The ninth installment of my survey of French animated features continues with a look at the early 2000s – and films by such diverse artists as Sylvain Chomet and Michel Ocelot.
Petit Potam: Le Film (Little ‘Potam: The Film), directed by Christian Choquet and Bernard Deyriès. 77 minutes. May 30, 2001.
A children’s movie based on a popular 1997-1998 French animated TV series of 52 13-minute episodes, premiering on September 1, 1997; itself based on six French children’s books by Christine Chagnoux from 1967 to 1987. The TV series was also known as Little Hippo in international markets and Hippo Hurra in Germany. In the TV series, Petit Potam is a hyperactive hippo six-year-old boy, living with parents Pa & Ma Potam, older sister Tessie, and older twin brothers Tim and Tam, with Grandma and Grandpa Potam living nearby; in the jungle village of Barbotam along the Potamazone River. The TV series, besides presenting gentle slice-of-life tales, emphasizes the problems of a youngest child in a large family.
In the feature, Petit Potam is playing along the river when he sees river pirates approaching. He runs to warn Barbotam, but nobody believes him due to his previous exaggerations. He runs away into the jungle, where he meets Honey Flower, a little tigress who has been living alone since the pirates attacked her village. She shows Petit Potam how to live in the jungle. But he misses his family, and feels guilty about leaving them to the pirates. He and Honey Flower return to Barbotam and prepare to defeat the pirates.
Kaena: La Prophétie (Kaena: The Prophecy), directed by Chris Delaporte and Pascal Pinon. 85 minutes. June 4, 2003.
A French-Canadian s-f CGI co-production. A spaceship of the humanoid Vecarians crashes on an alien planet inhabited by the warlike Selenites. The Selenites kill most of the survivors. Meanwhile, the core of the spaceship, named Vecanoi, has survived. Axis, a gigantic tree reaching into space, grows from it. 600 years later, the only Vecarians are living in the high branches of Axis as a primitive tribe who have forgotten their origins. When its sap runs out and the tree starts dying, they implore the gods to save them. Kaena, a young girl who has been dismissed as a dreamer, dreams that Axis is calling her for help. She climbs to the top of Axis, where she meets ancient Opaz, the last survivor of the castaways, who has been working for centuries on a return. He is finally ready with Kaena’s help; but they need the remains of Vecanoi from the base of Axis. Kaena must travel to the surface, where she has never been before, and brave the Selenite queen, who hates all Vecarians.
Kaena: La Prophétie was the first theatrical feature of Xilam, a studio devoted primarily to French TV animation, notably the Oggy et les Cafards (Oggy and the Cockroaches) series, since 1999 and still going.
Les Triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville), directed by Sylvain Chomet, 78 minutes. June 11, 2003.
A pantomime comedy. Three sisters are a famous music hall trio in early 1930s Belleville; a thinly-disguised NYC/America. Jump to France in the 1980s. Madame Souza is raising her grandson, Champion, who has only two loves; his puppy Bruno, and his bicycle. Jump to the present (2003). Champion has become a champion bicyclist in the Tour de France, with his grandmother as his coach. Champion is leading when he and the other two frontrunners are kidnapped by a black-clad French Mafia team. Madame Souza and the now-elderly Bruno follow them across to Atlantic to Belleville, where ruthless French gangsters are forcing the three bicyclists to race against each other for gamblers. Madame Souza and Bruno meet the Triplets, now forgotten has-beens, and they rescue Champion together. A very witty satire on the French obsession with the Tour de France, Citroën autos, and every French stereotype of rich, fat Americans. Les Triplettes de Belleville became an international film festival favorite that was nominated for two Academy Awards; and made Chomet an internationally famous director.
Les Enfants de la Pluie (Children of the Rain), directed by Philippe Leclerc. 90 minutes. June 25, 2003.
A French-South Korean co-production, based on Serge Brussolo’s s-f novel A l’Image du Dragon. The world is divided into two dramatically different halves: the fire desert inhabited by the red-skinned Pyross, and the perpetually-raining land of water, inhabited by the blue-skinned Hydross. They fight an eternal war, manipulated by an evil priesthood, and are literally unable to touch each other. Skan, a Pyross youth, and Kallisto, a Hydross girl, are the Romeo and Juliet who bring their two peoples together.
La Prophétie des Grenouilles (Raining Cats and Frogs), directed by Jacques-Rémy Girerd. 90 minutes. December 3, 2003.
Girerd founded the Folimage animation studio in 1981, but during the 20th century its only standout film was Michael Dudok de Wit’s 1994 short Le Moine et le Poisson (The Monk and the Fish). Since 2003, Folimage has produced several French animated features beginning with La Prophétie des Grenouilles (literally The Prophecy of the Frogs). Ferdinand Bauer, his wife Juliette, and their grandchildren Tom and Lili live on a farm, with African animals that Lili’s parents send from a safari for a zoo. The frogs in a pond know that it is about to rain for forty days and nights, creating a new Flood that will drown Earth. They warn the children, who get their grandparents and the talking animals into the barn, which becomes a new Ark with Ferdinand as Noah. The barn is well-stocked with vegetables for the herbivores, but the lion and the fox organize the other carnivores into mutinying. The Ark is interrupted by an attack of crocodiles and a sea tortoise. After many adventures, the waters subside and it turns out that almost all humans also survived in other boats. An international prize-winner.
L’Île de Black Mór, directed by Jean-François Laguionie. 85 minutes. February 11, 2004.
In 1803 the Kid, a 15-year-old nameless orphan, escapes from a harsh Cornish orphanage to search, together with two adult shipwreckers, MacGregor and The String (approximately “beanpole” for a skinny man), for the legendary treasure of the pirate Black Mór. Laguionie’s boys’ adventure tale was inspired by Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Verne’s L’Île Mystérieuse, several sea tales by Conrad, Butler’s Erewhon, 19th-century adventure drawings by Daumier and Granville, trips to the lonely seacoasts of Brittany, Cornwall, and Ireland, and even Franquin’s Le Nid des Marsupilamis.
T’choupi, le Film: Le Mystère des Jouets (T’choupi, the Movie: Mystery of the Toys), directed by Jean-Luc François. 70 minutes. April 7, 2004.
A traditional cartoon animated film for young children. A French-Luxembourgois-South Korean co-production; based on the children’s stories of Thierry Courtin, and its animated TV series (the first TV production by Les Armateurs). T’choupi is a little-boy toy in a world of living toys.
T’choupi and his teddy bear Doudou goes with his parents to a little seaside village for a long summer vacation. T’choupi and Doudou have pleasant beachside activities, and meet two new friends, Pilou and Lalou. His little sister, Fanny, is born. One day, a mysterious thief begins to steal their toys. T’choupi leads an investigation to discover the thief.
Pollux: Le Manège Enchanté (The Magic Roundabout aka Sprung, The Magic Roundabout), directed by Jean Duval, Dave Borthwick, and Frank Passingham. 78 minutes. February 2, 2005. (An edited version was released in the United States on February 24th, 2006 as Doogal).
A new CGI feature inspired by the Franco-British stop-motion TV series and the 1970 feature, featuring Pollux (Dougal), the long-haired, overly-British Lhasa Apso with the sweet teeth. A typical peaceful day in Bois Joli (Happywood) introduces Pollux’s friends Zébulon (Zebedee) the good wizard, Azalée (Ermintrude) the operatic cow, Ambroise (Brian) the shy snail who is secretly in love with Azalée, Flappy (the same) the narcoleptic rabbit, and others. They are listening to an outdoor concert when Pollux appears in a runaway trolley, looking for more sweets. He crashes into the Magic Roundabout, freeing Zébulon’s evil twin Zabadie (Zeebad) who was prisoned under it. Zabadie loses no time in freezing Margote (Florence), the princess of the Bois Joli, and as many others as he can. It is revealed to everyone that if Zabadie can find three magic diamonds within three days, he can freeze the sun and rule the world forever. The movie becomes a race to find the three diamonds first.
Pollux: Le Manège Enchanté was a French-British co-production released in both countries at about the same time. Both had all-star voice casts. But what was fresh and imaginative in the 1960s and ‘70s was stale by 2005; and the CGI animation was no longer “different” enough to save it. Critics compared the plot unfavorably to Tolkien and the Indiana Jones movies, as just a stereotypical quest adventure with funny animals. It was a box-office failure in both countries.
Le Roman de Renart (The Adventures of Renny the Fox), directed by Thierry Schiel. 97 minutes. August 12, 2005.
Produced in Luxembourg rather than France or Belgium, but still for the French-language market, in attractive but sharp-edged CGI animation. A new story based on the Reynard the Fox folk tale, for young children. Renart/Renny, with his hesitant friend Rufus the clumsy rat, is a cheeky Robin Hood-like good-guy thief, robbing from the corrupt animal Medieval nobility to give to the peasants. When Renart finds a map to the nobility’s combined treasure during Christmastime, this seems to promise a happy festival for the animal commoners. But Isengrim the wolf, the captain of the king’s guard, tries to stop him from getting it. Winner of the Grand Prix Anima 2005 (International Animation Film Festival of Brussels); Jury Prize, FIFA 2005 (Montréal International Festival of Films on Art).
Kirikou et les Bêtes Sauvages (Kirikou and the Wild Beasts), directed by Michel Ocelot. 75 minutes. December 7, 2005.
Ocelot’s followup to his 1998 Kirikou et la Sorcière (Kirikou and the Sorceress) is set during the midst of that film, while Kirikou is still a small boy and Karaba is an evil sorceress. Four tales of the West African nude little boy, his native village, and their fight against the evil sorceress Karaba. In the tales Kirikou fights against or is helped by an unanthropomorphized hyena, a bullock, and a giraffe; both against Karaba’s plots, and just predatory carnivores. An international film festival favorite and award winner, but not theatrically released in America due to Ocelot’s visual emphasis on tribal West African women nude above the waist and children naked before puberty. Ocelot followed this up with a 2007 stage musical, Kirikou et Karaba (Kirikou and Karaba).
Next week: 2006 – 2008.