Voices: Vanessa Paradis, Sean Lennon, Adam Goldberg, Catherine O’Hara, Danny Huston, Bob Balaban and Jay Harrington.
Writers: Bibo Bergeron and Stephane Kazandjian.
Director: Bibo Bergeron.
If it narratively stumbles on the odd occasion (and that isn’t very often), the graceful artistry and soaring heart that director Bibo Bergeron brings to his tale of outsider love is on par with similarly-themed works such as Disney’s Beauty and The Beast and Pixar’s Wall-E (with nods to ET and The Fly, too).
That said, its truest antecedent would be that most Gallic tale of unrequited love and social stigmatising, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. A heady, intoxicating blend of the romantic majesty and rich culture of the City of Lights and the legacy provided by a century of great animation from both sides of the Atlantic courses through this beautiful film’s DNA.
Set in 1910, it tells the story of wanna-be inventor Raoul (voiced by Adam Goldberg, though drawn uncannily like TV commentator Stephen Colbert) and his friend, lovelorn cinema-projectionist Emile (Jay Harrington). One fateful night, the pair explore the greenhouse of a scientist client of Raoul’s delivery service and inadvertently combine potions that transform a tiny flea into a seven-foot version of itself. It escapes into night and, when Emile examines the footage he accidentally captured of the giant creature, the pair set about hunting it down.
But word has spread of the glowing-eyed ghoul and sleazy politician Victor (Danny Huston) wants the vote-grabbing glory of being the man who slays the monster of Paris. Having unwittingly terrified several citizens, the creature makes friends with nightclub chanteuse Lucille (Vanessa Paradis, the only returning voice-cast member from the original French language version) and is soon revealed to be a sensitive soul with incredible talent. In one gloriously realised sequence, the audience is privy to a ‘monster-eye’ recap of the creatures plight since he fled the laboratory; it is an exceedingly lovely passage of animation, both soaring and sorrowful.
Bergeron is returning to his homeland after a Hollywood adventure that produced two works, the under-appreciated The Road to El Dorado and under-whelming Shark Tale – early volleys from the Dreamworks SKG cannon that aren’t spoken of with much love.
But commercially savvy producer Luc Besson has brought out the best in his director. They have crafted a very funny fairy-tale/love story (enhanced by a truly artistic use of the 3D technology) that deserves to find the kind of audience that flocks en masse to the latest Happy Meal tie-in project dreamt up by the major studios. There’s not a lot of cross-promotion opportunity in a story that features a giant, singing flea, but audiences who view this wonder will walk out filled with swollen hearts and damp handkerchiefs.