The French mafia, kidnapped cyclists and frogs

We are at the height of a roaring variety show. Big band percussion meets limousine after limousine as their bloated, wealthy passengers waddle down the red carpet amid the crush of fans and flashbulbs.

On stage, The Triplets of Belleville sing while act after bizarre act is introduced. A Fred Astaire look-alike is consumed by his own tap shoes before an impossibly huge woman begins tromping across the stage. We are thrust into the midst of a roaring spectacle and it seems as though we will never be allowed to catch our breaths.

Unfortunately, we do.

Sylvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville is a welcome anomaly, a feature-length cartoon that has not been sired by Disney or Dreamworks. It is not family entertainment and it will likely never find its way into the children’s section of your local video store. Necessitated in part by the nearly complete absence of dialogue, its characters are grotesque, exaggerated versions of humanity–accentuating every flaw, leaving nothing hidden to the careful eye.

Muscles bulge beyond physical limits while the fat of the well-to-do citizens of Belleville wobbles in gross proportions. It is a fantastically visual movie, conveying its plot and milieu without a single line of exposition, but this is where the movie begins to exhaust its own energy.

Much like its protagonist, Madame Souza, The Triplets of Belleville finds itself faced with an arduous journey. Where Madame Souza must search the impossibly huge city of Belleville for her grandson, Champion, the film must immerse its audience in a world without the benefit of speech. In this way, it succeeds masterfully, creating a bleak, urban world completely alien to the simple, idealistic memory of a rural France familiar to Souza and Champion. However, the effort of an entirely visual exposition is, in its own way, exhausting.

The complexity of a city populated by anachronistic triplets, the French mafia and a plan to use failed cyclists in a deadly, virtual bicycle race is much more difficult to convey than the frenetic energy of a dimly-remembered stage.

Like Champion, whose ultimate aspiration is the Tour de France, we find ourselves on an exhausting journey in which we are very active participants. Though there are certainly moments capable of taking our breath away, we must be sure to pace ourselves. After all, the scenery is absolutely gorgeous.


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