Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Animated, Drama
Opens locally Friday, January 28th 2011 (playing exclusively at the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak), Rated PG
Run Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Cast: Jean-Claude Donda
Directed by Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville)
Don’t be fooled by “The Illusionist”, a fully animated movie from France that was just nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature category. By fooled, I mean that when you see an animated movie rated PG, you automatically discard it as a “children’s movie”, but that’s far from what “The Illusionist” is. It is light-hearted for sure, but I don’t know that a kid that would sit through this film, as the film’s tone is surely skewed towards adults. But I’m not sure too many adults would want to see the picture either: It’s the kind of artsy movie that has beautiful shining moments, and wonderful hand-drawn animation, but simply is too…quiet of a film to really get into.
Now it must be said right off the bat…this movie contains little to no dialogue. The characters communicate for sure, just in a strange, guttural kind of language that only Charlie Brown’s teacher would understand. This makes the whole film drift slowly. If there was ever a live version of the film, it could fully be cast by mimes and street performers.
The Plot. It’s 1959 Paris, and our title character is a lanky, aged old man who performs his magic acts to mostly empty crowds or backstreet bars. When he befriends a young girl at one of his performances, she decides to tag along with him on the road to Scotland. His life itself is a bit of an illusion: He performs in a tuxedo and carries himself proudly, but he also works nights as a mechanic in order to afford his dingy motel room. She tries to take care of him in ways it seems he never has. When he finally gets a stroke of luck, their relationship is strained.
A Few Tricks. The movie is innocent and sweet enough that it is hard being critical…There are some very tender moments made all the more effective given the lack of dialogue. They paint a very sad picture of the street performer, the loneliness and isolation that are vital parts of their lives. We meet a sad clown, a puppeteer who treats his puppet as his only friend…because it is. We understand why companionship would be so important to our Illusionist, who has built his life and his profession around making people believe something that isn’t true.
Sleight of Hand. But the movie is a tough sell overall. Nearly no verbal communication between the characters leaves us a bit on the outside, with little to pull us in. The first portion of the movie treks slowly, a bit too slowly for most moviegoers and definitely too slow for children. It’s the kind of film that wins awards, and praise, from critics as being special or ground-breaking…but for me the lack of dialogue wasn’t the main problem…it’s that if you choose to make a film without dialogue, you better be able to tell a visually effective story. “The Illusionist” has a few things up it’s sleeve, but never quite pulls of it’s most important trick. For whom is this movie intended?
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