Cinophile: THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE

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Don’t worry, you don’t need to read subtitles for The Triplets of Belleville, which may be French but is an experience that goes beyond language. You could probably count the lines on dialogue on one hand. This masterpiece of animation is an explosion of pantomime and musical comedy, showing that sometimes words get in the way of telling a good story.

The movie opens with the three titular sisters, performing in their heyday as a 1930s singing group, all suitably animated in the classic cartoon styles of the period. But the story is really about Madame Souza, a diminutive but headstrong lady who raises her grandson Champion after the death of his parents. In her attempts to connect with the boy, she buys several gifts: a dog called Bruno and a small toy train set. But Champion only opens up when he is given a bicycle and this becomes his lifelong obsession.

The movie jumps forward to where an adult Champion is being trained by his grandmother to compete as a professional cyclist. But during the race Champion is kidnapped by the Mafia, so Madame Souza and Bruno go after them. After reaching Belleville, a cheeky parody of New York and the American lifestyle, she encounters the triplets who eventually join her quest to save her grandson.

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The Triplets of Belleville is that kind of movie everyone should watch once. It is beautifully hand-animated with a wild and vivid world rising from the gorgeous imaginations of the French and Belgian comic traditions. The characters themselves are a lot of fun  and while this isn’t a musical, music plays a big and vibrant roles in everything. The kicker, though is that you don’t need to understand the language. There is hardly any dialogue and the story is toled through the pantomime actions of the characters.

The Triplets of Belleville sounds arty, but that is not the case. A toddler could watch this movie and enjoy it.

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The Triplets of Belleville shot to the world’s attention when it was nominated for Best Animation and Best Original Song. The movie lost out to Finding Nemo in the first category and The Return Of The King in the second. It would go on though to win several prestigious awards for its style and soundtrack.
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This was the first feature-length animated movie by Sylvain Chomet, a renowned French comic artist and animator. But The Triplets of Belleville also sparked controversy after fellow comic book artist Nicolas De Crécy of plagiarism, ending their collaborative relationship. The film’s main setting, Belleville, does have a striking resemblance to De Crécy’s renditions of New York City. But not everyone is convinced of Chornet’s guilt.
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Sylvain Chomet would receive a lot of acclaim for his movie and even try to build a animation studio in Scotland. But he quit that project, saying U.K. animators are not well-trained enough for his work. He would later work on The Tale of Despereaux, but left that after creative differences with the studio. Eventually Chomet returned tot he limelight with The Illusionist and he also created an opening sequence for an episode of The Simpsons.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: December 8, 2014

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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