French animated films :Taxandria (Raoul Servais, 1994)
English Title :Taxandria - Power of the Image
The plot : A young boy and his tutor hide in a dreary seaside resort, alledgedlly so he can prepare his exams. The place is not as safe as they expected it to be, however ; armed men nearby are on a manhunt. Nevertheless, the boy is bored out of his mind and finds an unexpected friendship in an old lighthouse keeper who appears to be seriously involved in the scuffle. He claims he can take him to a parallel world called Taxandria, a place lying in the “eternal present,” where future has been abolished… Through the downfall of Taxandria, their respective secrets will be unveiled.
Why you should see it :
Oh dear, this movie has a very special and important place in the history of animation and yet it remains largely forgotten today. Servais’ only full-feature film, it was supposed to showcase an animation technique he had invented himself : the servaisgraphie, that is, a revolutionary way to integrate 2D-drawings and live-action actors. Unfortunately, production on the film grew longer and longer, to the point that the technique had become obsolete by then. Think about it, Toy Story, the first integrally CGI-animated film, came out only one year later ! And yet Taxandria was at the time the most computer-animated movie ever (yes, even more than Jurassic Park). So it’s really the swan song of the old age of animation and it deserves credit for that.
François Schuiten, who draws the Cités obscures series of comic-books, was the lead designer of this movie. His unique aesthetic is an anarchic and apocalyptic blend of belgian architecture, art nouveau, art déco and surrealism, and gives the film its principal artistic value. Later on they released an opus to the Cités Obscures, linking the story of this movie to the series.
The story’s strength lies in its originality, so I’m not going to spoil it for you. Let’s just say that nothing is what it seems and that you can expect a few twists and turns in the end… But mostly this movie is an atmosphere to enjoy, and incredible journey where the plot is a bonus. It mainly deals with themes of freedom and opression, leaving you the choice of making your own opinion.
The live-action actors are great, especially considering they play several roles in the movie (one in Taxandria, one in the “original” world). Armin Mueller-Stahl absolutely kills it, Katja Studt infuses a very short role with charisma and personnality and Richard Kattan managed very well considering his young age.
Special mention goes to the music ; some find it too eclectic, but I happen to love each track individually. If only they had an original score on CD…
Trailer for the long-awaited film adaptation of Marguerite Abouet’s Aya de Yopougon, a series of six graphic novels about a young woman’s life in a small Ivorian town with illustrations by Clément Ouberie.
“Welcome to Yopougon, a working-class neighborhood of Abidjan in the late 70s, renamed Yop City – to sound like an American movie! This is home to Aya and her two friends, Adjoua and Bintou. The’re 19-years-old, a time in your life when everything seems possible. But while Aya would like to become a doctor one day, her friends are more into nightclubbing at the local “maquis” and hunting for a husband. Around this dynamic trio, we cross characters with diverse destinies like Ignace, Aya’s runaround father who juggles several “offices”, and Moussa, the son of the powerful Bonaventure Sissoko who counts on his Toyota to pick up girls. There’s also Fanta and Koro, the mothers who try to protect their daughters. Or Grégoire, the “Parisian” who blows his cash at the famous hotel Ivoire. A true chorale comedy, Aya of Yop City is a chronicle of an unexpected Africa, modern and urban.”
French animated films :Ernest et Célestine (Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, 2012)
English Title :Ernest & Celestine
The plot : Bears on the surface, mice underground ; it’s been that way for centuries. Célestine, a young orphan mouse interested in painting bears and mediocre tooth-collector, gets an unexpected ally in Ernest, a gruff impoverished bear whose love of music only equals that of burglary. Through a set of unforeseen circulstances, Ernest and Célestine become partners in crime… And art : one is a musician, the other a painter. Can society approve of this unexpected friendship ?
Why you should see it :
Originally adpated from a series of children’s picture books by Gabrielle Vincent. When Daniel “better than you” Pennac joined the project, he resolved to make the movie more of an hommage to the series than a straight adaptation, so that he could weave a good deal of social criticism and darker elements. It stays very cute on the surface, but the subversive overtones are really the great strength of the movie. It leaves food for thought without being ham-fisted.
This is obviously one georgous movie whose style provides a stupendous rendition of Gabrielle Vincent’s aquarelle drawings. There’s something very free about the way the film is animated… In some scenes, the backgrounds are only partially rendered or even completely absent if the mood demands it. On top of that, the animation is stellar ; the titular characters, in particular, get a lot of personnality simply from the way they move and act. Amongst other good ideas, I’d also like to mention the tidal wave made entirely of mice policemen !
The voice actors gave everything they got with this performance. Lambert Wilson (yes, that one, the Merovingian from Matrix) is having the time of his life as a bear. Pauline Brunner infuses Célestine with a spark of energy and conviction you wouldn’t see with other voice actors playing a child character.
It’s not a musical but the two songs written by Vincent Courtois for the movie are especially strong, and so is the instrumental music.
Ernest and Célestine make one of the best duos in the history of animation, there, I’ve said it. The development of their relationship is the core of the movie (as it should be) and you get fantastic banter because of it.
French animated films :L’île de Black Mor (Jean-François Laguionie, 2004)
English Title :The Island of Black Mor
The plot : Our story begins in a dreary sweatshop masquerading as an orphanage, where young children are told to be grateful for their lot. Night after night, an old man recruited to teach them about religion tells them stories of infamous lord pirate Black Mor instead. One of the boys is intent on pursuing his legacy and escapes, convinced he can find the treasure he hid on a mysterious island. But to do that, he’s going to need a boat, a crew… And a good deal of crime.
Why you should see it :
With french animated movies, you’re going to face issues of money at one point or another, and to make do with what you have ; you’re no Disney or Pixar. So it’s a particular achievement for this movie to look this great when you take into account the meagre budget it had. Laguionie had experience in the matter and opted for a very epurated, simple, almost naïve style, taking inspiration from painter Henri Rivière. Not everybody likes the very thick lines shaping the silhouettes of the objects and characters, but it allowed Laguionie to represent movements more easily. As a result, this movie moves fast, in a dynamic manner and the action scenes pay off (and action scenes are capital in a pirate movie, aren’t they ?).
The story is both an hommage and a subversion of Stevenson’s Treasure Island (the pirate genre in general, really). On one hand they got almost every trope of the formula down to detail, but on another it’s not the whole thing there is to it. The real story concerns our (unnamed)protagonist and its growth as a character, and the way he uses the appeal of a pirate’s life as a way to run from much more personal issues. Without spoiling too much of the plot, the main theme of this movie is the question of identity and the amount of control we really posses on our own desires. So yeah, a pirate movie with a brain (and a heart !).
The characters are great in this one and we come to really love this motley crew of outlaws throughout the film. MacGregor and La Ficelle make a great comic duo, Taka has his own complexities and the little monk reserves a few surprises of his own, always thinking one step ahead of the others. Finally there’s our hero, nicknamed “the kid” and inexperienced captain of this band ; he’s a nice enough kid, if you ignore his attirance for pillage and killing and his devil-may-care attitude about the issues involved with that. Not your traditional protagonist, that’s for sure.
I don’t make an habit of commenting the dubs of these movies, but special mentions are deserved for this one. Taric Mehani’s best work as a voice actor (he plays the Kid) and he works spendidly with the rest of the cast.
Trigger warning for a bare female chest at one point, after and before an (implied and totally eliptical) sex scene. But hey, this is a movie about sailors killing people for money, it doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s difficult to make an animated movie targeted towards that blurry line between childhood and adolescence ; Disney’s The Black Cauldron was a great failure in that regard, but this movie actually succeeds in introducing more mature themes into the animated narrative.