||The Triplets of Belleville
2003 - PG-13 - 82 Mins.
|Director: Sylvain Chomet|
|Producer: Paul Cadieux|
|Written By: Sylvain Chomet|
|Starring: Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin, Monica Viegas |
|Review by: Harrison Cheung
A French/Belgian/Canadian production, ‘The Triplets of Belleville’ is a fascinating animated feature that is nostalgic in style – a welcome change from the usual Disney/Pixar/Dreamsworks fare in one camp, or the Japanimation/anime in the other camp. The film has been nominated for 2 Oscars (Best Animation, Best Song) and one IFP Spirit Award (Best Foreign Film).
Madame Souza and Bruno
The look and feel of ‘Triplets’ is reminiscent of 1930s Looney Tunes where the characters are more like caricatures. With exaggerated features that play on sometimes politically incorrect stereotypes, the animation does help the audience identify characters – especially with ‘Triplets’, which has little dialogue.
The film opens with a b/w animated newsreel where we’re introduced to the Triplets – a singing trio of sisters at the Folies Bergere in Paris. (Their signature song has been nominated for an Oscar.) To heighten the French sense of nostalgia, we even have a big song and dance number by Josephine Baker with her famous ‘banana dance’ of the 1920s (a risqué strip tease with bananas, little ones.) It’s an infectious scene that immediately sets the tone and unusual pacing of this movie.
Watching this newsreel on TV is Madame Souza, a kindly barrel-shaped grandmother who is trying to raise her melancholy grandson, Champion. She gives him a puppy, Bruno, but the boy only really responds when she gets him interested in bicycling. Soon, the tireless grandmother is riding along the hills and streets of Paris, helping her grandson train for the Tour de France.
During the Tour de France, Champion is kidnapped by the Mafia for mysterious reasons so Madame Souza and the faithful dog, Bruno, set off across the ocean (in a pedal boat!) to the metropolis of Belleville to rescue him from the clutches of the mafia.
The characters in ‘Triplets’ are a real joy to watch. For anyone who’s had a dog, you’ll recognize Bruno’s every gesture and trait. Champion grows up to be a lean teenager with exaggerated Gallic features and humongous calves, signature of the cycling purist. The Triplets show up again in Belleville, but much older, like the witches of Macbeth. And Madame Souza, who mostly communicates with a coach’s whistle, is sort of like the Energizer bunny –she’s got more energy than her focused grandson who cycles in a single-minded glaze.
While the core of the film is this search and rescue story driven by the love and determination of a grandmother, the other fun in ‘Triplets’ is the targeted poke at Americans. The metropolis of Belleville has its own Statue of Liberty in the harbor, but she’s overweight and holding a hamburger. In fact, all the citizens of Belleville (‘Beautiful City’ in English) are obese – a clear joke at the expense of overfed Americans. There are also numerous in-jokes – a poke at Disney and Mickey, a tug at poverty, and a nice couple slaps in the face about celebrity. It’s sort of bracing to see a foreign film show off their own stereotypes and prejudices about Americans – but to be fair, we see enough French jokes on TV – Freedom Fries, anyone?
And while the animation is absolutely retro in style, there are numerous sequences which show off some sophisticated computer animation techniques – Bruno has his hilarious and surreal ‘dog dreams’ which naturally center on his dog bowl. The Atlantic-crossing is breathtaking. And the big chase scene combines numerous techniques to create some eye-popping action.
With 2 Oscar nominations and numerous other awards, ‘The Triplets of Belleville’ is getting the attention that foreign films often lack. This is a wonderful little movie for audiences of all ages – great storytelling, finger-snapping music, and a nice glimpse at how Americans are perceived.