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Triplettes’ transcends atypical fare

Molly Griffin | Friday, February 17, 2006

“The Triplets of Belleville” is a difficult movie to categorize. It’s animated, but it lacks the “feel good” quality of Disney and Pixar films. It’s technically in French, but lacks any real dialogue. It’s also about things – cycling and an ancient trio of jazz singers – that a viewer would be hard-pressed to find in any movie, let along an animated one.

Somehow, the mix of European visual flair and antiquated references to people like Josephine Baker and Django Reinhardt manages to cohere into a stunning film. In spite of its failure to fit into the usual film categories, “The Triplets of Belleville” is a highly entertaining movie that will leave the viewer with a song in his or her head and a burning desire to see the movie again to discover what was missed the first time.

The film didn’t receive a wide release in the United States, as Sony Pictures was naturally nervous about a PG-13 rated, French animated film, but it will be playing this Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m. in the Browning Cinema at the DPAC.

The film follows Madame Souza, the grandmother of a young orphan boy named Champion. He becomes fascinated by bicycles and Madame Souza becomes his dictatorial trainer. Champion eventually makes it to the Tour de France. During the race, Champion is kidnapped and Madame Souza, along with her dog Bruno, must go to Belleville, a distinctly Manhattan-esque city across the ocean, in order to find him.

While in Belleville, she meets the Triplets of Belleville, an aging trio of frog-eating, found-object-playing singers who were famous decades ago. They help Madame Souza find her son, who has been abducted by the French mafia for surprising reasons, and the movie is truly a testament to her dedication as a parent.

With very little dialogue, the animation becomes the central focus of the film. The images have a distinctly European flair and the style of the entire movie is really unlike any other.

The movement of the characters and the exaggerated shapes of their bodies, such as the cyclists with enormous calves and the bad guys literally shaped like blocks, gives the movie an entirely different feel. The animation is also darker, grittier and in some cases more grotesque than the Disney or Pixar gloss that American viewers are used to.

The film visually pokes fun at a variety of cultural stereotypes. Paris is portrayed as an expanding metropolis so big that it has expanded to the point that it has swallowed up its rural suburbs, while Belleville is painted as an overwhelming, gaudy city. The citizens of Belleville are obese and the French in the film actually eat frogs.

Once viewers become accustomed to this different animation style, it becomes addictive, particularly because it allows the story to be effectively told without words. While speaking is nearly absent from “The Triplets of Belleville,” the emotive animation and music allows the characters to express genuine emotion without dialogue.

The music in “The Triplets of Belleville,” which is an eclectic jazz sound that uses found objects like bike wheels and vacuum cleaners, emerges as one of the best aspects of the film. The music is distinctly French, but the film manages to add enough to the songs to make its own distinct sound.

Sound, musical or not, is present throughout the entire film. For example, Madame Souza’s every step is marked by her clunky orthopedic shoe, Champion perpetually pedals his bike and each one of the triplets is constantly tapping out a rhythm on something.

It is rare to find a foreign film sans subtitles, but “The Triplets of Belleville” makes effective use of alternate means of communication.

With its blend of jazzy rhythms and an unusual percussion section, the extremely catchy featured song “Belleville Rendez-Vous” is undeniably one of the highlights of the movie. It deservedly received an Oscar nomination for “Best Song” in 2004 and is nearly impossible to get out of your head for days after the film is over.

Writer and director Sylvain Chomet, who also write “Belleville Rendez-Vous,” clearly had a distinct vision for “The Triplets of Belleville,” and the movie refuses to cave into the common ideals that viewers would normally expect from an animated film.

It is a celebration of European style, whether through the use of innovative music or the love and tenacity of a woman for her child. “The Triplets of Belleville” is truly unique and quite unlike any other movie – particularly among modern day animated features – out today and is a must-see for any fan of European cinema, animated or not.