The tenth part of my survey of French animated features continues with a look at the releases in 2006 and 2007 – films by such diverse artists as Luc Besson, Picha and Marjane Satrapi.
Renaissance, directed by Christian Volckman. 105 minutes. March 15, 2006.
An unusual “futuristic-noir” science-fiction thriller, produced in computerized black-&-white animation with color touches. A French-British-Luxembourgeois co-production, written by Mathieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patellière. In 2054, Paris is dominated by the Avalon company, a huge multinational corporation specializing in youth and beauty products. When Ilona Tasuiev, a young Avalon scientist, is kidnapped, cynical police captain Barthélémy Karas is assigned to rescue her and find out “who” and “why”. Karas gradually learns that Tasuiev may have discovered the secret of eternal life, which the underworld wants and Avalon will do anything to keep secret. The six production companies were Onyx Films, France 2 Cinéma, Backup Films, le Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC), Milliages, and Timefirm Limited. Renaissance was the third French winner of the Best Feature Crystal of the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.
U, directed by Serge Elissalde and Grégoire Solotareff. 75 minutes. October 11, 2006.
A sweet but surrealistic animated feature for little children to adults. Mona, a young princess in a rundown castle by the sea, has lived alone since her parents died. She is adopted by two cruel rats, Goomi and His Lordship, who treat her like a servant. Her tears bring U, a unicorn who promises to protect her as long as she needs her, and they become best friends.
Mona grows up to become a happy young woman; a daydreamer needlessly afraid that she is not pretty. One day a family of amusing human-animal hybrid musicians, the Wéwés, move into a pistachio tree in the nearby woods. Their noisy, carefree lifestyle makes everyone happy, even the grumpy rats. But when Mona falls in love with the handsome musician Kulka, U leaves as no longer needed.
U features a distinctive Gitane soundtrack. It opened the 2006 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, and was a selection of several others.
Azur et Asmar, directed by Michel Ocelot. 99 minutes. October 25, 2006.
A pseudo-Middle Eastern fairy tale. In the medieval past Jénane, a young Middle Eastern nurse, raises two children: Azur, the blond, blue-eyed son of her French lord, and Asmar, the son of a Middle Eastern lord who is Azur’s playmate. Jénane tells them Middle Eastern fairy tales of a Djinn-princess. Asmar is discriminated against because of his dark Middle Eastern looks. When the boys reach adolescence, Azur’s father sends him away to be educated, and dismisses Jénane and Asmar back to their homeland. When Azur grows to adulthood, he sets out for their Middle Eastern homeland to find what has become of them. There Azur is discriminated against for his pale Northern looks. Jénane is a successful businesswoman and Asmar is a member of the royal guard, but he takes revenge against Azur for the discrimination that he suffered in France. Jénane reminds them of their old friendship. They try to reconcile, but they become rivals to find and woo the Djinn-fairy princess from Jénane’s tales. Azur et Asmar won Best Animated Feature at the Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films 2007, and was a nominee of other awards. In 2009 Ocelot was made a chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur for his lifetime of animation.
Arthur et les Minimoys (Arthur and the Invisibles), directed by Luc Besson. 104 minutes. November 29, 2006.
A combination live/animated French-American co-production, based on the children’s books Arthur et les Minimoys and Arthur et la Cité Interdite, by Luc Besson. Arthur Montgomery, 10 years old in 1960, lives with his grandmother Daisy Suchot on her farm (live-action). She tells him exciting stories about his grandfather Archibald, an African explorer who discovered two lost tribes; the full-sized Bogo Matassala and the two-inch-high Minimoys, and brought them home to live in the farm’s garden, where the latter protect their treasure of rubies. When a greedy developer, Ernest Davido, threatens to evict them for nonpayment on two days’ notice, Arthur searches for the Minamoys’ rubies. The Bogo Matassala shrink him to Minimoy size to go into their world (animation).
He learns that they are threatened by Maltazard, a former hero corrupted by a weevil who now rules the nearby Necropolis. Arthur goes with the Minamoys’ Princess Sélénia (who has magic powers) and her younger brother Bétamèche to confront Maltazard. En route, they encounter Maltazard’s soldiers and defeat them. Sélénia is impressed enough that, when they reach the Necropolis, she kisses Arthur, making him her husband and the heir of her magic powers, and goes to confront Maltazard alone. When he learns that she has already kissed Arthur, putting her powers out of his grasp, he imprisons the three and unleashes a flood on the Minamoys. The imprisoned three find Arthur’s grandfather, who has also been shrunken to Minamoy size. Archibald returns himself and Arthur to human size, and they divert the flood into the Necropolis; but Maltazard and his son (by the weevil) Darkos escape. The flood reveals the rubies. Arthur uses one to pay Davido, but when the developer tries to steal the others, the Bogo Matassala give him to the authorities. Arthur, now a giant in comparison to the Minamoys, asks Sélénia to wait for him until he can return.
The movie, under either title, was made for both France and America and was released in both countries at the end of 2006. Its budget of €65,000,000/$86,000,000 made it the most expensive French film ever produced up to its time. The animation was produced by BUF Compagnie in Paris. The American distributors, the Weinstein Company, helped arrange an all-star cast; Freddie Highmore as Arthur and Mia Farrow as Daisy in the live-action scenes, and the voices of Madonna, David Bowie, Robert de Niro, Snoop Dogg, and others of that caliber as the animated characters.
It did much better in France than in the U.S. Both audiences and critics considered the romance between Arthur and Sélénia creepy, since even in animation, he was a 10-year-old and she was an adult (voiced by the almost-50 Madonna). The plot was compared to such features as The Sword in the Stone and The Dark Crystal; not always unfavorably but as “it’s been done before”. The wild-haired Minimoys were often compared to ‘90s wild-haired troll dolls. Besson complained that the poor American reception was due to the changes made from the French release.
Blanche Niege: La Suite (Snow White: The Sequel), directed by Picha. 82 minutes. January 31, 2007.
Picha’s return to X-rated theatrical animated features. A “fractured fairy tale” for adults. Tagline: “They were MARRIED… and it was all DOWNHILL from there”. IMDb’s summary: “Follows what happens to Snow White and Prince Charming after their marriage, including the Prince’s sexual trysts with Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.” Snow White has her own extra-marital relationships. The Seven Dwarfs are (in the American dub) Horny, Grungy, Funky, Scummy, Spotty, Filth, and Mental, who form a loan shark syndicate. A Belgian-French-British co-production.
Persepolis, directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. 95 minutes. June 27, 2007.
Based upon Satrapi’s autobiographical comic book, about 8-year-old Marjane in Tehran at first being overjoyed by the 1979 overthrow of the Shah, then becoming increasingly disillusioned as the new religious government proves even more dictatorial and restrictive. Because she is too openly rebellious, her parents send her to Europe to school, where she grows up to rebel even more at being considered an “unsophisticated Iranian”. An international film festival favorite, nominated for many awards.
Nocturne, directed by Adrià Garcia and Victor Maldonado. 88 minutes. October 11, 2007.
This is actually a Spanish-French co-production, released in Spain and America as Nocturna and in France as Nocturne. Tim, a young boy in an orphanage, cannot sleep and climbs on the roof to look at the stars – which are going out. He is joined by the giant Cat Shepherd, in charge of sending children to sleep, with his cat Tobermory. Tim refuses to go to bed until the stars are replaced, so the Shepherd takes him on a journey to the world of Nocturne where he meets Moka, the Guardian of the Night, and travels to the Lighthouse of the Stars.
Tous à l’Ouest: Une Aventure de Lucky Luke (Go West: A Lucky Luke Adventure), directed by Olivier Jean-Marie. 90 minutes. December 5, 2007.
French animation studio Xilam produced a popular TV series of 52 episodes, Les Nouvelles Aventures de Lucky Luke, beginning in 2001, which led to this new theatrical feature. In 1855, the four Dalton Brothers are brought by Lucky Luke for trial to New York. But they escape, and rob all the banks in NYC. Joe hides the loot in a European immigrants’ wagon train just before Luke recaptures them. The immigrants have only 80 days to get to California before forfeiting their land. The Daltons join the wagon train to get their loot back, persuading Lucky Luke to become the wagon train’s guide to California to keep the naïve settlers safe, despite every Western danger imaginable. A Lucky Luke live-action movie followed after this.
Next week: 2008-2009.