A MONSTER IN PARIS
DIRECTED BY: Bibo Bergeron
WRITTEN BY: Bibo Bergeron, Stephanie Kazandjian
VOICES BY: Vanessa Paradis, Adam Goldberg, Danny Houston, Sean Lennon
RUNNING TIME: 90 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY: Europacorp Distribution
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Paris 1910, just after the Seine Flood. Emile, a shy projectionist, has a passion for film and also for his ticket seller Maud, but has trouble admitting his feelings to her. His friend, an exuberant inventor and delivery driver, Raoul, has romantic designs on his childhood friend Lucille, who is now a caberet singer, but Lucille’s aunt is doing all she can to push him into the arms of Maynott, the arrogant Chief of Police. One evening Emile and Raoul foolishly play around with chemicals in the Botanical Gardens and cause an explosion. They come out unscathed, but Emile briefly glimpses a monstrous insect-like creature, and, a few days late, sightings of the monster occur in Paris. After one particular performance, Maud opens the back door of the and accidentally pushes the creature aside into the alleyway after it became mesmerized playing with the doorbell…….
A Monster In Paris is one of those films that, as I excited the cinema, I didn’t really know what to make of. I initially didn’t intend to see it at all – the line “from the director of Shark Tale”on posters is hardly enticing, but then I remembered Bibo Bergeron also directed the enjoyable The Road To Eldorado. While full of themes that are present in countless animated films, it certainly isn’t the Dreamworks-style movie you may expect, especially from somebody who worked with the studio. It’s actually rather odd, and, though CG animated, at times has a feel closer to the hand drawn animated films of Sylvian Chomet [The Illusionist, Belleville Rendezvouz]. It’s also a bit unfocused and messy, as if writers Bibo Bergeron, who also directed, and Stephanie Kazandjian weren’t sure of how to tell the story they are telling. When so many animated films aimed at children are so unoriginal and follow the same template though, something like A Monster In Paris should perhaps be cherished.
It begins really strangely for a animated movie, with real footage of the 1910 Seine flood, then slowly introduces us to its characters. Initially, the film seems to almost have a Hugo vibe about it, what with Emile making very early films and a feeling of the sheer sense of wonder and adventure that must been there when cinema was in its infancy. We soon shift to more characters though, and the film becomes rather problematic. There are so many characters, usually introduced to us in lengthy dialogue scenes, that the film just bogs down, and for me too much time was spent on Raoul trying to woo Lucille, and Lucille’s performances, rather than Emile and Maud. So the story just takes forever to get going, even when an element of horror is introduced with a monster on the loose, but I will say that the children in the cinema screen I was in didn’t seem to mind and seemed quite engrossed. Perhaps because of the film’s visual style, but more on that later!
So Lucille eventually encounters the monster, and in a really bizarre moment the monster sings a sad song, during which we are presented with images from when he was enlarged and him flying through the air. This scene is rather touching and cleverly done, and after this A Monster In Paris finds its focus, with Francoeur, as you have probably guessed, actually being a nice guy and the real monsters being of the human kind. Though he is an enlarged flea, Francoeur is very much in the Hunchback Of Notre Dame mode; he even swings around tall Parisian landmarks, and is definitely sinned against rather than a sinner. Of course we have already had similarities to The Fly, and, unsurprisingly, a Beauty And The Beast element is brought in, though the film retains its original feel and freewheeling vibe, and there’s little time to develop anything, because the entire final third is one great bit long action scene, with an endless vehicle chase around Paris ending up at the Eiffel Tower, with conventional cliffhanging hi-jinks taking forever to finish. I enjoyed all this, but the film seems like three very different films joined awkwardly together. Still, it seems to end perfectly, in a nice hopeful way, but then tacks on another scene which is too pat and conventional for the film. If I buy this movie, and despite its flaws I probably will, I’ll probably omit the very final scene and you may want to do the same.
Still, it’s simply terrific to look at. The animation may not be Pixar standard, but its rather soft, childlike style is very appealing [though most of the characters resemble various Pixar and Dreamworks folk], and the Parisian backgrounds are almost expressionistic in their look and effect, reminiscent to me of 70s and early 80s Disney, but with a genuine French flavour. The use of colour is wonderful, with different schemes used for different locales and even kinds of scene. Most beautifully, when Lucille sings, her surroundings are bathed in purple and blue, literally enveloping the viewer in a dreamlike ambience, though the film isn’t afraid to have scenes with little colour at all in them too. Now you probably want to know if A Monster In Paris is as relatively humourless at it sounds and it certainly isn’t; there are plenty of laughs, especially involving the monkey, who is more intelligent than at least half the rest of the cast, though not all of them work. This seems to be an unavoidable feature of European animated movies which are translated into English, though interestingly this one was animated with the characters mouthing the English dialogue.
The voice cast all do well, while the songs, which are actually rather catchy [some kids were repeating them on the way out] allow Vanessa Paradis and Sean Lennon to do her thing. I perhaps shouldn’t, but I will also mention that Paradis’s character Lucille is one of the most, ahem, nicely drawn and proportioned CG animated characters I’ve seen. A Monster In Paris has all sorts of problems, especially in the first half, but it also has charm to spare and may very well end up really involving you in its messily told story, especially towards the end, where I happily admit I had a lump in my throat. If you fancy a cartoon with a bit of difference, I recommend you give it a go, child or no child! I also think Bibo Bergeron will go on to do great things in animation.