A Monster in Paris Review
‘From the director of Shark Tale,’ states the cover blurb. It’s entirely true - Bibo Bergeron has directorial credits on both A Monster in Paris and DreamWorks’ underwater animation - but also slightly misleading. Bergeron was one of three directors on Shark Tale, and one of four on his previous feature, The Road to El Dorado, strongly suggesting that these were hardly personal works. The French animator has slowly worked his way through up the film industry, moving from Astérix movies in the eighties to Don Bluth, Disney and DreamWorks. In 1993 he set up his own production company, Bibo Films, but it is only now that he is able to finally able to make a feature for himself. Whereas Shark Tale was relentlessly and needlessly manic, lacking in charm and driven solely by its star performers, A Monster in Paris has none of those problems.
Set during the 1910 Great Flood of Paris, this new venture is French through and through. Despite the connections with DreamWorks, Bergeron sought finance only in his home country with Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp amongst the production companies. For his lead actress he has chosen Vanessa Paradis - who also survives the transition to the English language version - and there are songs and a score by Mathieu Chedid, aka -M-, the singer-songwriter who performed Belleville Rendezvous’ title song on its soundtrack album. Perhaps it should go without saying that the Eiffel Tower also features heavily in the film’s finale.
A Monster in Paris centres around a short, shy projectionist with a love of Méliès, a cocky delivery man/amateur inventor and a nightclub chanteuse. The titular monster is in fact an enlarged flea, the result of our projectionist and inventor making a delivery to the Botanical Gardens late one night and an opportune browse around its laboratory. A mixture is accidentally concocted which leads not only to a giant flea scaring sundry Parisians but also to his having a fabulous singing voice. (Not to mention being in possession of some fancy dance moves and more than proficient with a guitar.) Various complications later and our trio are doing their best to protect the ‘monster’ from the local Chief of Police in-between musical numbers and just a touch of romance…
There’s a great deal of charm (and catchiness) to those musical numbers, completely free of the sass and the knowingness that has a tendency to plague their US equivalents. Even in their English translation (and sung by Sean Lennon rather than Chedid himself) they maintain their gentle appeal. In fact this sums up A Monster in Paris as a whole quite nicely. There’s no rush or reliance on set-pieces; instead we have a film which is quite happy to spend a little time in its own atmosphere. Not that this should be taken as being synonymous with dull or uneventful - there are more than enough oddball characters to maintain our attention, the quality of animation is superb and the distinctive setting once again separates the film from the crowd.
Admittedly, A Monster in Paris isn’t up there with the films of Sylvain Chomet if we’re judging it as a piece of populist French animation. And perhaps there maybe too many principle characters, prompting the film to lose its dramatic impetus at times as it seeks to satisfy them all. But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise perfectly entertaining 90 minutes. Ignore the ‘From the director of Shark Tale’ blurb on the cover, this new film is much, much better.
A Monster in Paris is being released by Entertainment One in two packages. One is a standalone DVD, the other consists of Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray and the DVD. Unfortunately we were only sent the standard definition offering for review purposes so will be unable to comment on the quality of the Blu-ray, 3D or otherwise. What follows takes into account the DVD only…
Even in standard definition it’s hard not to be impressed by the presentation. The film itself looks flawless - crisp, clean, excellent colours, no defects in bringing it to disc - and there are optional DD5.1 or DD2.0 soundtracks. Sadly, both of these are for the English dub only, which retains Paradis but replaces everyone else. (The character once voiced by Francois Cluzet, for example, now has the tones of Danny Huston.) There’s nothing wrong with the dub - as noted in the main bulk of this review even the songs survive the transition to English - but it’s just a shame that we don’t have the option of the French original. I also strongly suspect that in that version characters don’t call each other “honey” and talk of falling on their “butts”, which may prove annoying to some viewers. English HOH subtitles are available. As for extras, an incredibly light bunch and ones clearly aimed at the younger audience. There’s a spot the difference game, character profiles, a stills gallery and that’s your lot. According to the press release the same is also true of the Blu-ray edition.