Let’s get this out of the way before I start this review: “The Triplets of Belleville” isn’t nearly as weird or freaky as some people make it sound. Yes, it’s an unusual film, but that’s only because your typical animated fare these days features name-brand voice talent and a kinetic pace. When placed alongside, say, “Finding Nemo,” “The Triplets of Belleville,” with its dearth of dialogue and languid pace, does seem odd. At their hearts, however, both films are about a search for a loved one, and those are the narrative threads you have to identify with. If you can’t do that, then I don’t see how you can like either movie. (For the record, I loved Pixar’s last release; I simply appreciate that those who made “Finding Nemo” had different aims than Chomet, but both pulled off their goals in spectacular fashion.)
While “Nemo” was about a father searching for his lost son, “Triplets” gives us a devoted grandmother named Madame Souza and her quest to find her grandson, who is kidnapped by the Mafia while competing in The Tour de France. The triplets in question are a trio of singers who were all the rage in the 1930s, as shown in the Looney Tunes-esque opening sequence, and who now live in squalor, eating frogs they catch at the river. Perhaps the loss of their celebrity is what drives them to help Souza, propelling the four (plus the grandson’s dog) on an adventure not unlike some of the adventures portrayed in Disney’s classic animated films. While there’s very little dialogue (we get a few lines in English at the beginning and end of the movie, with the rest coming in un-subtitled French), facial expressions and solid visual exposition skills tell us all we need to know about the story. I honestly think this film is a breath of fresh air in an age where every Hollywood release seems to feel the need to scream at the top of its lungs, for fear you won’t know it’s there.
In other words: Don’t expect to see a Madame Souza action figure included with a fast food kids’ meal any time soon, and don’t watch “The Triplets of Belleville” with the expectation of snappy patter and a frantic “Don’t get up and take a leak or you’ll miss something really important!” pace. This is storytelling for people who don’t mind movies that take more than a few minutes to build their tales.
This DVD release from Sony Pictures Classic is certainly recommended, although it’s a shame we didn’t get the two-disc edition available in France. With the film running 81 minutes, however, there was enough room on this single disc for some nice extras, and Sony has obliged. The main attraction is a pair of featurettes, “The Making of The Triplets of Belleville” and “The Cartoon According to Sylvain Chomet.” The former runs 15 minutes and gives us a little glimpse into Chomet’s background and his inspiration for the film. The latter clocks in at 5 minutes and delves into the movie’s visual style, with Chomet offering comments on why he chose the look and feel that he did. Oddly, some of the film clips presented in these featurettes show English subtitles in places where they weren’t present in the movie. You’ll notice, though, that they aren’t really required to understand the story, and I’ve heard that they weren’t present in the theatrical release either.
We also get commentary from Chomet and songwriter Benoit Charest on three scenes from the film. They speak in French, with English subtitles (yeah, I’d say they’re required here), and offer some nice bits of trivia along with the usual “Can you guess which bits were CGI?” comments and other aimless chatter often found in the commentaries for movies that used computers for the effects. It’s a solid track, though, and it makes me wish there was a commentary for the entire film. The film’s trailer and a music video for the Oscar-nominated main theme round out the extras.
Overall, while it may not be for everyone, “The Triplets of Belleville” is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys movies that go against conventional trends. Give it a try as a rental, at the very least. And if you saw it in the theater and loved it, rest assured that you will be satisfied by this DVD release. I’ve read some comments that the film was misframed, but it looked to be 1.78:1, as advertised on the back of the DVD case, when I watched it, and I didn’t get the impression that the picture was squashed or cropped.