May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
April 3, 2012
A Monster in Paris is a film meticulously designed for international success. The poster might as well be advertising another Dreamworks movie: bright, angular, with the usual satisfied smirks — it even proudly proclaims “from the director of Shark Tale.” The film is actually from the French production company Europa, but you’d hardly know it.
There’s little evidence of Monster‘s French origins onscreen. The animation was synced to the English voice track, which was produced simultaneously with the original language (The localization team has even provided several endearingly bad puns), making the film more awkward in its native language than abroad — an odd but potentially profitable decision.
More pointedly, it feels like an American film, settling comfortably between Dreamworks and Pixar in its look and sensibility. Given that the director, Bibo Bergeron, has co-directed both the aforementioned Shark Tale and The Road to El Dorado, that’s hardly a surprise. The young beta-male leads and alpha-male villain, the neatly packaged moral, the running gags and the snark are all Dreamworks-ready. Only the leisurely pace — the titular monster isn’t introduced until 20 minutes in — and the blessed absence of pop culture references betray a certain continental spirit.
Set in early 20th century Paris, the film at times evokes monster movies, silent films and musicals. The production designers produce a lush and credibly vintage Paris, awash in clean light, golden colors and art nouveau. The choreographers and composers are less successful with period accuracy, but they’re talented, and we can pretend the primitive camera that operates as easily as a camcorder was invented by the same forward-thinking genius who provides the film’s transformative potions.
The story kicks into gear when Emile, a shy projectionist and aspiring filmmaker who looks too much like a leprechaun, and Raoul, a delivery man with a penchant for dysfunctional inventions, experiment with the aforementioned potions and accidentally create a giant singing flea. The flea, who leaps around Paris like a less palatable superhero, terrifies the townspeople until he’s discovered by Lucille, a star singer at an upscale cabaret, who recognizes his talent and incorporates him into her act. By that point, however, the aspiring mayor has made killing the monster part of his campaign, and the usual chase sequences ensue.
The individual scenes work well enough, and the characters are certainly likable, but most of the plot lines feel underdeveloped, cramming four leads and a surprisingly large number of villainous policy discussions into 90 minutes. The romances in particular feel like afterthoughts — one of them isn’t even resolved until a quick scene appended after what should be the film’s final shot.
More problematic, the film’s theme — appearances can be deceiving — also feels half-hearted. Bergeron contrasts the monster with the kind heart against the handsome commissioner with the devious agenda, but it’s a pretty weak conflict: most of the leads warm to the giant flea in under a minute, and nobody really likes the commissioner. Gaston and the Beast this is not, despite a climactic battle that borders on homage.
I saw both A Monster in Paris and the similarly titled but unrelated A Cat in Paris at the Los Angeles Animation Festival, and the two French homages to genre films made an interesting contrast: A Cat in Paris has a distinct voice, a modest but assured sensibility. A Monster in Paris is more technically impressive, and there is some genuine affection for its inspiration, but it feels assembled by committee — and that, above all, may be why it feels so Hollywood.