Thursday, July 14, 2016

Jean-Loup Felicioli & Alain Gagnol's PHANTOM BOY: more delightful animation from France

Four years ago we got a surprise treat from French animators Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol with their Oscar-nominated gem, A Cat in Paris. Now the pair is back with an equally delightful movie called PHANTOM BOY, about a young fellow with (it's never named but it looks suspiciously like) cancer who somehow manages to leave his own body for periods of time, during which he helps a police detective solve a major criminal case involving a mastermind bent on taking over all of New York City.
Part of the delight of the film comes from its funny French take on the Big Apple -- which is, as you might imagine, noticeably different from the New York you've elsewhere seen. The animators (shown above, with M. Gagnol on the left) offer up their signature style of somewhat slanted eyes (not unlike, I think, Gagnol's own) and attention-calling use of whiskers and other body hair.

But it is the pair's wonderfully fluid and graceful capture of flight as our little hero takes leave of his corporeal body to soar above the city that causes the movie and our spirits to surge.

There is plenty of humor, too -- for both kids and adults -- as the villain, whose masked face is painted in a marvelous combo of film noir and Picasso, keeps attempting but never quite succeeding in both his quest for power and his explanation to our heroine of how his face came to its current and sorry state.

That heroine, a feisty journalist (above, right) attracted to our beleaguered cop (above, left), is a lot of fun, too (her suggestion of what of diet the cop might want to eat should resonate positively with parents -- and negatively with kids).

There are chases and explosions, excitement and suspense, and one nasty, sharp-toothed little dog (above), but there's nothing here that should too much ruffle the feathers of children. The possibility of sacrifice is explored, as well, though the filmmakers back off from the kind of thing that might result in something actual and permanent.

One wonders if the movie might have had an alternate ending for European audiences? This one -- feel-good and all-is-well -- proves perfectly serviceable. But I can't help but think that audiences, even the kids, might have reacted more deeply to a story in which certain actions have logical consequences, even in that magical realm of make-believe.

From GKIDS and running a swift and enjoyable 84 minutes, Phantom Boy opens tomorrow, Friday, July 15, in New York City at the IFC Center, and on July 22 in Los Angeles at the Landmark's NuArt. To view all currently scheduled playdates with cities and theaters listed, click here, then click on FIND A THEATER.

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