The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

Here’s the best animated film of 2003, which wasn’t even noticed in theaters. Only after a few positive mentions at some film festival, this cartoon got its second life. Now it’s out on DVD, and I absolutely must have it.

What a joy it was coming out of a half-empty theater back in the winter of 2004. I just watched this unknown flick, co-produced by France, Belgium, Canada and UK (read: very small budget), and I wanted to sit down and watch its sequel, or prequel, or anything else with so much energy. I don’t know why Disney is preaching the death of 2D animation – with a bit of creativity even stick figures can be entertaining. Not so say this movie involves stick figures. Quite the opposite – it combines some 3D shots, some b/w animation, and a few tricks, but at its heart, it’s a good old hand-drawn animation.

The toon is mostly silent, has a great soundtrack, and most of the story is told through body-language. So the characters better be odd-looking, out of proportion and with many quirks. This idea settles in quickly as we’re introduced to a family – Madame Souza, her grandson, who’s training to be in Tour de France, and their beloved dog Bruno – who has hilarious day dreams. After a few minutes it’s clear that the plot is going to be as odd as the characters – something about bicyclist’s abductions, a voyage across the Atlantic, a wine-making conspiracy, etc. It’s not important (even though it makes plenty of sense). The style of this cartoon is so much above the substance, you’re almost taken hostage by all the visual trickery. There’s simply no time to think about the cause and effect of what’s going on – you just want to absorb the visuals, the music and the sounds.

There’s really no point in telling what happens, and why. And frankly, I cannot find the words to explain how this or that effect was achieved. Suffice to say that the cartoon works as a “road-trip” story, and it also works as a commentary on how the Americans see Europe, and how Europe perceives the United States. Some of the visuals are just disturbing – in a funny way. Consider how Madame Souza feeds her “champion”: he’s sitting on a scale that’s attached to an alarm clock. As soon as the scale hits a specific number, the alarm goes off, and all the remaining food is given to Bruno (he loves that contraption). This is just one example – the movie is full of them – entire scenes that are presented in such a way that they stay with you.

It’s a real shame this cartoon was released, and later re-released, and still didn’t make a profit. That’s what happens when all of your budget goes towards making a good product – you have no leftovers to market it. Besides, to market a movie these days costs tens of millions, and “Triplets” was made for only $8 mil. Of course a movie like that can only count on word of mouth. So here it is. It’s out on DVD, go buy it. Support the huge international team that put this masterpiece together. I hope to see more cartoons from the same creative team – it’s such a pleasant experience to visit an odd place that they created in “Triplets of Belleville”.


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