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   THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Director:  Sylvain Chomet
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  Trailer, Featurettes, Music Video
Length:  81 Minutes
Release Date:  May 4, 2004

“Is that it, then?”

Film *1/2

The problem with The Triplets of Belleville isn’t a lack of original ideas, but a lack of cohesive ones.  It bears a rather grotesque view of humanity reflected in its animation (every character is either unhealthily thin or morbidly obese), a rather silly and uninspired storyline, and people who are flatly drawn, uninvolving, and uninteresting. 

It also apparently suffered accolade overload, since critics around the world regurgitated praise after praise for it.  The blurbs on the trailer boasted that it wasn’t like Disney or like anime.  True enough; neither Disney nor anime have produced films as off putting as this one.  It would have been better compared to Ralph Bakshi in that everything you see seems to be there just to amuse the creators, and they didn’t care much whether or not anyone else thought it was worthwhile.  Even at 81 minutes it drags mercilessly.

The story, such as it is (and it takes an incredibly long time to develop) is about a grandmother and a boy who grows up to be a champion cyclist.  She trains him by following along tooting a whistle and later massaging his tired muscles with household objects like vacuum cleaners or lawnmowers.

But during a big Tour de France type race, he and a couple of other cyclists get kidnapped by the French Mafia, leaving the bewildered grandmother and unbelievably fat family dog to set off in search of him.  The bad guys take them across the sea to Belleville, which creator Sylvain Chomet described as a cross between Paris, New York and Montreal…there is even a ridiculously chubby version of the Statue of Liberty to welcome them.

While there, the grandmother meets up with the Triplets of Belleville, a one-time singing sensation of the jazz age who are now probably 100 plus years old and have become a novelty act by making music with everyday objects a la Stomp.  They provide her a place to stay and a meal (frogs, anyone?), and then join her in an attempt to rescue her grandson from a bizarre underground betting parlor, where people are betting on fake bike races instead of real ones.

The best animated films are filled with imaginative and wondrous spectacles that make you instinctively want to lean closer to the screen for a better look.  There was nothing here that piqued my interest even slightly.  Well, my eyebrows raised slightly when I saw that the grown grandson looked like Jacques Tati, but even that bit of promise didn’t go anywhere.  The musical numbers are kind of catchy and inject a few rare, precious moments of life into the proceedings.  Apart from that, my only other compliment I can afford is that I learned at least one knew fact from the experience:  I had no idea there was such a thing as a French Mafia.

I’ve never been one to believe that animation was only a kids’ medium, but when animation is aimed at grownups, there should be something substantive to bring us to it and keep us there.  Had I not needed to review this title for DMC, I would have walked away easily.  Sitting here trying to remember what I even thought about while I was watching it is a challenge.  All I can remember thinking was that if I had to sit through one more damn sequence where that stupid ugly dog barked at a passing train through the window, I was going to throw something at my television set.

The Oscar nominations might help draw the crowds, but making them stay in their seats is much more challenging.  Interestingly enough, Oscar statuettes are depicted in the film as…what else?  Fat beyond belief.

Video ***

The animation is curiously drab and flat looking, but I blame that on the filmmakers and not the anamorphic transfer.  There are no problems inherent in the digital realization of this movie; no bleeding, grain, compression or artifacting are apparent.  Had the movie been a little more exciting to look at, this would have no doubt merited highest rating, but our star system reflects the overall experience.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is lively and dynamic, though mostly centered on the front stage.  The rear channels kick in sparingly but effectively.  The music sounds terrific and is the best part of the listening experience, and the final chase, which is strange, helps bring the audio to life.

Features **

The disc contains a featurette consisting of a making-of, a closer look at creator Chomet, and a few select scene commentaries.  There is also a video for the Academy Award nominated song “Belleville Rendezvous” and a trailer, which might be a good litmus test for you.  If the trailer makes you want to see the film, you’re in for a treat.  If it turns you off, as it did me, you might be in for a long night.

Summary:

Original?  Yes.  Worthwhile as a result?  Highly debatable.  Despite critical acclaim and Oscar attention, this French offering is curiously flat, slow and uninspiring.  If you want to experience animation for adults at its best, I’d recommend that you check out two other Columbia Tri Star DVD offerings in Metropolis and Final Fantasy, and leave these swinging singing sisters on the shelf.