Friday, March 05, 2010

NYICFF ’10: Fantastic Planet

It was an award winner at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival that was distributed in America by schlock master Roger Corman. While it might sound like oddly sophisticated fare for the low budget mogul, he knew a trippy property when he saw one. A surreal animated classic, René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet (trailer here) might play to more boomers in the audience than young viewers when it has a special repertory screening at the 2010 New York International Children’s Film Festival as part of this year’s celebration of “The Animauteurs: 50 Years of French Animation.”

The Traags (a.k.a. Draags) are big-headed, blue giants who rule their planet through their superior technology and long life spans. Humans, known as “Oms” (based on “hommes” the French word for “Men”) are either kept as pets or exterminated like vermin. However, deliverance might be coming for the oms when Terr, an orphaned house pet, starts learning the knowledge of the Traags through his young mistress’s telepathically imparted lessons. Blending archetypes from the Prometheus legend and the Book of Exodus, Planet is a genuine science fiction fable, memorably brought to life through the mind-altering animation of Laloux’s French and Czech production team.

Though the animation renders characters somewhat stiff and inexpressive, it truly transports viewers to a different world. Indeed, Planet de-emphasizes characterization in favor of its otherworldly imagery of lush fauna and Dali-like landscapes. The psychedelic vibe is further heightened by a distinctive proggy jazz fusion soundtrack by Alain Goraguer, which is very cool, but definitely a product of its time.

While certainly a stylistic triumph of French (and Czech) animation, it is a bit of an odd choice for the NYICFF. Though never risqué, Planet features frequent National Geographic-style animated nudity, which parents should be aware of going in. Also, the opening sequence showing an om woman with child being tormented by Traag children might be too intense for young viewers (frankly, I still find it disturbing).

Over thirty-five years after it won the special jury prize at Cannes, Planet is still one strange trip. Recommended more for adults than children, it screens next Saturday (3/13) at Symphony Space as part of NYICFF’s French animation celebration. Those interested in seeing it on a big screen with an appreciative audience should bear in mind NYICFF is a festival that often sells out and even adds screenings.