The Triplets of Belleville

Aside from computer generation, there is not much innovation taking place in animation today. Animated films are either beautiful CGI creations or some sort of Disney rip-off. Keep in mind that many recent Disney films are old Disney film rip-offs. The one consistent voice of originality and creativity is Hayao Miyazaki, who gives audiences things like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, films that are breathtaking in their originality and inventiveness. Depending on what he does in the future, Sylvain Chomet may be another distinct voice in animation. His film, The Triplets of Belleville, is a funny, original, and weird new movie.

Chomet's first film, The Old Lady and the Pigeons, was nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the 1998 Academy Awards. It took him the intervening five years to finish Triplets. Chomet uses what many people have forgotten, that animation is first and foremost a visual art form. As a result, there is very little dialogue in this film. There are a few sentences of English, and a few sentences of untranslated French. The beauty of it is that a translation is not necessary, Chomet conveys all his ideas through the actions of his characters. The story of Triplets is simple enough. Madame Souza, a short old lady with a clubfoot is off to the strange town of Belleville to rescue her son Champion.

Souza raised Champion since he was a lonely kid. He was introverted and bored, despite all her attempts to occupy him. When she gave him a tricycle, everything changed. Now Champion is an adult with a huge nose, paper-thin body, and humongous calves and thighs from cycling. Souza is even his coach, blowing her whistle tenaciously behind Champion. He is so good that he can participate in the Tour de France. However, once there, the French Mafia kidnaps him. Now, Souza and her morbidly obese dog Bruno (who loves to bark at trains) must chase the Mafia across the ocean to rescue Champion. Along the way, she meets the Triplets of Belleville, a trio of singers who were popular in the early part of the century. Souza enlists their help in her efforts to recover Champion.

The animation sure looks like nothing else on screen, which is a good thing. Chomet has created his own, weird world where characters are either stick-thin or very fat. Most of the inhabitants of Belleville have enormous noses. The French Mafia are hulking, square-shouldered goons devoid of personality, and the Triplets are tall, lanky, and almost witch-like. They enjoy catching frogs with grenades and then eating them in all sorts of disgusting ways. Everything is full of a childlike sense of wonder and soft touch for humor. The Triplets of Belleville feels padded, even with a compressed running time. However, the diversions give Chomet more time to explore some of the other characters. In the end, it is such a small complaint, and the fun in watching Souza slowly make her way to Champion is worth the filler. Nearly everything that Souza does put a smile on the face of whoever's watching. It was clearly a labor of love, and the care he put into this film is evident in the final product.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 22 minutes, French and English, Rated PG-13 for images involving sensuality, violence, and crude humor.

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