The new century is shaping up to be a fine time for world animation, not least for child's eye features packed with the old fashioned virtues of fantasy, adventure, ingenuity and derring-do - and more or less faithful to traditional cel-animation aesthetics. Miyakazi's Spirited Away may have the scale and sweep to josh with Pixar's Finding Nemo, but clock the Francophone 'toons: Senegalese fair tale Kirikou and the Sorceress, the Tintin-esque Bécassine and the Viking Treasure, and this first feature from the director of the baroque Parisian short The Old Lady and the Pigeons. Admittedly, its perspective is more dog's eye than child's, but that's in keeping with Chomet's skewed stance on all matters human. There's a whiff of wishful re-imagining the world in that title, and certainly at large in the story. Our hero's hometown mushrooms monstrous in the blink of years, and it befalls some shady kidnappers to whisk him across the Atlantic to the alternate metropolis of Belleville, a lavish Québecois twist on Manhattan. In between, our orphaned Champion grows up under the spartan watch of the clubfooted Madame Souza, who rears him as the racing cyclist equivalent of a prize ox, all piston thighs and baleful eyes. Meekly strapped to the wheel(s), he's subsequently rigged up like a human dynamo to a miniature toy model of himself, with a projected racing film for blinkers. How's that for an animator's caustic self-portrait? For sanity's sake, probably best to analyse no further, but rather relish the film's deadpan grotesquery, its flair for invention, be it the fanciful narrative segues or various object lessons in customising a vacuum cleaner, and the almost blasé beauty Chomet slips in alongside the caricature. Pretty fruity, really.
Cast and crew
Graziella de Vila