> Volume 6 > Number 08


Sylvain Chomet

MichŤle Caucheteux
Jean-Claude Donda
Michel Robin
Monica Viegas

Release: 26 Nov. 03

The Triplets of Belleville


The normal output of Hollywood animation houses builds around laws: a bright song score will sell soundtracks, nothing offensive can be accepted, and the animation is clear and nearly realistic while still fantastic. Sometimes this formula pays off (Toy Story, The Iron Giant), and sometimes it doesnít (Brother Bear, The King and I), but it never seems far from the truth. The last time a Hollywood film strayed from this, to the best of my recollection was Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within (helmed by a Japanese director), though that was such a financial disappointment that I doubt Hollywood will take many similar risks in the future.

The Triplets of Belleville, however, throws these laws and these risks to the wind. Iím not fully certain who the audience is for Triplets, and I doubt director Sylvain Chomet does either. Itís a movie that wallows in its animated disorder, and it freely offends what its French filmmaker sees as a debased, fat, and greedy America. As for the law about soundtracks, The Triplets of Belleville does have a song, but the overall sound of the film -- freely encouraged by an opening salvo by Django Reinhardt -- wonít be topping the adult contemporary top 40 any time soon.

This is a phantasmagoria of animated brilliance, parleyed with a few jabs at contemporary America, and it all comes with such a stride that I found it impossible to get my feelings hurt. I was having too much fun to really notice the jabbing.

The Belleville of the title, a quasi-New-York-by-Montrťal creation, is ugly, but underneath is an unmistakably charming aged tenement. Itís the Europe of the past, as Chomet seems to infer, which has been ruined by the rampant American gluttony of today. And the title characters, a singing group that played with the best in entertainment in the 1940s are a weary reminder of that time gone by, not just in Europe but also in America. Their show isnít particularly pretty, but it still sounds magical, like the old-fashioned animation of a 1940s performance exemplifies at the beginning of the film. This is a movie that wanders through every inkling of invention that came to mind for the filmmakers, and then succeeds in finding a way to connect them all, pasting together the comedy of Jacques Tati with the animation style of Ronald Searle and Gerald Scarfe.

Characters bomb swamps for frogs to eat, create musical instruments from street rubbish, and train for the Tour de France like an Iron Man competition. Iíve seen many things in my lifetime at the movies, and nearly everything I caught in The Triplets of Belleville was new to me. Innovation is a rare commodity in filmmaking these days, and even more so in animated films. While Pixar and Hayao Miyazaki have done wonders in finding audiences for family films that are equally as accessible to adults as to the kids, Chomet, I think, is simply doing what feels right to him. Opening on Josephine Bakerís breasts and a shoe mauling Fred Astaire, one might not consider this a film meant to sit next to Lady and the Tramp 2 in the den, but its manic genius shouldnít be considered to be only for adults. I fear that it may have the same tragic end as The Iron Giant, a film relegated to kiddie corn even if it was more intelligent than most live action adult films at the time. The Triplets of Belleville may start off a bit hedonistically, but all that is mere preparations for a movie that capitalizes on the charms of its visual style

©2004, David Perry,, 20 February 2004