Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Illusionist

Get out your cards and rabbits, we're reviewing The Illusionist!
This is not what I expected from the same studio that created The Triplets of Belleville. Yes, the animation is astounding, but the story is a bit...depressing.
Minor spoilers ahead.

While out of a job and looking for work, an old magician meets a young girl who follows him to the city. What ensues is his increasing inability to find work as she weaves herself deeper into his life.

As mentioned, this is from the same studio that did The Triplets of Belleville, so if you've seen that, you know how amazing the animation in this is. It's an incredibly beautiful delight to watch and drink in. And it's not just the animation, but also the character design, the environment they set up, the feel and atmosphere, the little jokes and gags...everything. They've even managed to one-up Pixar in that see-how-long-a-movie-you-can-make-without-dialogue contest they've obviously been having, because most of it has no dialogue. The entire thing is in, I don't know, possibly bits of English mixed with French and Irish? It boils down to Sim Speak gibberish, but it doesn't matter one way or the other. The actions are portrayed so well they don't need words. The only problem is it makes the overall story a bit hard to follow.

And about that....

I could not stand the story. I wasn't really certain what the overall story arc or drama actually was. I was interested in the magician and wanted to see what he did and how he managed to get by. The idea of his profession being fazed out by other attractions like TV, movies, and pop stars was interesting. The problem is the girl. She just sort of tags along and freeloads off of him, and I really don't know why he lets her. There's no real struggle from him about why she shouldn't come with him or why she should stay with her family or how she should get a job. She just runs away with him and he lets her. She doesn't even seem to be concerned with learning magic. She's just under the delusion that he can create money out of thin air.

He never explains to her that that's not how the world works. He continues to buy all these nice things for her as if she were a granddaughter or girlfriend, and she keeps asking him for more stuff while he's running out of money. This girl needs to get a job! You have no food! Why are you buying her new shoes?! It's just annoying and I can't understand his motivations. Maybe it has to do with her being his last fan or the only person who's mesmerized by him, and this is his downfall. But it just feels so infuriating.  

Perhaps he's an old man and this is how he wants to spend the last of his money, but you can see him struggling to make end's meat just so he can stay afloat while she does nothing. All these other performers are failing all around him, she can't get a job, and she asks him for a fur coat. Man, just boot her ass out!

I'm probably getting too bogged down with the story when I should be spending more time on the execution, which is exquisite. The design for all the characters, the soundtrack, and the intricate animation could not be better. Aside from the overly depressing story, there are some generally funny bits in here. I feel as though I would enjoy this more if it were a collection of short cartoon snippets strung together by the beautiful environment. 

THE GOOD: Beautiful art direction, character design and animation.
THE BAD: An incredibly depressing story.
OVERALL: I wouldn't recommend this to everyone on account of the story. Its mostly for hardened animation lovers.
MOVIES LIKE IT: The Triplets of Belleville, Persepolis, Presto.
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: In order to make some money, the magician takes a job with three acrobatic performers. When you see them all checking in, you think they'll, perhaps, be working at a circus or local theme park, but they're actually painting a billboard. The acrobats use their high flying skills to paint while the magician throws up paint brushes and does a few tricks of his own. It's sad that this is what they're forced to do now, but it's a wonderful sequence that you can actually see here.

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