Champion is a melancholy little boy who lives with his grandmother Madame Souza. When she discovers his passion for bicycling, she begins training him. Years later Champion is riding in the Tour de France when he’s abducted by mysterious men in black. Madame Souza and her morbidly obese pooch Bruno track the kidnappers across the ocean and into Belleville, a megapolis that’s like Québec or Montréal had they developed like New York. There they meet the Triplets, oddball old ladies who eat frogs and perform in night-clubs using household objects as instruments, “Stomp”-style. Together, this ragtag group will take on the “powerful French Mafia” (!) and hopefully rescue Champion from its grip.
“Les Triplettes de Belleville”, the feature debut of director Sylvain Chomet, is a wonderful animated feature co-produced by France, Belgium and Canada. It opens with a catchy music-hall number performed by the Triplets in their youth, in a sequence that brilliantly emulates the look of the black and white cartoon shorts of Max Fleischer and features cameos by Fred Astaire, Joséphine Baker and Django Reinhardt. The actual film is in color and discreetly integrates modern 3D effects, but it still feels nicely old-fashioned, like European “bande dessinée” or our own ONF classics.
The story is almost entirely told visually, with only a few inconsequential words here or there. It’s all about the images, full of charm and quirks and humor, not unlike the work of Tati or Chaplin. The characters are very stylised, each like a walking caricature. Champion is wire-thin but with huge leg and calf muscles, the Triplets are all wrinkles and big fat noses, Madame Souza is small with no neck and the men in black are literally the size and shape of an ice box.
This is truly a refreshing and feel-good flick, family-friendly but not too cutesy. This is an irreverent, rowdy ride with guns, chases and explosions, even though deep down it’s sweet and lovely. It’s ultimately much silliness about nothing, but why negate one’s pleasure? “Les Triplettes de Belleville” kept me smiling for 80 minutes, and that’s worth something, right?