El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Sunday, November 16, 2003


Written and Directed by Sylvian Chomet

This film is one wild, weird ride. It has a wonderful, stylized look to it, which is a refreshing change from the majority of Hollywood's animated films of recent years. The scenes where 2D and 3D animation are used together in the same shot look very good and meld well enough that their joint use isn’t distracting. Although it’s a seemingly simple and straightforward tale about a grandmother searching for her kidnapped grandson, the storytelling has a European sensibility to it, taking a lot of strange turns and pauses along the way.

The film starts off looking like a black and white Max Fleischer cartoon from the early 30's as we see the Triplets of Belleville singing in a cabaret at the height of their fame. As the song ends we pull back into a world of color and a different drawing style. There we see that a young boy named Champion and his grandmother, Madame Souza, are watching the triplets on TV. Champion is depressed and his grandmother attempts to cheer him up with different things young boys usually like: a train set, a puppy, etc. Nothing seems to work until she gets him a bicycle. He loves it and Life now has a purpose. He rides it all the time and becomes so proficient over the years that as a young man he enters the Tour de France. Along the course he and other riders are kidnapped.

Madame Souza and Bruno, the puppy all grown up, search for Champion. They take a cruise ship across the ocean to Belleville, a sprawling metropolis, which is very different from the small village they came from. Once they get off the ship they discover the trail of Champion has grown cold. With nowhere to go they stay down near the docks when a strange-looking woman takes them in. She brings them home to her apartment where she lives with her two sisters. The sisters are the Triplets of Belleville. They still perform although now they have a strange percussion act. Madame Souza joins them for a performance after they discover her talents.

The sisters have a strange diet made up solely of frogs, lots of them. When served at meals, they’re not completely cooked or completely dead. It is the task of one sister to go to a lake where she drops some sort of grenade or bomb into the water and after a large explosion she takes home all the frogs that land in her boat.

A mob boss has had Champion and two other cyclists kidnapped for a very wild scheme. They are being used in a complex gaming device where people wager on the outcome of the riders’ efforts. Three stationery bicycles are in front of a screen where films play showing riding paths in the countryside. They are secured on the bikes and then have to pedal, making little mechanical men on little bikes move across a hill. It is similar to mechanical horse racing games found at county fairs where you roll balls into holes to make the horses move forward a few places at a time. The riders are given wine to drink while attached to the device.

Grandma, Bruno and the triplets sneak into the gambling hall amongst the gangsters, thugs and criminals to rescue Champion. I don’t want to give the ending away, but there is a very elaborate chase sequence through the streets of Belleville that provides a spectacular climax to the film.

This film will do well with people who enjoy animation and foreign films. It has a great visual style and there’s always something interesting to look at in every scene. I was a little surprised to learn that the film had a PG-13 rating. Maybe it’s due to the violence, but there's only ineffectual gunshots so I not sure what the issues are for the MPAA. Regardless of the inaccuracy of the rating, I don't think children under 13 could sit still long enough for the action to pick up by the end.

I had trouble wading through some of the long exposition sequences. In some scenes I wasn’t sure if events were supposed to be humorous or if some commentary was being offered. When Madame Souza gets to Belleville, there’s a statue that looks to be a fat Statue of Liberty, but as the story progresses there’s no other reasons to think Belleville is America and there’s not a lot of commentary on anything else, so was it a visual gag or was there deeper meaning? Even though the film is only 80 minutes, the pacing could have been better or else some scenes should have been cut or rewritten. This isn't a must-see but it was enjoyable and has a lot to offer for fans of the genre.