One of The Most Unique Animated Features of Recent Years @ 16 April 2013 04:26 PM

I have to admit that I didn't know what to expect from A Monster in Paris, a French production that combines story elements from The Phantom of the Opera, Hugo, Frankenstein, King Kong, Moulin Rouge and La Vie En Rose. If that sounds like a mixed bag, it is, but somehow director Bergeron and screenwriter Stéphane Kazandjian make it work.

Even though the film recalls to mind some other works, it is one of the most unique animated features of recent years because it doesn't conform to the most common formulas, except perhaps after the leading lady (voiced by Johnny Depp's ex-partner, Vanessa Paradis) discovers the true nature of the monster -- and at one point, she says almost exactly the same thing Belle did to Gaston about who the real monster was.

What sets it apart is the delightfully odd character design, ranging from broad caricature to an almost Rankin/Bass look. More than that, this is not your garden variety musical film. There are very few songs, in fact, and most originate on a stage setting. But Sean Lennon, who voices the creature, sings some very unconventional songs (as does Ms. Paradis) that are hard to describe unless you hear them -- Danny Elfman but not as dark, The Beatles but softer, Edith Piaf without suicidal tendencies. The most conventional pop song comes at the end, perhaps the one designed for airplay as so many such songs are.

The music, like the dialogue, doesn't always stay true to the early 20th century French style so meticulously rendered in the visuals. Perhaps that was intentional too, as the story transcends its time and could have happened today as well as yesterday.

Before I get to the other characters, I have to mention Catherine, who is a rickety delivery truck so dilapidated it can't decide which way to fall. Catherine isn't anthropomorphic, yet she steals the scenes in which she rattles along. She is driven by insufferably narcissistic Raoul (actor/musician Adam Goldberg), with his shy assistant, the film-loving Emile (Jay Harrington of Hot in Cleveland).

The film does not rely on star voices. The most recognizable names in the cast are solid featured actors like Catherine O'Hara, Bob Balaban and John Huston's son Danny.

The Blu-ray looks marvelous, capturing both the color and the grime of urban Paris, and though released in 3-D it holds up well without it, as there aren't a lot of scenes dependent on it.

Sure would have been nice to have lots of bonus features, even if they had subtitles, as the Ghibli discs have. It is an artistically rich film and seeing a gallery might have been nice. There doesn't even seem to be a French language option. But budgets are an issue today, and it's nice to have the film anyway.

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