The Triplets of Belleville

Review by Adam Blair

Written and directed by Sylvain Chomet

Rated PG-13; 78 minutes

You're likely to stumble out of The Triplets of Belleville feeling like you've just been on an acid trip - or that you should have taken something hallucinogenic before you saw the film. This is a weirdly pleasurable feature-length animated film, recapturing some of the truly magical quality of animation: that seeing is believing, no matter how unbelievable the sights might be.

And what sights! Everything and everyone in Triplets is either stretched thin (an ocean liner's bulk rises impossibly high above the waterline, like a woman who doesn't want her skirts to get wet as she wades) or bulging out (many of the people in Triplets are beyond obese, they're positively blimpish, especially when the story moves from France to America - a comment on our face-stuffing eating habits?). Gangsters wear their requisite long black coats, but their shoulders form perfect rectangles behind their unexpressive heads. It's as if they're carrying around the coffins they'll soon occupy.

These are just a few of the oddities Triplets' writer-director Sylvain Chomet and his teams of animators treat us to. He draws on the infinitely malleable worlds of Betty Boop creator Max Fleischer, Looney Tunes, the silent comedy of Jacques Tati, Ralph Bakshi's head trips and a finale chase worthy of the Keystone Kops. For those used to the relatively naturalistic, story- and character-driven Disney/Pixar-style feature, this may be too much of a good thing.

While Triplets lacks a "real" story, it does carry a strong emotional through-line. Chomet makes do without a great deal of dialogue, though he employs a smorgasbord of sound effects and music (by Benoît Charest) to tell the story of a boy, his tough and loving grandmother and his dog Bruno. That combination may sound like a recipe for sentimentality, but one measure of how unsentimental Chomet's film plays is the way Bruno is animated: fat, eggplant-shaped, ungainly and homely. Of course, with his pouchy face and eyebrows, he's also the most expressive character of the three. Chomet isn't inviting us to love these characters so much as observe them with a kind of clinical detachment, yet you would really need to have a hard heart not to warm up to them eventually.

Triplets' opening scenes show the apparently orphaned boy and his grandmother, who is trying to find something to make her sad-eyed grandson happy. She finally gets it right with the gift of a tricycle. He loves it so much that when he grows - or rather stretches - he is in training for the Tour de France bicycle race, with indomitable grandma his coach, trainer and physical therapist (she massages his ballooned-out calves with an eggbeater).

Evil forces - those gangsters and their red-nosed Mafia Don - kidnap the hero and take him to an American city of stretched-thin skyscrapers, occupied by those blimpish, smiling, unaware people. The gangsters, who are themselves French strangers in this strange land, want to re-create their own Tour de France, in a sinister, exploitative way.

The triplets of the title are a singing group, seen in the Fleischer-esque opening cartoon performing a catchy little ditty with nonsensical lyrics by Mathieu Chedid. We meet them again in the New World, as demented but cheerful old crones who exist on a diet consisting almost exclusively of frogs: frog soup, frog-kebabs and even frozen frogsicles. It's appropriately gag-inducing and yet makes a crazy kind of sense - or at least as much as anything does in this kooky place called America.

The political and social undercurrents are just that - Triplets isn't a pointed satire of either France or America so much as a mind-stretcher. And if it isn't clear from this review, I liked it a lot. Just don't ask me to explain it any better than I've tried to here. If you've got a smart kid, or a lonely one, and you've already watched Finding Nemo a couple of hundred times, give Triplets a whirl. P.S., adults - especially those with a bit of a twist to their sense of humor - are liable to like it too.

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