Standards and expectations must be at an all-time low if the film critics attending this year’s Cannes and Toronto festivals went ape shit over the animated feature “The Triplets of Belleville.” I went into the screening of this film expecting to be blown away and left dismayed over the junk I saw on the screen.
Let me keep this brief, since thinking about the film makes me ill. Madame Souza, a tiny club-footed elderly lady, has adopted her grandson Champion; the absence of his parents is never explained. The roly-poly boy is constantly and hopelessly morose, and not even the gift of a puppy christened Bruno can cheer him. When Madame Souza discovers Champion has a fondness for bicycle racing, she buys him a tricycle and he is besides himself with joy. Over time, Madame Souza trains Champion to be a professional bicycle racer and when he reaches adulthood he is ready for the Tour de France. But during that major race, Champion and two competitors are kidnapped by mafia hoods who take them across the ocean to Belleville, an obscene parody of New York where everyone is obese–including the Statue of Liberty. Madame Souza and Champion follow the trail and are inexplicably aided by the Triplets of Bellville, a 1930s singing trio who have since fallen on hard times. These unlikely heroes search Bellville to locate and rescue Champion.
“The Triplets of Belleville” gets off to a promising enough start with a mock-1930s newsreel showing the eponymous trio in peak performance while other icons of that area engage in surreal slapstick (Fred Astaire is devoured by his shoes, Josephine Baker is stripped naked of her banana g-string by oversexed fans). And the scenes with Madame Souza trying and failing and trying again to cheer Champion have a sweet charm to them. But once Champion grows to adulthood, the film falls apart.
Filmmaker Sylvain Chomet clearly wants to recall the spirit and style of Jacques Tati, to the point of even including a poster for “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” and a scene from “Jour de Fete.” But he has no clue how to construct and time gags. The film relies too heavily on grotesque physical exaggerations for laughs (the bicyclists are shown with emaciated upper torsoes and absurdly overdeveloped leg and calf muscles) and there is a surprisingly high amount of animal cruelty here (Bruno is used as a spare tire, frogs are impaled on kebabs and blown up with hand grenades).
Even worse, the characters have absolutely no charm. Madame Souza comes across as an obnoxious stoic, Champion is an aloof stoic (why he is drawn to resemble Buster Keaton when he never engages in Keatonesque humor?), Bruno is a third-rate and overweight approximation of a stock Disney canine, and the Triplets are a bunch of cackling hags out of touch with reality. After a while, it is easy to root for the broad-shouldered mafia hoods to gun them all down.
There is also much here which either makes no sense (why are the elderly Triplets doing a rip-off of “Stomp” by using a vacuum and refrigerator trays as instruments?) or is just not funny (since when is excrement floating in a public toilet humorous?).
“The Triplets of Belleville” is probably the worst animated feature film I’ve ever seen.
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