience it for yourself. Nothing I can say in words will completely do this idiosyncratic classic complete justice. You simply must see for yourself!
- Edward Hill