Well now, this was a pleasant surprise.
Going in, there were more red flags than a China versus Vietnam World Cup Final. A straight-to-DVD CGI movie I’d never heard of from a studio I’d never heard of helmed by one of the directors of Shark Tale? Yeah, let’s just say I went into this in full Anton Ego mode.
But I dug a little deeper and I started seeing a few green shoots of hope. For you see, director Bibo Bergeron (of, I believe, the Sackville Bergerons) is not just the co-director of Shark’s Tale. As an animator he worked on Fievel Goes West, A Goofy Movie and The Iron Giant which is a pretty damned impressive filmography before you even factor in that he co-directed The Road to El Dorado!
Ah Paris. 1910. The glamour. The opulence. The inescapable smell of sewage as the river Seine has flooded and half the city is underwater (this really happened).
Emile is a projectionist working at a cinema who has a crush on Maud, the quiet girl who mans the ticket desk and, gosh darn it, he just can’t work up the courage to ask her out. Emile’s best friend is Raoul, an inventor and delivery driver who reminds me so much of Jesper from Klaus despite the fact that they have different animators, writers and voice actors. I guess this was just a standard character type in animation in the 2010s but still, it’s really uncanny.
Animation-wise, the movie does a lot with a little. The film only had a budget of $32 million (i.e. around a fifth of something like Frozen, which was actually fairly cheap by Disney standards). But the character designs are mostly appealing and when the movie needs to skimp on the visuals it does so in interesting ways. For example, take this scene of Raoul and Emile driving through the streets of Paris.
See the way the buildings are almost entirely lacking in colour? Probably because it make the images far easier and cheaper to render but it also makes this depiction of Paris look like it was crafted from paper and gives it a unique visual aesthetic.
Anyway, Raoul gives Emile a lift to the camera shop to fix his projector which got damaged while he was fantasising about saving Maud from a rampaging crocodile. Emile ends up buying a movie camera and then accompanying Raoul on his deliveries and they end up at the home of “The Professor”, an inventor who Raoul is obsessed with. The Professor is away at a conference but Raoul is able to talk his way past his assistant, a Proboscis monkey named Charles.
Raoul runs amuck in the Professor’s lab, testing out a potion that can grant anyone a beautiful singing voice and a serum that makes living things grow to massive size. Emile, who has been trying out his new camera, is shocked when Raoul causes an explosion and then Emile sees a strange, huge, thing emerge from the smoke and fumes and vanish with a colossal leap through the glass roof. Emile and Raoul am-scray out of there and the mysterious creature bounces around Paris like a Gallic Spring-heeled Jack (or Spring-heeled Jacque, if you will).
We move now to L’Oiseau Rare, an exclusive nightclub where the star attraction is a cabaret singer named Lucille, who is an old childhood friend of Raoul’s. Lucille is a highly regarded singer but all is not well in her life. For you see, as the IMDB synopsis of this movie tells us: “As Paris is diverse in the category of the rich and the poor, though she is a successful singer, her Aunt does everything to push her into the arms of the Chief of Police, Maynott, a man devoured by pride and ambition.”
I’m not sure if that’s poetry or French shoved through Google Translate like Steve Buscemi in the chipper at the end of Fargo. Either way, I love it. So, Maynott bears a striking resemblance to another large cartoon Frenchman who has problems respecting women’s boundaries, Gerard Depar…I mean, Gaston. In fact, this movie does borrow more than a little from Beauty and the Beast. But there’s also a little Phantom of the Opera in there too to stop the Disney flavour becoming overpowering.
Anyway, Maynott wants Lucille’s hand in marriage and she’s all “Madame Maynott! His little wife!”. Maynott meanwhile is struggling with falling approval ratings because of the flood (presumably because he hasn’t arrested the river yet?) so he decides to distract the public with this mysterious monster that’s recently started terrorising the city.
Lucille learns of the monster when she sees a poster about it while walking through the atmospherically foggy (and, entirely coincidentally, far cheaper to animate) streets of Paris. She bumps into Raoul and they get into an argument where she tells him that the only way a bum like him would ever be allowed into her club would be if he won the Legion D’Honneur. Meanwhile, Emile has developed his film and discovered to his horror that the monster was created when he and Raoul caused the explosion in the Professor’s lab. They are arrested by Paté, Maynott’s way-more-competent sidekick, and brought before Maynott. Using Emile’s footage, Paté flawlessly explains what happened; the monster is a flea that leaped from Charles and was coated in enlarging fluid. Maynott is delighted to learn that there is a massive bloodsucking predator capable of leaping two thousand feet at will in his city and gives Emile and Raoul the Légion D’Honneur, a grotesque debasement of France’s highest honour is what I’d say if they hadn’t already given one to Leopold II.
Back at L’Oiseau Rare, Lucille is auditioning Albert (the triangle nosed waiter) as her new backup singer. He’s terrible and she has to turn him down, which leads to him storming out, saying that he’s just too avant garde for her bourgeois taste (which, to be fair, is absolutely what a Sylvain Chomet character transported into a regular cartoon would say). Leaving through the back door, Albert encounters the monster in the alley way and screams and runs off. Lucille looks out to see what all the commotion is about and we finally get our first real look at the monster.
At first she’s horrified and barricades herself in the club. But then she hears the Monster quietly singing outside.
So, while I’d legitimately never heard of this movie before being asked to review it, I’ve now learned that this movie has been quietly building a cult following ever since its release over a decade ago. And I think I know why. One is, obviously, shippers gonna ship. But secondly, the songs in this are wonderful. And you should never underestimate the power of a good song to keep a movie lodged in the collective consciousness.
Anyway, the first song is sung by the flea, A Monster in Paris, and it’s just a beautiful, moody lament (fun fact, in the English dub the flea’s voice is provided by Sean Lennon, son of John and Yoko Ono). Lucille, realising that the creature outside her door is no monster but a soulful, sensitive artist with the voice of an angel and a reproductive organ twice as long as the rest of his body so hey, maybe he can come in?
Lucille names him “Francoeur” and disguises him with a hat and mask combo. Raoul and Emile arrive proudly wearing their medals so Lucille is forced to let them into to the club. She returns to her dressing room to find that her mother has met Francoeur and been so amazed by his prowess with the guitar that she’s put him in the band. This leads to the wonderfully catchy duet, La Seine and I between Lucille and Francoeur which I haven’t been able to get out of my head for a week now.
After the show, Raoul and Emile go backstage to congratulate Lucille and Francoeur. They quickly realise that he’s the monster and Lucille swears them to secrecy.
The next day, Emile and Raoul attend a press conference where Maynott announces that he is going to hunt the monster down.
Albert, who’s figured out that Francoeur is the monster and is jealous that he got the place in the band, rats him out to Maynott. Emile and Raoul race to the L’Oiseau Rare to warn Lucille and Francoeur. They just barely manage to hide the big bug in time but Raoul reasons that they need more permanent solution. Emile suggests that the best thing to do would just be to change Francoeur back to his normal size. Raoul says that the only one who could do that is the Professor, and he’s far away. But Lucille says that, while they may not have the skills needed to make Francoeur shrink, they have exactly the skills needed to make the city think he’s been shrunk.
So the next day Maynott holds a press conference where he announces his candidacy to become Mayor Maynott.
Emile gives Maynott a supposed “antidote”, and when Francoeur “attacks”, Raoul tells Maynott to fling the antidote at the flea which seemingly causes him to vanish in a puff of smoke. However, he’s actually hiding under the floorboards like that old lady with spider-legs and no face who lurks in your bedroom. However, Paté quickly susses the ruse. Furious, Maynott shoots the bug who leaps across the city.
Our heroes race to catch Francoeur with Maynott and Paté in hot pursuit. The trail takes them into the flooded parts of Paris and they find a wounded Francoeur hiding in the Eiffel Tower (ugh, how touristy).
After a climactic battle at the top of the tower between Francoeur and Maynott (which regrettably does not end with Francoeur suspending Maynott over the city by the neck and growling “get out”), Francouer is seemingly killed. I mean, he just vanishes leaving behind his hat and coat but clearly any self respecting Parisian would sooner be dead than not attired in the heights of fashion so they assume he’s dead. Paté arrives and arrests Maynott for the murder of Francoeur because all this time the real monster blah blah blah you know the deal, this ain’t our first rodeo.
Lucille is devastated at the loss of her friend but, when she tries to perform onstage, she hears a tiny voice singing in her ear and realises that Francoeur is still alive. Just, really small and presumably feeding on her delicious blood.
With the Professor returned from Paris, the gang are able to restore Francoeur to full size and the movie ends with our heroes using giant sunflowers to rescue Paris from the flood.
A humble but charming little bit of Gallic magic that deserves a much larger audience.
Some pretty basic and rubbery CGI elevated by interesting charactering designs, creative problem solving and real visual savoir faire.
Francoeur is adorable.
Mayor Maynott is a wonderful pun. But the character is pretty bland.
Supporting Characters: 13/20
Stupid movie knows I can’t say no to monkeys.
Two absolute bangers.
FINAL SCORE: 67%
NEXT UPDATE: 23 June 2022
NEXT TIME: I am sorry to say, the next review will be extremely unpleasant.