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[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xrwh0rOJ0DI]
Ten Word or Less Review: French?  Animated?  Peculiar?  What went wrong?

Director Sylvian Chomet made The Triplets of Belleville eight years ago and I can still remember scenes, plot, characters and even the ramshackle, patchwork theater I saw it in on 4th St. as well as who I saw it with.  Yo M!  I finished watching his newest effort, The Illusionist, less than three hours ago and it’s already little more than a footnote in my mind.  I found a co-worker’s dramatic recounting of a trip to the dentist more resplendent with adventure than this faux, avant garde animated tedium.  Chomet has made an animated collaboration with French auteur Jacques Tati, the legendary helmer who gave the world Mr. Hulot.  And if you don’t know or care who that is, the director or the character, The Illusionist will be ten times less interesting for you than it was for me.

Tati’s Mr. Hulot is regarded in some misguided circles as a superior, French descendant of Chaplin’s Little Tramp.  But having seen two of Mr. Hulot’s so-called adventures he seems like little more than an oblivious, quiet guy who wonders around and bumps into things.  The Illusionist attempts a loose replication of this persona.  A wordless, down on his luck magician wonders from job to job, eeking out a living in 1959 as Rock & Roll mania stands poised to kill every old art form in its path, his included.  He performs for a Scottish village and the day he departs their company an impressionable girl stows away with him.  He feels compelled to provide for the girl, takes up new jobs to buy her things as she observes and befriends the strange gallery of weirdos who are his neighbors.  She eventually falls for a fellow across the street and he bids her adieu.  That’s it.

Really, that’s it.  The Illusionist is so painfully thin that the exceptional artwork and animation wind up amounting to zilch.  It’s difficult to completely dismiss such a wonderful looking, mostly hand drawn, animated feature in this CGI overloaded age but the invisible story leaves you little choice.  There’s nothing substantial or attention grabbing to make you take notice besides the delicate craft of animation itself.  After 30 minutes or so you’re left with a hopeless wondering of, ‘Should I care about anything happening?’  And the answer is a resounding ‘No.’

Illusionist leaps off the pier of animation ambition and quietly performs an elegant belly flop on the viewer.  There’s nothing at stake, nothing to invest in, nothing to hold on to.  Plenty of critics have extolled the virtues of this cartoon creation and I’m sure they mean well.  But I think in their attempt to champion that which feels like the work of a person and not a corporation they’re missing out on the fact that Illusionist is incredibly slight and almost non-existent as an actual story.  Chomet has a wonderful eye for animated stories and it’s a shame he chose to spend and effort on this hopelessly slight effort from an over-rated voice from the past.

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