No illusions to 'The Illusionist,' just brilliant storytelling

February 4, 2011 

Mention mastery of animation and up pops names like Walt Disney, or Andrew Stanton and his cohorts at Pixar, the great Hayao Miyazaki and even Dreamworks’ Andrew Adamson.

Unless you are deeply into the genre, a name you won’t hear is Sylvain Chomet.

Comparing content, originality and style, he could be the best of them all.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

The truth of that statement will depend on project choices in the next decade. Chomet’s first feature film was The Triplets of Belleville in 2003. With one line of subtitled dialogue and a killer theme song and soundtrack, Chomet skillfully hooked you on the tale of a grandmother, an old dog and the famed triplets rescuing her kidnapped grandson.

It’s on DVD. If you haven’t seen it, do.

His second film, The Illusionist uses a similar technique. The few lines of dialogue are mumbled and unintelligible, yet you understand them completely. All of the power is found in the visuals of a simple story of a middle-age magician and a plain, naive young woman who really thinks he is magic.

No slight of hand, no prestidigitation. Simplicity is Chomet’s strength. His sketchpad style is unique. While Chomet’s scratching lacks the polish of Disney, Pixar and the rest, he gets more mileage out of silence, gestures, looks and stances than 99% of the dialogue of animated features packed with it.

The magician is the steady Eddie type. Slow. Methodical. Unchanging. Based on her belief that he really can conjure something out of nothing, their relationship is a wordless, unconditional love that evolves into a different kind of magic — movie magic.

Though animated and rated PG, this is not a movie for children. Leave the young ones at home but you can bring the teenagers who will experience animation as the art form it was meant to be.

Chomet’s take on a 1956 unfinished script from the great director Jacques Tati is set in the 1950s. The plot is light, but it is not a comedy. Some circles might even interpret it as a drama. However defined, you enjoy every second that Chomet runs you up and down his unique take on the emotional register.

While things don’t end with a smile, all ends as it should.

The Oscar nomination for the best animated feature is deserved. Though it is competing with the excellent Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon, in my book, it ought to win.

Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars

Rated PG for mature themes. It opens Friday, Feb. 4 at the Carmike 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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