Last summer, Jeffrey Katzenberg declared that “traditional animation is likely a thing of the past.” This week, the new French film The Triplets of Belleville provides ample evidence to the contrary. A hand-drawn smorgasbord of caricaturized modernity told with minimal dialogue, Triplets rejuvenates the 2-D genre through an artisanal obsession with detail. “I was trying a lot to carry on the animation of the ’50s and ’60s,” says writer-director Sylvain Chomet, citing Disney’s cel-based classics as a primary influence. “I wanted to take the technique of 101 Dalmatians and tell a story that’s maybe a little more adult.”
A veteran comic-book artist, the 40-year-old Chomet doesn’t hesitate when asked about his foremost passion: “I like to draw, and I don’t want to spend my time in front of a monitor with a mouse.” Triplets does contain some digital effects, but the characters—spindly cyclist Champion, his elfin grandmother, and their neurotic mutt—were created entirely by an intimate team of sketchers. “I was directing them at the same time I was animating,” explains Chomet. “I could show what I wanted by drawing in front of them.” While Triplets contains copious references to Tati and Chaplin, Chomet insists his inspirations were more contemporary. For the eponymous trio of music-hall dames who rescue Champion from the Mafia, he wanted to combine “the idea of these old women carrying basketball players inside of them” with the bebop charisma of ‘Round Midnight’s Dexter Gordon.
As personal as anything from the Disney/ Pixar axis is mass-produced, Triplets only grows in scope and imagination, especially in the unveiling of Belleville, an ur-metropolis that Chomet describes as “a cross between New York and Montreal, or Chicago and Montreal.” Ironically, Chomet once worked at Disney (“I’ve never been paid so much to be so useless”), and the experience has clearly honed his subversive tastes. Triplets contains both nudity and gun violence—taboo subjects for the Mouse’s target demographic. “In the States today, there’s more creativity in TV animation than in the cinema,” Chomet ventures, listing South Park and Ren & Stimpy among his favorites. “What surprises me is that while you won’t show guns in an animated film, your kids are allowed to have them.”
J. Hoberman’s review of The Triplets of Belleville