Written and directed by Sylvain Chomet, “The Triplets of Belleville” is a truly unique animated film, and unlike anything you'll find either here or in Japan. The story follows Madame Souza, her grandson, Champion, and their dog, Bruno. Champion grows up from a timid and chubby little boy to an athlete training to win the Tour de France. During the race however, he gets kidnapped by the French mafia and so Souza and Bruno set out to rescue him, receiving help from three eccentric elderly vaudeville performers, The Triplets of Belleville.
This film is a melting pot of different styles and influences. The opening is in black and white with a very distinct visual flair, drastically different from the bulk of the story. This opening sets the tone for the type of humor and surrealist nature of the film. During the opening segment, a delightfully exaggerated presentation of vaudeville is visualized and the look is very reminiscent of the old black and white cartoons of The Fleischer Bros., matching the insanity and over-the-top zany visual gags.
After the opening scene, the rest of the film is in full color and equally as striking. I love the designs of the characters; they’re all wonderful caricatures and highly expressive. The grandson begins as a chubby little kid but as an adult bicycle racer, it appears as if all of his upper bodies’ muscles have been forced into his legs. The grandmother has one leg much shorter than the other and has to wear special shoes to hobble around in. The mafia goons all look identical and move about linked together escorting their miniature mob bosses from place to place.
The movie is also incredibly self aware of its own caricatures (as some of them move about maintaining the same giant toothed expressions even as bugs fly into their faces). One of the best and most obvious examples comes from the depiction of Americans in New York. Aside from the mobsters, the entire population consists of circular masses roaming about. Everyone in the city is hilariously obese, including the Statue of Liberty.
The expressiveness of these characters comes also as a necessity because there's almost no spoken dialogue in the entire movie. For all intents and purposes, this is basically a silent film. It's a silent film in terms of the way that characters emote and express themselves using a lot of pantomime. Music also plays a significant role and there are a few very interesting musical numbers throughout, all of which pay homage to the performances of vaudeville.
The Triplets themselves provide the main source of diegetic music and almost steal the show when they make their appearance late in the film. I say almost, because the real star and heart of the film is the grandmother, Madame Souza. She's such a likable character from the first instant she appears. She spends Champion’s childhood trying to find something to keep up his spirits and give him a goal in life. When she discovers that he has a passion for bicycling, she supports him instantly and without question.
The main plot shows her and Bruno going to any length to save him from his bizarre and twisted fate at the hands of the mafia. She only speaks at the beginning and end of the film, so the rest is just her subtle animations and facial expressions to convey her feelings and personality. It goes a lot farther than you might think.
“The Triplets of Belleville” effortlessly combines a variety of different animation styles while remaining predominantly 2D. There's a clear use of computer animation as well, and even a handful of live action footage (some of which is seen in Bruno’s colorless dream sequences). It looks remarkably original and in no way resembles either typical American animation or Japanese animation; however, I think that spiritually, it emulates a lot of early (non-Disney) American animation.
“The Triplets of Belleville” is a terrific and imaginative film that stresses endless possibilities to display with animation, be it sailing across the ocean in a paddle boat or fishing for frogs with grenades.