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Thursday, May 2, 2013

'A Monster in Paris:' Flea Cirque du Paris

The unique story behind the "unreal" feature-length animated film "A Monster in Paris" makes it very appropriate for purveyor of the wonderfully rare and/or quirky Shout Factory to offer it in separate DVD and Blu-ray releases.

The film was made and released in France, and "Shark Tales" director Bibo Bergeron had it dubbed in English for lovers of  high-quality animation on this side of the pond.

This production truly is one of the best French imports since the croissant au chocolat. It is a rare case in which even adults care about the fates of animated characters.

"Monster" is set in a beautifully animated 1910 Paris; protagonist Raoul is a very energetic and likeable, if somewhat egotistical, deliveryman and amateur inventor. His prohibited playing with chemicals in a scientist's laboratory transforms an ordinary flea into a very good-natured seven-foot tall creature. As an aside, the greenhouse-style laboratory is a particularly well animated fantasy land.

Politically ambitious police Commissioner Maynott views the "monster's" creation and ramblings around Paris as an opportunity to use the pursuit and capture of him as a path to being elected mayor of Paris.

Maynott's scheme prompts Raoul and his BFF Emil to chase the "monster" for the purpose of protecting him. Emil is a diminutive mild-mannered projectionist and amateur filmmaker whose psychical appearance and attire make him look like a leprechaun.

The "monster's" trek through the City of Lights brings him into contact with music hall star Lucille, who is a childhood friend and requited love interest, of Raoul. The "monster's" gentle nature and sweet singing voice persuade Lucille to disguise him for the purpose of protecting him and to name him Franc.

Proverbial wacky events lead to Lucille and Franc appearing together and becoming their generation's Donny and Marie. (This is this week's first Googleable moment for you millenials.) Fairly soon after that, Lucille joins Raoul's and Emil's effort to protect Franc.

Particularly hilarious moments include the pompous Maynott suffering from "helium speak," highly evolved monkey Charles holding up a card that reads "not guilty" when accused of involvement in unleashing Franc on the world, and a clever version of the dropping trou scene that seems to be a staple of this genre.

The casting choices for the American version voice actors show as much integrity as the film itself. Rather than populate the cast with highly recognizable former and current sitcom stars, Bergeron keeps original Lucille portrayor Vanessa Paradis as that character's English-speaking and singing voice and fill out the cast with talented "B List" American actors.

Adam Goldberg, who is the "seventh" Pete Bestesque friend on the '90s sitcom "Friends," brings great energy and intonation to the role of Raoul. It is very nice that he checks his violent and creepy character persona at the door.

Jay Harrington plays Emile in a way that makes us feel his pain. Seeing his expressions as he recorded his part would have been a special treat.

John Lennon's and Yoko Ono's son Sean Lennon expertly provides the singing voice of Franc. It is nice to think that the humor regarding having the offspring of a Beatle provide the voice of a flea is intentional.

It is worth noting that Franc does sit by a river and plays guitar but does not do so simultaneously. (This is this week's second Googleable moment for millenials.)

Considering that "Monster" is a kids' film, which really should appeal to all from 8-to-80, saying that the good guys win and that the boys get the girls is not a spoiler. How "Monster" gets there is much more than half the fun.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Monster" is encouraged to email me.