Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Panique au village and L'illusionniste

I recently watched a couple of animated foreign films that break out of the mold of American cartoons.  These are definitely not Pixar or Disney creations.  They're both fun, in different ways, but may not make your toddler's favorites list.

Panique au village (A Town Called Panic), the more kid-friendly of the two, uses stop-motion animation to create a Gumby-like experience.  Cowboy and Indian decide to celebrate their roommate Horse's birthday by building him a barbecue.  Due to a wayward coffee cup placed on the keyboard, their online order for a few bricks becomes millions of bricks.  They pile the bricks on top of the house to get them out of the way, but then the house collapses and a pathway is opened to another world, leading to great adventures by the trio.  Sounds silly, and it is, but it's great fun and a treat to watch.
All kinds of chaos going on here. . . .
L'illusionniste (The Illusionist) is not for kids--not that it's obscene or violent, just that kids would probably not be interested in it.  Written and directed by Sylvain Chomet, L'illusionniste was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.  You may remember his Les triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville), which was nominated in 2004.  Chomet based it on a screenplay by Jacques Tati, the director and mime.  The illusionist himself, a caricature of Tati, speaks little; in fact, the whole film has only a tiny amount of incidental dialogue, as befits a mime.  The illusionist struggles to fit in to a changing entertainment world, and gains a fan who follows him, becoming a sort of adopted daughter.  The film is touching and humorous, and beautifully animated.
With the charming characters and beautifully drawn images, dialogue is unnecessary.
I noticed a few subtle visual jokes in the film, leading me to believe I had missed many more.  In one segment, the illusionist takes a job at a garage, which has a sign reading "Shell"with the word spill, and a license plate on a car driving by read "FU8 U5H."  Am I reading too much into that license plate or is it a jab at our former president?  At the garage, a stereotypical Texan brings his big Cadillac in for service (how'd he get his Caddy to Paris?); his license plate reads "B1G A55."  That one's a bit more clear.  I read in a review that the classic old lady/young lady optical illusion makes an appearance as a character at one point.  I assume there are more hidden jokes like this which you'd have to be more observant than me to see. . . .

Bottom line, I'll give 3 stars each to these imported gems.

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