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MOVIE REVIEW: The Illusionist

An animated French film

A scene from the film "The Illusionist."

A scene from the film "The Illusionist."

  • A scene from the film "The Illusionist."
  • A scene from the film "The Illusionist."
  • A scene from the film "The Illusionist."
  • A scene from the film "The Illusionist."
  • A scene from the film "The Illusionist."
  • A scene from the film "The Illusionist."
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The Illusionist is a great animated French film (not to be confused with the Edward Norton movie).

This story involves a magician in the late '50s, who finds crowds are more interested in sultry singers or pop bands.

The rock band The Britoons not only slay the crowd, they never leave the stage. When they finally do, how does a magician follow screaming girls that are acting like Beatles fans? Even the mom and son that stay don’t seem all that interested in a man pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

He quickly goes from big halls to obscure small venues, and one of those is in Scotland. He does well in the pub, and a young woman believes his magic is real. She sneaks away with him to Edinburgh, which has delightfully drawn backdrops. The lit theatres, gothic architecture, and even pouring rain – look fabulous.

I found myself thinking – this is a story about a bygone era of magicians doing slight of hand illusions – and we’re seeing it in hand-drawn animation that isn’t in 3-D. And it’s a more interesting movie than most animated films that come out. Hopefully this form of animation never goes away, because when it’s done well it’s a treat.

There are a few things that aren’t so clear.

Who was the little boy the in the pub? I thought he was the a son, until this woman left him.

Is this a father-daughter type of relationship? The magician keeps buying her gifts and it seems like he’s courting her, yet he makes no effort to ever take it farther. And she seems content with that, cooking and cleaning, and helping to run this boarding house for other acts that have hit hard times. They would include a ventriloquist, clown, and trapeze artists (who get a good job painting over graffiti in a very interesting way).

The magician eventually takes a series of night jobs in order to pay for these gifts, and some of the things that develop are quite heartbreaking.

These two don’t speak the same language, and there aren’t subtitles. They really aren’t necessary, as there isn’t a lot of dialogue. In fact, I think there are more grunts and sounds from people than actual words.

Some might find it a bit slow-paced. I thought the 80 minute film flew by. I do think it could’ve used a bit more humor.

I can’t stop thinking of the whimsically delightful visuals – whether that’s a well-lit café or an ugly oil stain on a ’57 Chevy.

Even the bittersweet ending, which I didn’t care for when the movie ended – I liked the more I thought about it later.

Writer/director Sylvain Chomet wrote this film after being given the story by Jacques Tati’s daughter. Jacques wrote this autobiographical story and died in 1982. It was supposed to be a screenplay for a live action film, but I think it worked so much better this way; especially with the recent release of John Malkovich’sThe Great Buck Howard, which deals with similar themes.

The man that gave us The Triplets of Belleville has scored another hit.

I’m giving this very charming movie a B.