03 February 2011

The Triplets of Belleville

I apologize for the lack of posts lately. I have no excuse besides one: I've been dealing with some major writer's block lately. It really hit when I tried to start work on an essay about Friðrik Þór Friðriksson's Mamma Gógó that was submitted by Iceland for this year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture but ultimately not accepted. I'm stepping back and rethinking how to approach it now. I also figure that The Triplets of Belleville (2003, Les triplettes de Belleville, dir. Sylvain Chomet) will give me a decent point to start back into writing on this blog, as it's relatively light fare when it comes to more analytical writing. So here we go. Wish me luck!

The Triplets of Belleville 
To be honest, I don't really remember how I found out about this film. I think I came across the trailer at some point and said, "That looks interesting!" I then added it to my Netflix queue, where it sat in waiting for a while until I had all but forgotten about it. Such can be the nature of Netflix.

At any rate, I enjoyed the film for what it was, a fun and unique animation. Story-wise, it's pretty simple. The film starts with a young boy who gets a dog and a bike from his grandmother. He trains on the bike until, one day as an adult, he enters the "Circuit de France." However, he ends up being kidnapped by some men in black, at which point his grandmother, Madame Souza, and his dog, Bruno, set out to try to find him. On the way, they gain the aid of a the Triplets of Belleville, three aging sister who were once famous musical performers.

A story without much to say
There isn't much of a message or a point to it all. It's mostly for the fun of it. The story itself is conveyed visually, with very sparse dialogue that is rather incidental. I watched the English dub, but I could've easily watched the original French (not available on the DVD) and gotten the same basic experience. In fact, only about half of the rather sparse dialogue was translated at all, with the rest (such as the announcers voice during the bike race) was left in French.

Really, all of it points to one thing. This movie is about the animation, plan and simple. Everything else is just there in-as-much as it needs to be to allow the animation to exist. The story and dialogue are pretty bare-bones, because that's not what it's about. It's about having fun with a bizarre and interesting style.

However, the characters are a little more developed than the plot and dialogue. We get a feel for the kinds of people that populate the screen. The strong-willed and hardy Souza, the loyal Bruno, the fun-loving and slightly insane triplets, etc. They come to life, but again, it's mostly through the animation. They are all drawn and animated to really bring out a certain look and feel that defines them.

"A far cry from either Walt Disney or Japanese anime"
The film bills itself as being something different from anything you've seen before. This may not be 100% true, as it certainly takes its cues from some of the original animations dating back to the first filmic era, and there have been other animators to play extensively with the medium. However, it certainly is a film you don't see everyday, with a rather unusual style. The film has a certain dark, dingy quality that's hard to put your finger on, but when you see the scene where one of the triplets goes fishing from frogs using a hand grenade, you might get the idea what I mean.

Emily was reminded of the Professor Layton games while watching this film. The visual style certainly has some connections, though Layton is less peculiar and more polished. Layton is undeniably child-friendly. Meanwhile, even though there isn't anything too disturbing or offensive in The Triplets of Belleville, there is something to its crude peculiarity that feels like its just meant for an older audience.

Meanwhile, I couldn't help but be reminded of one of my favourite shows as a child, Courage the Cowardly Dog. Courage is much more cartoony than Belleville, but both of them have an odd, darker sense of humour that's still appropriate for kids.

Overall, the movie was quite entertaining to watch, if a little bizarre. The scenes with the frogs were just... a little odd. But the music was superb and the animations was fairly impressive.

I almost forgot the music! Much of the score seems to hinge on the song "Belleville Rendez-vous." There's a lot of that swing feel with atypical and inventive instrumentation.

Check out the trailer for a look at both the visual style and the music:

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