The lucky thirteenth installment of my survey of French animated features is here – with a look at the features released in 2011 and films by such diverse artists as Eric Bergeron and Michel Ocelot.
Le Marchand de Sable, directed by José Xavier. 84 minutes. February 9, 2011.
Not to be confused with Avril et le Marchand de Sable, a 1995 25-minute cel-animated TV Special with a completely different story. A children’s feature in stop-motion animation, with a little live-action. Theo (Miko in the American dub), a young (live) boy, goes into Somnia (Dreamland) where he becomes a puppet like everyone else. He meets the Sand Merchant (the Sandman), whose magic sand is stolen by the evil Habumar (Tourni-Cauchemar), who turns dreams into nightmares. Theo, the Sandman, the Sandman’s sister Lina, and Nepomuk (Philibert), the Sand Merchant’s sheep assistant have to get it back.
Le Chat du Rabbin (The Rabbi’s Cat), directed by Joann Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux. 80 minutes. June 1, 2011.
Set in Algiers and North Africa during the 1920s. Narrated by Rabbi Sfar’s cat (“I have no name. Everyone knows the rabbi’s cat!”), who lusts after the rabbi’s adult daughter, Zlabya. The cat eats a parrot, gains the power of speech, argues with the rabbi endlessly, wants a bar mitzvah, and sets out with a half-dozen human misfits in a homicidial Russian emigré’s halftrack across North Africa looking for the lost tribe of Israel.
Sfar and Delesvaux, with Clément Oubrerie, put together their own animation studio, Autochenille Production, to film part of Sfar’s award-winning bande dessinée. The actual animation was produced by Banjo Studio of Paris. An international film festival favorite, winner of the top awards at the 2011 Annecy International Animated Film Festival (the fourth French animated feature to win the Annecy Best Feature Crystal) and the 2012 Césars, and nominated for two American 2012 Annie Awards. Released theatrically and on DVD in America by GKIDS.
Les Contes de la Nuit (Tales of the Night), directed by Michel Ocelot. 84 minutes. July 20, 2011.
A feature compilation of six episodes of Ocelot’s 2010 Dragons et Princesses TV series, in cutout silhouette animation. Two young lovers and an old man in a deserted theater decide that the lovers should reenact six romantic fantasies: The Werewolf, set in Medieval Europe; Tijean and Belle-sans-Connitre, set in the French Caribbean; The Chosen One and the City of Gold, set among the Aztecs; The Boy Tam-Tam, set in pre-colonial West Africa; The Boy Who Never Lied, set in ancient Tibet; and The Doe-Girl and the Architect’s Son, set again in Medieval Europe. Les Contes de la Nuit was a selection of the 61st Berlin International Film Festival and the Sitges [Spain] Film Festival 2011.
Un Monstre à Paris, (A Monster In Paris) directed by Eric “Bibo” Bergeron. 90 minutes. October 12, 2011.
Set in 1910 Paris. A pastiche of The Phantom of the Opera, with a human-sized masked singing flea in the Phantom’s role. Emile, a shy projectionist; Raoul, a sarcastic young inventor; and Lucille, a cabaret singer, know that the Monster terrorizing Paris is Francoeur, the friendly singing masked flea; but Victor, the police commissioner and Raoul’s rival for Lucille, discards her to try to kill the flea to make himself a public hero and advance his political career. It’s the three friends and Francoeur versus Victor and the whole duped Parisian police force. Lucille’s voice was the noted French singer Vanessa Paradis. Nominated for the César Award for Best Animated Film.
Le Tableau (The Painting), directed by Jean-François Laguionie. 76 minutes. November 23, 2011.
A famous Painter abandons an unfinished painting. The characters in the painting divide themselves into the haughty upper-class finished Toupins (Alldunns), the partially-completed Pafinis (Halfies), and the pariah rough-sketch Reufs (Roughs). Ramo, Lola, and Plume, one character from each class, go looking for their Painter to beg him to finish their painting; and Lola asks why he left it unfinished in the first place. The Painter is unnamed, but shown as looking like Paul Gaughin (1848-1903), while the art in the film looks like the styles of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and other modernists. Le Tableau won Best Feature Film at the 8th Festival of European Animated Feature Films and TV Specials, at the Kecskemét [Hungary] Animation Film Festival KAFF 2013, and was nominated for the César Award for Best Animated Film.
Les As de la Jungle – Operation Banquise, directed by David Alaux and Éric Tosti. 58 minutes. December 31, 2011.
When a band of walruses terrorizes the South Pole, stealing the penguins’ eggs, the penguin brother and sister Ping (Tommy) and Pong travel to the jungle where “the Great Tiger Warrior” lives, to ask him to rescue them. The Great Tiger Warrior is Maurice, a penguin raised and striped like a tiger who believes he is one. Maurice agrees, and summons the rest of the Jungle Aces (the Jungle Bunch): Miguel the poetic tap-dancing gorilla, Fred the singing warthog, Gilbert the tiny paranoid tarsier (the brains of the team), Al & Bob, the two frogs of unknown talents, and last but by no means least, Junior the little tiger fish, Maurice’s adopted son (he travels with Maurice in a fishbowl) and kung-fu expert. On their way to Antarctica, they meet and add Batricia, a bat, to the Aces. Each fights the walruses with his or her own specialty, until the grand finale free-for-all. A children’s feature, for the 6+ age group.
Les As de la Jungle – Operation Banquise (The Jungle Aces – Operation Ice), also titled Les As de la Jungle – le Film, was an original CGI feature following David Alaux & Éric Tosti’s Toulouse-based TAT Productions’ Les As de la Jungle TV series of October 23 – November 4, 2011; 26 1½-minute episodes. It was shown as a TV movie on New Year’s Eve 2012, and released theatrically on April 10, 2013. Les As de la Jungle has been popular enough to return as Les As de la Jungle – A la Rescousse (The Jungle Bunch – To the Rescue) in 11-minute TV episodes from December 29, 2013. The movie has been sold as a theatrical or DVD feature to over 150 countries. In the U.S., the feature is a DVD as The Jungle Bunch: The Movie, with John Lithgow voicing Maurice. The movie won the Procirep French TV producers’ award in the animation category; the Audience Awards at the 7th Animpact Max (November 28 – December 2) in Seoul, South Korea and the LUCAS International Children’s Film Festival in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany; and the 2013 Kidscreen Award in New York; and was nominated for a 2014 Emmy.
Next week: 2012
Looks like you hit a “snag” here. Folks haven’t seen enough of 2011’s line-up to provide commentary yet. At least the next blog will include an Academy Award nominee “Ernest & Celestine” for a few to sink their teeth into. (Not that I have seen that one yet.)
It does seem like the French have been doing as equally well as the Japanese each year in the Best Animated Feature category. Ever since the Academy launched this race in 2001, it has always been an “international” battle, much like the two Documentary categories since the 1980s… and the Live-action and Animated Short Subjects (gradually) since the 1960s (when the major Hollywood studios phased out shorts production… and United Artists was practically the only US company distributing shorts with their features after 1972 or so.) There is a void that needs filled with “imports”. However, there is still that unwritten law that is followed: ONE… sometimes TWO.. titles competing must be “home grown” to distinguish this category from Best Foreign Language Feature.
Add to this fact that the Academy voters want “variety” and so many AMERICAN features are simply “cgi” offerings with Star Names providing “comic” voices and too much “seen it before” jokes and chase sequences. One thing you can say about the six features shown above is that no two look alike. Just “Les As de la Jungle – Operation Banquise” resembles a knock-off of the American feature.
Michel Ocelot is a familiar enough name… with features managing to infiltrate the Barnes & Nobles’ DVD shelves. You would think the silhouette animation popularized by Lotte Reiniger so many decades ago wouldn’t experience a comeback, but these features are so unusual today that they do have a “market”.
I have “A Monster In Paris” on DVD. Really enjoyed it. Loved the character designs and the film was pretty fast paced from start to finish. The music was pretty nice too although it doesn’t fit in with the 1910 period it’s supposed to represent. Least that’s how I feel about it, lol…
I saw “The Rabbi’s Cat”, subtitled in English, when it had a brief U.S. theatrical distribution two years later.