Before we begin, I was scheduling to release this review in the middle of November, but due to the terrible news that was taking place in Paris at the time (and due to the name of this film in general), I felt it would be tasteless to go ahead with this. And even now I’m still asking myself if it’s “too soon”.
I became intrigued by this film, believe it or not, through music. I’ll tell you why soon. So lets get on with it.
A Monster In Paris is set in Rouen…maybe, in January 1910, during the Great Flood of Paris, which led to the creation of several makeshift wooden bridges, and the image of the eiffel tower that could only be accessed by boat. Unlike most family movies that I’ve watched, A Monster In Paris chooses not to have a main character, but rather a group of characters who get caught up in a series of bizarre circumstances. First we have Emile, a shy, leprechaun-looking man who works as a projectionist at the cinema and has a crush on Maud, the ticket-girl. Then we have Emile’s friend Raoul, a delivery-man by day and Inventor by night who drives an interesting van named Catherine and wears a straw coat in an attempt to fit in and be ahead of the curve in fashion. Then we have Charles, a finely-dressed Proboscis monkey who works as a professor’s assistant and communicates through flash cards. Then we have Raoul’s childhood crush Lucille (voiced by Vanessa Paradis in both the english and french dubs of the film), who works as a Cabaret Singer at a club called L’Oiseau Rare, then lastly, we have Francoeur, who I will explain soon.
One night, Emile and Raoul do a delivery to the Botanical Gardens, where they find out that the professor of the Gardens is away, and the property is now guarded by Charles the Monkey. Raoul decides to play curiosity with some of the professor’s potions, including a potion that creates musical talent, and an unstable giant-creator. An accident soon takes place, leading to the destruction of the Gardens, and the appearance of a giant flea on Emile’s recording camera. Meanwhile, the elitist Police Commissioner, Victor Maynott, seeks a way to distract the community from the flood. When his squad does some investigating of both the botanical gardens and several distraught civilians, he decides that what Paris needs is a good Monster Story – and hence, the Monster Of Paris is born. Soon, Lucille meets this giant flea, who oddly enough can sing, and names it Francoeur.
Story-wise, A Monster In Paris has little justification for its more interesting choice in directions, with some falling into the category of putting a bear in a dress, make-up and wig, and then hope that the man who takes a liking to it is either blind or short sighted or has no sense of smell or all of the above (Yes, both short-sighted and blind). There is no bear in this, but you know what I mean. Like most french family films (and french films in general), it reeks of a quirk, humour and charisma that it flaunts with confidence, and feels the need to ‘be’, rather than explain why it exists and why it chooses its series of actions. Usually this makes terrible cinema, but in this case, I doubt anybody will complain because it remains fun and silly without being insulting to one’s intelligence. The story is a plot that drags its unfortunate characters into an unexpected circumstance, and while it could have taken the time to develop characters beyond archetypes and make them unique pop culture figures, it didn’t…other than Francoeur, Lucille and Charles The Monkey of course. It’s good, but it’s not in the same league as Pixar.
In terms of characters, the film is colourful, but not too detailed. They’re there to drive the plot, a lot more so than stand out as iconic, memorable figures (sure, they might stand out visually. But they needed to do more, I think).
What about the music? The music is great! Vanessa Paradis’ song “La Seine and I” is incredibly catchy, and because I heard it so much while in Paris, I instantly return to that point in time when I hear it. Which is a great feeling.
As far as Art, Design, CGI and presentation is concerned, A Monster In Paris is not in the same league as Pixar or Dreamworks Animation (It’s a 3D Animation). But that doesn’t mean it’s in league with Food Fight either. Paris is very well presented, though often a tad too grey for my taste (“But you love Batman!” they’ll say. Yes, but this film is for happy families, not brooding folk wanting to change the world with their art). But to compliment that, the interiors and character’s clothes do add a lot more colour to the palette. A possible metaphor that no matter where you go, or even during the darkest and strangest of times, that it’s the people who make a place worth staying/living?
In the voice-acting department, I didn’t get to see this film in French, but rather an english-dubbed version that was on Film 4. The english version is very good, and since i believe the french version is probably going to be better, it’s going to have a higher rating than what I’m giving it here.
Would I recommend A Monster In Paris? Yes, if you’re looking for a french animated film. Yes, if you’re not looking a light and fun little film. Yes, if you’re looking for something quirky and with unique characters. No, if you’re looking for something to make you feel manly, and no if you’re looking for a Pixar movie. Because it’s not a Pixar movie.
Art Style: ***3/4
Voice Acting: ***3/4