|Saturday, February 14, 2004
|Wacky, wonderful 'Triplets' like no other cartoon
The Triplets of Belleville
By Beth Jones
For his first feature film, Sylvain Chomet has made a movie that at its core isn't all that different from American action-adventure fare.
"The Triplets of Belleville" delivers a kidnapping, gun-wielding Mafia men and a high-adrenaline car chase. We're talking big-time keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat material.
Did we mention it's a cartoon? An Academy Award nominee for best animated feature, no less.
Specifically, it's a French cartoon, which means that in the midst of the high-octane plot, Chomet offers up plenty of weird visuals. Take, for example, the scene where three old women suck on frogs as if they were lollipops. (Don't ingest any magic mushrooms before going to see this one).
As the story begins, we meet a sad little boy named Champion. Desperate to perk the lad up, his grandmother, Madame Souza, gives him a bicycle.
As the years pass, he continues pedaling. Soon, he is ready to enter the Tour de France.
When Champion gets kidnapped at the race, Madame Souza and faithful dog Bruno set out to save him, a quest that takes them across the ocean in a sea adventure every bit as daring as those in "Master and Commander."
The fun doesn't stop there. The rescuers arrive in the big city of Belleville and are taken in by three eccentric music-hall stars who entertain us with several hoppin' musical numbers (the film, which has an infectious soundtrack, also earned an Oscar nomination for best song). For the most part, the characters' facial expressions remain static throughout the film and yet Chomet somehow manages to convey all of their sorrow and joy. One of his greatest achievements is allowing the audience to crawl inside Bruno's head. Not since "Babe" has a movie made me care so much for a four-legged character.
Chomet credits the Golden Age of Disney animation among his influences, a fact that's certainly reflected in this film. His drawings of people are particularly fanciful. Cyclists have stick-thin torsos but the calf muscles of giants, while Mafia men are simply drawn as suit-wearing rectangles.
The visuals in the background of Chomet's scenes offer some of the film's biggest laughs. An annoying accordion-playing fan gets squashed in a tunnel during the Tour de France. Then there's the bit where Chomet pokes fun at the obesity in this country by adding a few extra pounds to the Statue of Liberty.
As much as I love "Finding Nemo," "The Triplets of Belleville" deserves to win the statuette on Feb. 29. If the members of the Academy weren't completely clueless, they would have nominated it for Best Picture. It's easily the greatest cinematic achievement of 2003.
The Triplets of Belleville
At the Grandin Theatre. Rated PG-13 for brief cartoon nudity, a character giving a dog the middle finger, and some scenes that might frighten easily scared children. One hour, 20 minutes.