The Wolf's Eye / The Sea Cyclops Review

France is not often associated with the world of cartoons but strangely enough they seem to have sometimes come up with some interesting alternatives to the Japanese or US schools. The Mysterious Cities of Gold although animated in Japan was written, designed and directed by a French team and was French animation's most memorable worldwide hit. Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea a bizarre mix of sci-fi and musical pieces followed a few years later; the series was entirely produced in France and managed to be successful on a smaller scale but was graphically quite sparse with most of the appeal coming from the characters and the storyline...

L'Oeil Du Loup

(The Wolf's Eye) is quite a recent production in comparison to the latter two; produced in 1997, the story was based on Daniel Pennac's eponymous book. Africa, a young African orphan, recently relocated to Paris had been visiting a one-eyed wolf in a zoo. A strange psychic bond starts to form between them and they start to recount their lives to each other. The wolf tells him of how he was captured by men and Africa tells him of how he survived the civil war that made him an orphan.

Pennac, a versatile writer as much at ease with crime novels as he is with children's tales, provides an interesting storyline which is well used within the 26 minutes that the film lasts. The story could be seen as a little clichéd but given the target audience, this is quite acceptable. Besides the film never tries to talk down to the audience nor does it sidestep the complexities of the modern world - the African theme never becomes a caricature nor does it become a political pamphlet for global peace. The animation on the other hand is at times economical (i.e. there's not many things moving at the same time) but never overtly so. It is markedly different in style from your average US or Japanese animation (what some have dubbed the "French Touch"). The colours are vibrant and the characters movements are as realistic as possible - this is a little uncanny at first but we rapidly get used to it and can start to appreciate the quality of the work on hand. The film itself is maybe not a masterpiece but it does at least have the merit of leaving the beaten tracks and trying to make the audience think.

Le Cyclope de Mer

(The Sea Cyclops) is another labour of love - lasting less than 12 minutes on screen, it took 3 years for the entire project to be completed. Using stop animation, creator Philippe Julien recounts the bitter-sweet tale of a Cyclops living in a lighthouse who nurses a sick fish back to health. Set to the wonderful music of Yann Tiersen (the composer of Amélie's soundtrack), Julien manages with no dialogue whatsoever to make a wonderfully personal fairytale come to life. Stylistically, this reminded me of the sadly deleted game The Neverhood which used a similar style of animation although there's no denying that Julien's style is very much his own with surreal twists and themes of loneliness and despair so rare in children's programs. Originally released in 1998, it's fantastic to see this available on DVD for the first time ever - to be filed alongside the Aardman collection...

The DVD:

The image: Generally the transfer is highly satisfactory. The Wolf's Eye keeps its original aspect ratio of 4:3 and the colours come through quite well and there is little artifcating. The print used is very good and shows no sign of age or damage- a very good effort...The Sea Cyclops on the other hand is in the aspect ratio of something like 1.55:1 (I assume this is the correct aspect ratio)... No anamorphic enhancement was used though but bar that it's a good transfer - there are small amounts of artifacting and a few rare appearances of hairs and other forms of print damage but given the shoe string nature of the project on can understand that the materials used for filming were not the utmost quality... Nevertheless these don't become too distracting and most will enjoy the film without even noticing them.

The sound

:We get the plain stereo mixes which mostly come into their own with the music. Still the mix is fine and there's little to complain about. There is an English dub provided for The Wolf's Eye as well as the original French version but no subtitles are featured at all. The English dub is quite americanised but good all the same. As for the other film, there is no dialogue whatsoever so there will be no problems for English speakers there!

The menus:The menus are set to the theme tune from The Wolf's Eye and have some nice transitions between them. All the menus are in French but they should be pretty intuitive to those with no French.

The extras

:First of all we get a 12 minutes of Hoël Caouissin, the director of The Wolf's Eye, talking to four children about how they made the film - he goes through animation basics, use of computers, rewrites, sound recording etc... It's quite basic (I assume it is aimed at children) but interesting all the same. Although this is not subtitled in English, the French is not too difficult and those with basic French should be able to appreciate it. This is transferred in 4:3 from a DV source - the image quality is pretty much perfect bar a slight loss of colour on the left and right sides of the image although this is only visible on a widescreen TV...

Added to this we get a making of The Sea Cyclops - once again this is not subtitled but this needs it even less than the previous feature - there are interviews with the director and crew but there is also a lot of footage of the creation process that really needs no comment whatsoever. Clocking in at 26 minutes (double the length of the film!), this is a really interesting video diary cum behind the scenes look at the painstaking process of making an animation movie...

Conclusions:Although the features are relatively short (just 38 minutes in total), Doriane should be congratulated for adding some decent extras to this... They've also gone to the hassle of making this relatively accessible to English speakers but sadly didn't go so far as to subtitle the extras... All in all Doriane have given us a decent release of two pieces of French animation that would have sadly remained obscure had it not been for this release... The DVD can be ordered directly from Doriane's website but doesn't seem to be carried by the mainstream online retailers.

7 out of 10
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