The Triplets of Belleville

Who needs modern CGI animation? This charming French throwback takes its cues from the past.

TWICE MAY NOT even be enough to catch the accumulated wit and audacity of The Triplets of Belleville (which opens Friday, Dec. 26, at the Egyptian), a warm, wiggy animated first feature by Sylvain Chômet, who gives it the strength of great line drawings with offbeat, collectible sounds and musicpart Django Reinhardt, part scat-singing, part Stomp. Blissfully, there's no dialogue. Set in 1950s France, Triplets gets its heart and its heroines from an earlier time, the late '30s when Violette, Rose, and Blanche (the fabulous singing Triplets of Belleville) were headliners, sharing the bill with naughty Josephine Baker, Fred Astaire, and Django. The film opens in black-and-white, with Josephine wearing only her trademark bananas (and blushing as monkeys make off with them); debonair Fred (with carnivorous shoes); and the Triplets themselves in feathered cloches, hunching their tall, slatty frames down to the mike to deliver a great rhythm number. It's only when the screen flutters and we see a "Pardon the interruption" card that we realize that we've been watching these acts on television, in the cozy overstuffed home of the widowed Madame Souza. She lives (in color) with Champion, her pudgy, orphaned grandson, and Bruno, a cross between a Lab and an overstuffed duffle bag. (We even see Bruno's dreams, appropriately in black-and-white.) Madame Souza is an enviable heroine with a huge heart, a giant orthopedic shoe, and the tenacity of a Resistance fighter. When she discovers that her grandson's great love is the Tour de France, voilà! A cyclist is hatched. Flash forward through nearly 20 years of Madame Souza's gimlet-eyed training and Champion, now worthy of his name, is shaped like an S-hook with a Gallic nose and pneumatic leg muscles. THE MINIMAL PLOT centers around his kidnapping by mafioso, who transport him across the ocean to Belleville, tracked by Madame and Bruno on an intrepid rescue mission (rather like Finding Nemo, in fact). In France, Belleville is a somewhat dodgy suburb; this Belleville looks suspiciously like a Frenchman's view of Manhattan. It has a Botero-sized Statue of Liberty clutching a hamburger, an entirely overweight populace, and . . . the Tripletsnow as rickety as their apartment, but still in fine spirits. They immediately take in Madame Souza and Bruno, sharing their diet of frog legs, cunningly caught in the swamp across the street and cooked more ways than you can imagine, including tadpole popcorn. Unlike Saturday-morning cartoons, with their short- attention-span gags, Chômet makes patience a virtue during the 80 minutes of Triplets. As Madame Souza tries to lend a hand around the Triplets' decrepit apartment, tidying newspapers or vacuuming, one of the sisters gently deters her. It's only later, when les girls do a red-hot Stomp-like musical number using these objects, plus refrigerator shelves (and Madame Souza, on the bicycle wheel), that the humor plays itself out fully. Patience should be our virtue, too, since there's never quite time enough to absorb Triplets' decor, allusions, and sumptuous drawings, which Chômet is too cool to underline. The result is a fabulous mélange thatalthough not for the very youngmakes even splendid Nemo seem overlit, simplistic, and a touch preachy.

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow