A Monster in Paris

(Sight & Sound, BFI)

Paris, sometime in the first half of the twentieth century. Friends Raoul and Emile make a delivery to the greenhouse/workplace of an eccentric scientist. While there, they accidentally mix potions; the explosive reaction causes a flea to grow into a hulking seven-foot humanoid and leap around Paris. With the city panicked by the “monster,” the ambitious Inspector Maynott plots to boost his reputation by killing the creature…

Test footage from A Monster in Paris, a French CGI cartoon film, appeared at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival several years ago. It showed an appealingly-designed film with a strong chanteuse musical number sung by Vanessa Paradis (L’Arnacoeur). The design and music are the best assets of the finished film, which is well-staged, witty and likeable. However, it also has structural problems, and may have trouble finding a U.K. audience. The publicity has sold Monster as a children’s/family film, but ominously its distributor, Entertainment One, is not releasing it in a school holiday.

A comedy-thriller, the story has literary echoes of The Phantom of the Opera and The Murders in the Rue Morgue, though the “monster” quickly turns out to be benign. It’s a flea, grown to hulking size by a mad scientist’s potion, who stumbles on the doorstep of a beauteous woman singer, voiced by Paradis. While the creature cannot speak, it sings with the voice of Sean Lennon, and the characters dance and duet. (In the French-language version, Paradis paired with Matthieu Chédid, known as –M- , who sang “Belleville Rendez-Vous” in the 2003 film of that name.)

While Monster’s plot is whimsical even for a cartoon, it’s brought off charmingly, with the flea characterised as a childlike innocent with a heart-shaped face and (on stage), a white half-mask with funny overtones of the Phantom musical. The music numbers themselves are beautifully animated and sung. Though not monstrous, the giant flea is suited to spectacle, leaping to the tops of landmarks such as the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and (inevitably) the Eiffel Tower. The bouncing flights are often shown through the creature’s eyes, harking back to a classic short cartoon, Jumping (1984) by Osamu Tezuka.

The mise-en-scene is a sweetly cartooned Paris, full of white stone walls, pearly fogs and amusing body shapes, especially among the bit-part characters. There’s an emphasis on broad cartoon contrasts, such as that between the petite singer and her oversized co-star. Unfortunately, the film’s first half is slack, with too much time given a male odd couple who trigger the flea’s transformation. Their tiresome fast talking will leave children behind, though a literate monkey compensates. Another disappointment is the situation doesn’t really go anywhere, giving way to an over-stretched chase and too many codas. However, cartoon fans will appreciate the end titles, which show off the concept art and character designs.

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