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Movies: The Triplets of Belleville

I want animated movies for adults to become viable form of entertainment in America. When I become king, I will simply issue a decree stating that, for every Treasure Planet churns out, they have to match it with a Waking Life or two. But until that time, the only thing I can do to advance my cause is to see each and every adult animated movie that comes to town and hope that my pocketbook vote somehow translates into more of them being distributed.

And thus I went to see The Triplets of Belleville. It had been getting rave reviews (rottentomatoes.com has it at a phenomenal 95% -- just one point lower than Return of the King), so my expectations were dizzyingly high. Maybe this, thought I, was going to be the film that made America wake up to the extraordinary possibilities of animated entertainment.

So, really, how could I not wind up a little disappointed, holding it up to such an impossibly high standard? And it didn't help that, before going, I'd read a review comparing it to both City of Lost Children and Delicatessen two of my all-time favorite flicks. Triplets is a fine movie to be sure, but it ain't gonna revolutionize the motion picture industry, alas - and it's no Delicatessen.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around an old woman whose son is kidnapped while competing in the Tour de France. [Update: Sorry, I meant "grandson," here -- this was a typo, not me completely missing a major plot point.] She follows the culprits to the titular Belleville and joins forces with the titular triplets to free her offspring from an underworld that's as nefarious as it is bizarre.

Honestly, the story is fairly inconsequential compared to the animation, which is a wonder to behold - for a spell, at least. But clocking in at 80 minutes, Triplets actually had fidgeting in my seat for the final 20. Yes, it's meticulously hand-animated, but I felt like I'd seen all the beauty and grotesquery it had to offer in the first hour. When the realization came that there would be no real plot, I was pretty much ready for the wrap-up.

Despite all that, I commend it to you(and not just because the more people who go see it, the more money it will gross, and the closer my dream of a adult animation revolution will come to realization). It's actually quite a wonderful movie if, unlike me, you go in knowing that story is going to be in short supply. I strongly suspect that if I saw it a second time - this time knowing what I was getting into - my estimation of it would skyrocket. It's not of Spirited Away caliber, true - but it's better than Finding Nemo by an order of magnitude, and that's good enough for me.

Posted on February 02, 2004 to Movies


I know what you mean about trying not to believe the hype, but TRIPLETS caught a wave with me right at the outset, and I loved it throughout. It narrowly beat out LOST IN TRANSLATION as my favorite movie of '03.

Posted by: Doug on February 2, 2004 11:35 PM

The BBC showed it over here at Christmas (although titled as Belleville Rendezvous) and I must say I wasn't impressed. Sure it looked nice, but there was pretty much no story at all, it'd have worked a lot better as a short in my view.

Posted by: Simstim on February 3, 2004 3:02 AM

Agreed! Aduly animation ( of the non-pornographic kind ) is truly a rare commodity nowadays.

Now, I always hate it when people recommend stuff to me, but still.... I highly, stridently, with all my little heart, recommend that you see FLCL ( also called Fooly Coolly or Furikuri ) if you haven't seen it yet.

Seriously. You can get a cheap import copy for ten bucks at...

It's so worth it. Best ten bucks you'll ever spend. No fan of animation should live and die without becoming acquainted with Haruhara Haruko.....


Posted by: Edgeling on February 3, 2004 3:13 AM

I can't believe your dissin' on the Nemo...

Posted by: rag on February 3, 2004 5:27 AM

I agree with your assessment, but it's clearly the man's grandmother who goes searching for him. Sorry to pick such a tiny nit, but don't you feel better now that it's gone?

Posted by: Michael on February 3, 2004 5:47 AM

There have been to few adult animations of the Spirited Away caliber. which is a shame.


Posted by: chris on February 3, 2004 7:03 AM

There have been to few adult animations of the Spirited Away caliber. which is a shame.


Posted by: chris on February 3, 2004 7:03 AM

there have been too many posts by me about this :)


Posted by: chris on February 3, 2004 7:04 AM

Tastes in movies are so subjective...

Posted by: Martin Alak on February 3, 2004 7:19 AM


Posted by: Rob Cockerham on February 3, 2004 7:58 AM

I remember watching Ralph Bakshi's Wizard in the theater when I was 15. It was the first animated film for adults I had seen and it made a huge impression on me - up until then I was a Wyle E. Coyote fan. What an introduction to the genre. I saw Fritz the Cat years later on video. There was no animation for adults (of the non-porn variety) available - at least where I lived.

Posted by: Bob on February 3, 2004 9:46 AM

I'm with you, Matt. I appreciated the movie on several levels, but didn't actually enjoy as much as I expected. And the City of Lost Children/Delicatessen comparisons were lost on me. Sure it was French and had some twisted and dark moments of humor...but it just didn't stand up to those movies' caliber.

That said: more adult animated films! Yes, please!

Posted by: Ariel on February 3, 2004 9:48 AM

Expectation is a son of a bitch, innit?

I knew jack about the film, and I was very impressed and enjoyed it thoroughly and can't wait to see it again. It's not about the story; it's about the story_telling_. I don't think I've seen a movie since Sunrise that was so effective at communicating without dialogue.

How much 'story' is there in, say, Wallace & Gromit? And you're NOT gonna go knockin' on W&G... ARE YOU?

(link below is to my slightly longer review. click... I dare you.)

Posted by: the kiosk on February 3, 2004 10:33 AM

responding to a comment: "there have been to few adult animations of the Spirited Away caliber. which is a shame."

Yeah, and there have been too few live-action films of the Godfather caliber.

If no one ever equals the masterpiece that is Spirited Away, I can live with that. But I certainly do hope to see more films of, say, the Princess Mononoke or Triplets of Belleville caliber.

Posted by: the kiosk on February 3, 2004 10:41 AM

I sort of felt Emperor's New Clothes-ish when I left the theater.

Posted by: Sarah B. on February 3, 2004 1:12 PM

I think being a bicyclist helped me appreciate "Triplets."

Similarly, I'm sure I would have enjoyed "Lord of the Rings" more if I were a hobbit.

Posted by: Luke on February 3, 2004 1:40 PM

i had similar expectations for the wholesale revolution of animated film after seeing "The Princess Mononoke"... but alas. perhaps we just need less cartoons for the little-folk, and then the unemployed animators will band together (those plucky animators!) and shoot for a different market?

Posted by: markus on February 3, 2004 2:26 PM

Look for "Jojo In The Stars": "`Delicatessen' meets Rankin-Bass"


Posted by: Anonymous on February 3, 2004 5:38 PM

Wow! Someone actually reads my reviews!

I stand by the comparison, by the way: a reimagining of the world through the eyes of bande dessine is what I see in all three flicks.

Posted by: mike on February 3, 2004 9:36 PM

I went out and saw Sylvia last weekend. Not even the adult live-action films are meant for adults anymore.

Posted by: palinode on February 4, 2004 8:54 AM

grandson, not her son, you weren't paying attention. If you had, you would have noticed that the boy ties bicycles to his long lost parents. His urge for a bicycle is related to his urge for his parents, for their love

Posted by: Kristina on February 5, 2004 6:25 PM

so, like I was saying before, you might have missed out on the plot because you didn't notice that the story about their relationship and their "fantasy life" (by which I mean, how they see life and experience it), not about how much action you can pack into a story. Also, it's a lot about french culture. Sorry, post got cut in half.

Posted by: krishasty on February 5, 2004 6:31 PM

Matt, have you seen Millenium Actress and Perfect Blue?

Posted by: Steve on February 5, 2004 7:34 PM

I hate huge buildups. Especially when they occur in drainpipes.

Still good though.

Posted by: fermented on February 5, 2004 8:01 PM

Belleville Rendevous was pretty damn good. Maybe just a bit too subtle plot wise? ;-)

Anyway, I've included a link to an Amazon listing of the works of Jan Svankmajer, my favourite East European animator. Don't be put offf by the live film pictures on the covers, the guy is a genius at mixing live acting and stop motion puppetry.

Big fave is Alice, a reworking of Lewis Carrols story, set in a decaying house full of skeletal creatures and other surreal stuff.

I gotta suspect the answer to getting animation aimed at adults made might just be to wipe DIsney from the history of film....


Posted by: Rich on February 6, 2004 1:02 AM

Yeah, I figure its better to see Belleville Rendezvous lazing on a sofa with a bottle of wine, letting the whole thing wash over you. Then it is glorious.

I can't imagine sitting in a cinema to watch it. It doesn't stand up to such close scrutiny.

Posted by: Ritchie on February 6, 2004 8:40 AM

I believe the news is that Disney is out of the non-computer animation business entirely. Fired all their hand animators, or retrained them for doing 3D, "Nemo-style" films. Will "those plucky animators" go on to do adult animation after getting the pink slip?

Posted by: breath on February 6, 2004 5:37 PM

oops, just saw Andy at the Stranger made the same comparison. You undoubtedly saw his review, not mine.

Posted by: mike on February 7, 2004 9:52 PM