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While the newspapers and film buffs argue about the merits of a little French film translated into English for the pleasure of young filmgoers in the UK, I was simply taking my six-year-old grandson Jack to see a film he'd seen a trailer of a few weeks ago. We usually try and see something in 2D if possible since neither Jack or his slightly wobbly Nan are that bothered about scene images jumping out at us. I wasn't really sure what the film was about since it was very much a last minute choice with the usual packed cinemas in London over the half term. We went to see it at the Odeon in Richmond, which is a cinema I'm comfortable with due to it's comfortable seating, disabled access and toilets. (For me).
Based in Paris during the flooding of 1910, Raoul and his friend Emile are making a delivery of peat to a large garden where the absent proprietor has left clear instructions with Charlie the monkey, to keep out all visitors since his experimental gardens are best left alone. But Raoul is nosy and ignoring Charlie's scribbled notes (no, don't go there, etc), he pulls an unwilling Emile inside, messing around with the test tubes and accidentally creating a giant sunflower. What he doesn't realize as they leave is that another accident has created a monster, in the form of a giant flea, looking more like something from a horror film.
Meanwhile, in a local nightclub the beautiful and talented Lucille is singing on stage, dressed as an angel her theme song is in praise of the River Seine. (It's one of the main songs in the film and one that's repeated frequently so worth a mention.) Seated at a prominent table, the mayor Maynott, a rather dubious character who isn't about to spend money on solving the flooding problem, turns his attention to Lucille but is soon side-tracked when he hears the news about the monster that's terrorizing the population. If he can capture the monster it would bring him popularity and maybe the affection of Lucille, but first he needs some volunteers to do his dirty work and guess who he picks?
Naturally the flea is just bounding around at great heights because that's what fleas do, but when Lucille finds him cowering in an alleyway, trying to stay out of the rain, her heart melts and she hides the flea (now called Francoeur) in plain sight, first in her dressing-room and then on stage, where, complete with zoot-suit, a mask and some snazzy shoes he becomes quite a sensation. The rest of the film follows the mishaps of Raoul and co as they first try to capture the monster and then save him in a frequently hectic race across Paris in a converted wagon with some crazy antics. It's all in good fun and keeps both kiddies and adults occupied for the 90 minutes running time.
Art and Sound.
I'm not an expert on design but the sets for the animation are gloriously pastel to start with, evoking a Paris of mists and cobbled stones, the lazy drifting of the river even under flooding and the atmosphere of an impressionist's dream. The sets for the stage are simple but effective and the sound is pleasant without intruding. I was surprised to discover there were a lot of songs in this but I could only remember two and had difficulty with the lyrics on both. I was even more surprised by the voice of the flea, Sean Lennon, whose voice is definitely pleasant though with none of the power of his father.
Where the sets really went to town were with some of the escapades of the friends as they try to keep Francoeur out of the hands of the Mayor. Its pure slapstick in places and funny enough with car chases and flying boats not to mention the Eiffel tower, that Jack recognized with glee, 'I've been up there,' he announced quite loudly. Good to see that the art was on form, I thought.
I love animation because it allows for some truly lovely free-style graphics and the colour and movement on this is pure magic. The one scene involves the monster dressed for the stage and looking a bit like the Phantom of the Opera, doing a song and dance routine with Lucille, first on the stage and then in a dream sequence floating above the bridges over the Seine, around the tower and in and out of the lamp lights. It's gloriously corny and I loved it as much as the children. I did feel a bit let down with the sound and thought at first it was me. The dubbing was fine, but the songs were catchy and I'd have liked to seen the song on the scene to sing along with it. Jack and I couldn't get the chorus, which just sounded like the words, 'Lesson, Lesson, Lesson.' They were Le Seine, Le Seine Le Seine but were drawled together.
Apart from that I had no complaints on the translation, which was expert and if there were any little slips nobody noticed.
Film reviews for me are few and far between as I rarely go to the cinema unless it's to see children's films. I did enjoy this a lot but did Jack like it?
Firstly he thought it was good but not as much fun as the trailer made it out to be. On the plus side he loved the music, especially when we watched a trailer on one of the websites to get the words for Le Seine and I. Jack loves music and comedy and doesn't mind a bit of the mushy stuff that boys normally cringe at. He did think the star Lucille was an angel, not a woman dressed as one, so maybe the wings were overdone a bit. He understood the science behind my muddled explanation of 'Growmore' but not the joke.
I don't think he completely followed the plot, but since it wasn't that clear I don't think many children would get all the subtle parts. To me I saw a lot of references to Phantom of the Opera, but then I love musicals and knew the story. Still, it was a clever bow to the story. Jack loved the characters of Raoul and Lucille, but like most boys he thought the monster was 'cool'. He also thought (like me) that the monkey writing the notes was great fun and should show filmmakers that children notice these things.
I'd certainly recommend seeing this in the cinema and if you haven't got a grandchild borrow one for the night! I think I enjoyed it as much as Jack did.
Released in France in 2011, in the UK January 2012.
Directors: Bibo Bergeron. Stephen Kuzandjiu
With...Bob Balaban, Catherine O'Hara, and Sean Lennon as the voice of the flea/monster.
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