OK, show of hands. Who's seen The Triplets of Belleville? Umm-hmm. Hands down.
What's wrong with the rest of you people? I don't care if you live in a cow town with no movie theatre--hop in a car, bus, train, plane, pedicab, what-have-you and shift yourself somewhere that's showing this bizarre little gem. [And I do mean little. Running time is a mere 78 minutes, but any 'burg that's showing it will likely offer other amusements to beguile the time 'til your Greyhound departs.] Anything less than monumental persistence and your very best effort is unacceptable.
At least that's the standard in the home of Madame Souza, a tiny, rounded old woman bringing up her mournful grandson Champion in an animated France that cheerfully embraces cinematic nostalgie as well as trenchant social critique [in a time-lapse sequence, smokestacks and jumbo jets appear in the distance and an elevated train brushes against the cupola of Madame's house]. Nothing she does cheers up her downcast boy--he sleeps with an Eeyore stuffed animal, people--until she introduces first a dog, Bruno, and then a bicycle.
The boy and the household are transformed. Champion grows from a pudgy youngster to an attentuated ectomorph--punctuated by outsized thigh and calf muscles--who trains to compete in the Tour de France, coached faithfully by Madame Souza and Bruno [when he's not barking at the trains outside the window]. But just as Champion is realizing his dream, menacing mafiosi abduct him and two other cyclists before they reach the Col de Femur.
Madame Souza and Bruno's dogged pursuit of their captive Champion triggers this animated film's leap into the beautifully surreal environs of Belleville, a mélange of Manhattan, Quebec City, and Montreal. Director Sylvain Chomet explains how Belleville came into being.
We used many details from Quebec and Montreal in trying to show how these cities might have turned into New Yorks. When Quebec looked like it might secede, the money went to Toronto.... The bridge in my film is the Jacques Cartier Bridge, shown surrounded by typical Quebec architecture. There is a passing reference to the Statue of Liberty, which relates to the American way of life and also to the incredible number of fat people one sees in U.S. cities. I've always been struck by that.
There Madame allies herself with the Triplettes de Belleville, faded vaudevillians who once trod the boards in the company of Fred Astaire and Josephine Baker while Django Reinhardt played in the pit below [as we see in an opening sequence reminiscent of 1930s Warner Brothers' cartoons]. Now these eccentric bricoleuses dine exclusively on frogs and perform marvelous improvisatory musical numbers using newspapers, vacuum cleaners, and refrigerators as instruments. [According to composer Benoit Charest, "all the home appliance sounds in the movie were obtained by using true life originals."]
Why Champion has been kidnapped and for what purpose I will not reveal here. You wouldn't believe me anyway. Leaves Fight Club in the dust.
Instead, I want to talk about Chomet's masterstroke: Bruno the dog. He's the best animated pooch since the long-suffering Max. Like most dogs, Bruno has what I've always called "doggie dreams." You know, those twitches and whimpers that make humans smile indulgently at a sleeping dog and say "He must be dreaming of chasing a rabbit." Here's the thing: Chomet shows us what Bruno is dreaming about, and it's every bit as banal and fantastic as our own nighttime voyages.
Every frame of The Triplets of Belleville overflows with sly details, homages to Tati and Walter McKay, and abundant humor. The music simply swings. Plus, the film is a France-Canada-Belgique coproduction [essentially, a big f-you to the alliance of the willing]. You don't have to be a Quebecophile like the cinetrix to appreciate that.
One last thing: Stay until the end of the credits. Trust me. And bon voyage.