The Other Side of Animation: A Monster in Paris Review

It’s always disappointing when you read up about a film, finally watch it, and love/hate it at the same time. The movie in question could have so many great elements that make it a great movie. Regretfully, it also shuffles in a lot of elements that make the film less desirable. A Monster in Paris is a prime example of this. It’s directed by Bibo Bergeron, a director mostly known for a lot of animation credits and a few directorial positions with The Road to El Dorado and Shark Tale. I know I already have hinted at what I think of the movie, but how about you read on to see my opinion in more detail?

The story begins in 1910 when Paris was flooded. We focus our attention on two of the protagonists, a theater projectionist named Emile, voiced by Jay Harrington, and a delivery driver named Raoul, voiced by Adam Goldberg. The two of them are going about on Raoul’s delivery route so Emile can pick up a reel belt for a camera at the theater. Along the way, they arrive at a scientist’s mansion for another delivery, and since the two men had nothing better to do, they bring the stuff that needed to be delivered to the scientist inside the mansion, and check out some of the chemicals and experiments the good professor was working on. After fumbling around with some chemicals, they accidentally cause an explosion in the lab side of the building, and end up not only making one gigantic sunflower, but a monster that escapes the building and goes into Paris. The monster ends up befriending a singer/cabaret performer named Lucille, voiced by Vanessa Paradis. Lucille finds out that the monster is not so harmful, enjoys playing the guitar, and has a rather nice singing tone. It’s kind of like a soft folkish sound. She ends up naming the monster Francoeur, who is played by Sean Lennon in the US version. Can Lucille, Raoul, and Emile keep Francoeur from getting caught by the commissioner of the police? Can they find a way to save Paris from the flooding?

What really upsets me about this movie is that there are a lot of great elements that I love about it. For example, let’s talk about our “monster” Francoeur and Lucille. Lucille is not the most original female character, a strong-willed, but sometimes snarky female hero, but I enjoy the scenes when she interacts with Francoeur. Francoeur himself has a great design when he is fully clothed. I still don’t get why it has to be a flea, but I digress. I also enjoy his character a lot, even if he is also a bit simple. He is intimidating, but kind-hearted, and at times protective. I really loved the first scene where he and Lucille dance and sing in the theater. Granted, the music might be a bit out of place in terms of the time period, but it has a nice alternative sound to it. It has also some great visual moments with both bright colors and soft hues. The overall look of the film, while not as high quality as a Disney or Pixar CGI film, has style and personality to it. When it does its little artistic moments and goes at its own beat, the film is quite enjoyable to watch. It’s the reason why you love watching films like Triplets of Belleville or Song of the Sea. There is no feeling that a higher-up wanted something to make it more hip and soulless. No product placement that ruins the vibe of the film like Free Birds or Food Fight. It attempts to be its own kind of film.

The problem this movie has is about everything else. It tries to be a lot like a Disney or Pixar film. It has the Pixar art style and a lot of pointless and sort of rushed romances. The rushed romance part comes with the short projectionist character, Emile, who has a crush on this woman who works at a ticket counter at the theater. Regretfully, she is not at all interesting, and is really there just to be a romantic interest. The relationship between Raoul and Lucille is not the worst, but it’s weirdly paced, and once again, not very interesting. Even the villain, who can be the most enjoyable character in a lot of Disney/Pixar films, is boring. He is just a typical corrupt individual who wants power, even though he already has a lot of power already. Danny Huston, the actor who voices the main villain, Victor Maynott, doesn’t have a lot to work with. In fact, it seems like the writers and people behind developing the setting and story didn’t really think of making dynamic characters, and only put in the most cookie-cutter of character types that you see in most animated films and films in general. It really doesn’t help that the plot is fairly predictable. You can predict about everything that is going to happen with each character and set-up.

The animation, while better than a lot of third-party CGI studios make, is still lackluster in a lot of areas. If you have seen that CGI Star Wars series (Rebels or Clone Wars, pick your poison) or any of the TV series that Dreamworks has made, then the animation quality is about on par with those. The movements are stilted, and it is just so obvious that the budget was not up to par with anything by Disney or Pixar. Not that having a huge budget means the film will be better. I think a lot of the big Disney flops have shown that, but it means that your animation won’t look awkward. To give the animation credit, it does avoid the trope of having really dead-looking eyes that are seen in films like The Snow Queen and Mars needs Moms.

In the grand scheme of things, I think A Monster in Paris does have ambition and creativity on its side, but when it tries to be every other Disney/Pixar film out there, it falls flat. I hate that I can’t put this in the “Check it Out!” grade because I do kind of like this movie. I think if they took it full-on artsy and had the monster be some kind of fictional being that walks around Paris representing something like the boundless creative freedom and passion that good musicians have, or something abstract, but not pretentious, it would have been a much better movie. They should have gutted a few of the characters and took more inspiration from filmmakers like Tom Moore, or again, the team behind Ernest and Celestine. However, if you really want to check it out, I don’t see the harm in it. Maybe you will like it more than I did, or hate it more than I did. I have read I am in the minority of thinking the film is just above average and not a full-fledged hidden gem. Well, I have been rather negative/average with the last three reviews, how about I tackle something good again? How about…a French animated film that revolves around Judaism? Next time, we take a look at The Rabbi’s Cat. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

My Rating: Rent it