I was never a normal kid, which should not surprise anyone that knows me. One way I was not like like other kids is that I was never really thought animation features were that great. Not just oldies, like Pinocchio, but also those of my childhood, like Secret of NIMH, and anything since, especially Disney films. Sure I watched them all, who didn't, but nothing every really struck anything inside me.
Maybe it was the subject matter. I was a bit precocious as a young film viewer. I remember wanting to go see "One Dark Night" with my mom when my sister went to see "E.T" and watching "Full Metal Jacket" with my dad when I was 12 and loving it. I guess I was just never really into subject matter geared towards kids. Anime, a la Ghost in the Shell, Akira, etc. really did not appeal to me either.
Sure it is all watchable, most of it anyway, but nothing ever really compelled me as much as live action.
That changed several years ago however, I happened to watch a film on a whim, not thinking I would like it. Fortunately, however, it turned out to be one of the best films (not just animated) I've ever seen.
That film is the 2003 French film "Les Triplettes de Belleville" aka "The Triplets of Belleville"
It has many aspects we have seen in many animated films, unconditional love, childhood dreams realized, musical numbers, comedy, adventure, athletic competitions, car chases, etc. All that crossed with darker themes such as kidnapping, human trafficking, murder, prostitution, and shootouts. You even get an insight to what dogs may dream about.
All of these themes are combined with wonderful visuals and artistic style representing France in the mid to late sixties. Very cartoonish (no pun intended) body types and facial features, a charming soundtrack, and odd or quirky body language of the characters remind you that, despite the dark subject matter, you are still supposed to be having fun.
The best part, and I've saved this for last, there is no tangible dialogue. And it does not matter. For 78 minutes, the director's vision keeps you interested and entertained without it. I would think most modern filmmakers would be hard pressed to make a film as compelling if given this requirement. How many would even try? I give Sylvain Chomet the utmost respect for what he has created. I do not use the term masterpiece very often to define a film, but for me this is one. I eagerly await Chomet's next feature, "The Illusionist". It is based on an unproduced script by Jacques Tati (who is obviously a great influence to Chomet), and will feature an animated version of Tati.