Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Watched the gorgeous little French animated feature The Triplets of Belleville yesterday, and was wowed by this beautiful, Oscar-nominated toon. Visually, it's a marvel of animation, with the kind of vivid style and imagination rare in most American cartoons these days. The plot is fairly basic, but it's the quirky flourishes and characters that really make the movie memorable. Boiled down, it's about a lonely boy who grows up to compete in the Tour De France with help from his ever-doting grandmother, but when he comes to the big race, the boy is kidnapped by mysterious gangsters and the grandmother has to journey to the sprawling megalopolis of "Belleville" to find him. It's a short (80 min.), nearly silent film, with some scattered French dialogue, but filled with images that dance in your head, like ships as tall as mountains and twisted, nearly surreal figures bopping around detailed, infinite cities that look like they stepped out of a Winsor McKay cartoon.

Made me wonder, though, why is it that mainstream American animation is so static for the most part these days? Or has it always been that way? The "house Disney" style is predominant in pretty much all animated films, with the "Pixar/Disney" style close behind. Sometimes it can be beautiful, but other times it's corporate product lacking in any real imagination. To find thought-provoking animation these days it seems you either have to dig into the cult and festival film circuit, like the "Spike and Mike" anthologies which are always interesting, or look overseas to French films like "Belleville" or the huge anime world (which I'm not really a fan of myself, except for the dreamlike works of Hayao Miyazaki such as "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke").

When you think about the limitless potential of animation, you have to wonder why it isn't exploited more. A blank page and a pen or mouse can create pretty much anything, anything at all.

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