The Triplets of Belleville
With Disney shirking
2-d animated pictures forever next year, it is in the hands of filmmakers like Hayao Miyazaki and films like The Triplets of Belleville
to remind new audiences the unsurpassable beauty and artistic possibility of traditional animation. Sylvain Chomet's first full length film-more appropriately titled Belleville Rendezvous in French-is so testament to the power and visual wonder of animation that it is told completely sans dialog, accompanied only with gay music, ambient sound, and the muffled grunts and clipped words of humans and the amusingly more decipherable grunts, whines, and barking from one half of the film's two stars, Bruno the dog. The other half is a windowed mother who, after numerous attempts to discover a hobby her young boy enjoys, discovers under his bed a journal filled with newspaper clippings about bicycling. He is overjoyed when she buys him his first tricycle and the film skips decade or two as the family is forgotten by the world and the mother tirelessly helps her son train for the Tour de France.
somewhere around the 1950s or 1960s, The Triplets of Belleville
is particularly nostalgic-it opens with cartoon footage of the premier of the a cabaret number sung by the Triplets, accompanied by what looks like a retro-cartoon rendition of Josephine Baker-and Chomet's characters exude a playful feeling of the past. They seem designed around a good-natured grotesquery, the fun of gross caricature in motion. During the first half of the film, taking place in France, the people populating Chomet's world seem like the best of caricatures, appearing both uniquely stylized and a perfect visual concision of each character. The look is charming and constantly amusing; the son is lankier than a piece of string but his thigh and calf muscles are blown gloriously out of proportion from his training, and his nose juts out several inches past the end of his face; the mother, seeming to have shrunk down from a leggy photograph of herself in the 40s, is only three feet high and required to wear one high heel to balance out disproportioned legs; and Bruno, by far the film's best creation, is far too fat for his spindly legs and ends up slipping or collapsing at any attempt of motion.
When a pair of shadowy agents
kidnaps the son during the Tour de France, Bruno leads mother on the scent, which takes them to the metropolis of Belleville, an island seemingly modeled on a romantically fantastic condensation of Manhattan. The population there is much different, filled with gloriously rotund men and women, fat beyond belief. Miraculously, the mother runs into the original Triplets of Belleville, now quite aged, and living alone together in the slums, eating a steady diet of frogs blown out of the river and performing retro song number for the city's older generation. Here the charmingly semi-aimless narrative propels itself forward, but Chometï¿½s plotting is nowhere near as compelling as the inhabitants of his world, and the thin theme of devotion to what you love and the emphasis on parental devotion cannot help sustain the characters of the film. To employ a terrible pun, they are far two dimensional and are nearly dehumanized in the film's blind quest. Except for endlessly comical humanization of Bruno The Triplets of Belleville
would survive best as a simple tableau of loose images, traveling around the country and the city and finding interesting people. For it is the people of Chomet's world that have the unique look, and without the depth the film badly lacks a creative sense of place-only in the revelation of the reason behind the son's kidnapping, the mother's homespun training, the opening cabaret strip, and in a beautiful montage during the Tour does the film world light up with the visual imagination that its characters are so full of. Chomet's film sadly emphasizes that no matter the power of the images there needs to be a strong guiding force behind the film, narrative or not, and Triplets
for all its imaginative power cannot push itself into anything beyond creatively inspired.