Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

The Triplets of Belleville, 02-11-04

The Triplets of Belleville is a good example why Disney just made a huge mistake in closing down its hand-drawn animation unit (the more so because the cessation of its agreement with Pixar just cost it its best computer animation resources). It is hard to imagine any computer being able to render the quirky, edgy characters of Triplets with anything like the vigor we find in this French animated feature. The cast of characters has an energetic distortion we recall only from vintage Fleischer studios works, or Warner Brothers pieces of the "Termite Terrace" days.

The film is "retro" in another way, in that it has virtually no coherent dialog, the story being conveyed in grunts, whistles, sound effects, and the occasional written word such as a newspaper headline—another Fleischeresque touch, and very canny for an international film.

The protagonist is Madame Souza, a widow caring for her orphaned grandson, Champion. The story begins in the 1940's, with Madame and Champion watching the new and unreliable television, tuned to a program featuring the "Triplets of Belleville," evidently a hot act, since they share the stage with both Josephine Baker and Fred Astaire. Madam buys Champion a dog, Bruno, in an attempt to lift the orphan's depression. The dog is comfort, but what works the trick is her discovery that the boy is mad for bicycling.

We then seque forward to the early 1960's: Charles De Gaulle is president of France, and Champion has grown into a competitive bicycle racer, with Madame Souza his tireless trainer. Disaster strikes when Champion is one of a number of racers kidnapped off the route of the Tour de France by mysterious men in black.

Madame and Bruno pursue the kidnappers across the ocean—to Belleville. Belleville (French for "beautiful town") is a nightmare New York—"fat city" literally, since most of the inhabitants are grossly overweight, a fact heralded by the corpulent “Statue of Liberty" holding aloft an ice cream cone. Bruno's nose is overcome by the exhaust fumes, and the trail is lost. Dejected and penniless, Madame Souza is found and taken in by the Triplets, who have aged into three really weird crones (who, by their appearance, look to be related to Popeye's Sea Hag).

I won't reveal more of the plot here. Suffice to say that the four old women succeed in rescuing Champion from the villains' clutches in a climax that is both wacky and wondrous. Highly recommended. One caution for parents: Josephine Baker is accurately portrayed in her famous topless, banana skirt outfit, so, unless you are prepared to answer the question, "Why does that lady have no clothes on?" best leave the kids at home. Cartoon violence.

Coupled with the main feature, which is a trim 87 minutes, is the short feature Destino, which was storyboarded by Salvador Dali for Disney, but only now produced by Roy Disney. It is a beautiful and lyrical piece, and the sort of thing that should have been in the comparatively uninspired Fantasia 2000.
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