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    The Triplets of Belleville

    The eyes have it

    "The Triplets of Belleville" lacks the energy of many of the great cartoons but is still a grand, original visual spectacle.


    Nemo, Triplets. Nemo, Triplets. Nemo, Triplets.

    Original title: Les Triplettes de Belleville.
    Written and directed by: Sylvain Chomet.
    Cast: Mich¸le Caucheteux, Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin, Monica Viegas.
    Music by: Beno”t Charest, Mathieu Chedid.

    Related links: Official site | French site
    Which is the best animated movie of 2003? That's one of the questions that keeps arising as we consider end-of-year awards and top 10 lists, and in the end I'm choosing "The Triplets of Belleville."

    "Finding Nemo" — arguably the best Hollywood movie of the year — was in many ways more fun, with great, idiosyncratic vocal performances and a perky good nature. "Triplets" doesn't have the same bounce by a long shot. What it does have is good, old-fashioned, uncomputerized, hand-drawn art, and it's spectacular.

    The Triplets of Belleville  
    Sylvain Chomet's film about a little old mother and her Tour de France also-ran son who is kidnapped by Belleville (read, New York) gangsters for nefarious purposes, has a subtle sense of humor to go with its grand sense of spectacle.

    Inspired eccentricities set the tone. The family's cockeyed little house was not torn down when the elevated train came through — just bent to one side. The family dog (the best character in the movie) has an internal clock that tells him when it's time to go to the upstairs window and bark at the passing commuters. Ma is a master of Rube Goldberg contraptions that can do anything from fine-tune bicycle spokes to get an old lady and a dog across the ocean.

    The solution to the case has something to do with the triplets of the title — three oddball biddies who were once jazz-age singing stars and now earn a subsistence living in strange and inventive ways involving ordinary home appliances and high explosives.

      The Triplets of Belleville
    The movie has almost no dialogue — just an infectious, almost-familiar jazz score and quirky sound effects — and it's an achievement to have made a story this appealing with few words, but also somewhat distancing. Despite its originality, the film seems to lack energy. It is built on slow, repetitive actions that quietly amuse us but don't necessarily raise our adrenaline. The film needs at least one more dimension — either faster-paced action or quick-witted dialogue — to make it a fully satisfying experience on a par with "The Simpsons," classic Warner Brothers, or the unanimated but equally twisted "Delicatessen."

    Still, on the level of visual grandeur and artistic imagination, "The Triplets of Belleville" is a sheer joy. Its art-deco sensibility is tinged with a leering, Gahan Wilson-like eye for the macabre in ordinary man. Everything we see is subtly wrong — a world of alternately bulbous and spindly people with roaring-'20s technology that sometimes roars back. We can imagine squeezing ourselves into this dimension, perhaps, if the trap door were a waffle iron. The film is not everything one might have hoped from the dynamic trailer, but it is a singular feast for the eyes at the very least.

    DECEMBER 30, 2003

    Reader comments on The Triplets of Belleville:

  • The triplets of Belleville   from Sylvie, Jan 9, 2004
  • Re: The triplets of Belleville   from Malmaison, Nov 24, 2004
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  • Triplets of Belleville animated film   from s, cahn, Nov 25, 2004

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