Friday, September 10, 2010

The Triplets Of Belleville (2003) On Further Review

Sylvain Chomet's animated film about an old lady who enlists the aide of the title characters to rescue her cyclist grandson (who's been kidnapped by a bunch of gamblers), has been hailed as one of the greatest animated films of all time.

I very much beg to differ.

From an artistic stand point the film is very beautiful. I will not argue about whether or not the film is a visual work of art because to argue that is a moot point. It is. Say what you will about the rest of the film, Chomet's design for the film is absolutely stunning.

The problem for me is that the film kind of just meanders all over the place for no really good reason. Yes some people love it; for me it's more a case of "yes and...?"

Chomet hasn't made many films in his career. He wrote comics and stories while working in animation in various positions. He then started his own freelance company (making commercials) before making The Old Lady And The Pigeons (1998). This is a half hour film that ran as part of this year's New York International Children's Film Festival's look at French animation. Old Lady is a rambling shaggy dog story about a cop who discovers that this old woman gives feasts to pigeons, so he dresses up as a pigeon to get in on the free lunch. Where it goes from there is kind of the story which ends on a rather dark note. The success of that film got him enough money that he could start work on Triplets.

Triplets went on to play the world to great critical acclaim and to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated film.

Triplets got Chomet noticed and he went off to Hollywood, despite a perceived (by some) dislike of Americans, and had all of his projects fall apart or taken away from him (he was removed from The Tales Of Desperaux in a manner that left some people asking questions like was he ever the intended director). He has since gone back to France where he made a couple of short live action pieces for two anthology films, and he also made The Illusionist which is based upon an unfilmed script by Jacques Tati (being a Tati fan I look forward to that film).

I love the look of Triplets. I fell in love with the trailer when I saw it and used to play it over and over again. Granted a large part of the love was due to the music, which was made to sound like a song from the 1930's...however there was something wonderful about Chomet's unique style that matched the music.

My problem is the story. It's needlessly rambling and at times contrary for no real reason. Characters do weird things just because. For example the Triplets live in a run down house and use dynamite to fish in the pond outside their door. Another example is the grandson, and the other racers who get kidnapped have such tunnel vision they never realize that they have been kidnapped. The bits are funny but they are too unbelievable and too distracting. There is no reason for them dramatically, it's simply one small aside after another. It's a film that is constantly pausing to show us a series of odd sites unaware that we're suppose to be going somewhere. It's like taking a bus across the country and then stopping at every tourist trap on the way. Sure everything you see is neat but it doesn't get you any closer to your destination.

I've seen this film probably a half dozen times now and in all honesty I've enjoyed it but I've never loved it. Certainly the film has its own look and style, but the story, which for me is key in any film, just doesn't work satisfactorily. I know some people can get past that, but I really can't.

Its a good film. I just don't think its a great one.

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