'The Illusionist' and the appeal of classic animation 

'THE ILLUSIONIST': The latest from animator Sylvain Chomet.
  • 'THE ILLUSIONIST': The latest from animator Sylvain Chomet.

Remember when cartoons weren't afraid to be cartoons? The likes of Pixar and Dreamworks have revolutionized animation over the past 15 years; the former not only through its visuals, but its storytelling ambition. The polish of "Up" or "The Incredibles" lends to their appeal. Elementally, though, the viewer can sense that the digitally born wonders onscreen are literally untouched by human hands. They are wholly synthetic creations in which anything like a flourish must first be measured and calculated. You still cannot hug a pixel.

Then we have a tone poem such as "The Illusionist" ("L'illusionnist," en Français). The hand at work here is the same as in "The Triplets of Belleville," directed by Sylvain Chomet and Oscar-nominated in 2003, as "The Illusionist" is now, for Best Animated Feature. Also like its predecessor, "The Illusionist" tells the story of aging performers finding hardship in a modernizing world, and unfolds almost entirely sans dialogue. No subtitles here: The flitting ribbons of French that trail through the movie are as disposable as the smatterings of mumbled English. The animation of expression, of nature, of movement and particularly of animals is enthralling, evocative of graphite and watercolors. This is cartooning absent sass, lovingly drawn and painted — a children's picture book in motion.

An older magician, long in face and nimble in hand, finds himself scraping for work as the music halls of midcentury come to book rock acts. When he travels to a small Scottish isle for a gig at a village pub, he befriends a girl who insists on following him back to Edinburgh. There they split a hotel apartment — she in the bedroom, he crashing on the couch each night — and try to find their way through the city as he struggles to put sausage on the table and to pull the occasional coin from behind her ear.

Without much to say to one another, the illusionist and the girl don't give the audience many deep glimpses into their relationship, and we're left to assume that what they do share is mostly unspoken. She would have languished indefinitely on the isle, and he, while clearly losing his gusto for magic, has pulled off the trick of giving her a chance to imagine a richer life. The most memorable bit players here are the hard-luck vaudevillians who also inhabit the hotel: a morose clown, a ventriloquist whose only friend is his lookalike dummy. Theirs is a shared story of the most pitiable loneliness, that of abandoned people whose sole aim was to bring joy to others.

For the youngest children, accustomed to a heavier hand in explaining a story to them, "The Illusionist" may be a test of patience. But for those who can follow lighter brushstrokes, it may linger longer than the latest "Shrek" sequel.


From the ArkTimes store


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Sam Eifling

Readers also liked…

  • Not much to 'Love'

    In Judd Apatow's new Netflix original series.
    • Feb 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • Judge Griffen dismisses execution challenge; says hands tied by 'shameful' Ark. Supreme Court ruling

    Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen ruled today that he had no choice based on  a past Arkansas Supreme Court decision  but to dismiss a lawsuit by Death Row inmates seeking to challenge the constitutionality of the state's lethal injection process.But the judge did so unhappily with sharp criticism of the Arkansas Supreme Court for failing to address critical points raised in the lawsuit.
  • Metroplan sets public hearing on 30 Crossing

    The controversial 30 Crossing project to fatten up seven miles of Interstate 30 from U.S. Highway 67 in North Little Rock to Interstate 530 in Little Rock will once again get a public hearing, thanks to a vote of the Metroplan board Wednesday.
  • New suit argues Bruce Ward mentally unfit for execution

    A new lawsuit argues that Bruce Ward, scheduled to die by lethal injection next month, is not mentally competent to be executed. It says his condition has been worsened by decades of solitary confinement.

Latest in Movie Reviews

  • You will believe

    Blasphemy and devotion in Netflix's 'The Most Hated Woman in America.'
    • Mar 30, 2017
  • Wanted: 1991 Magic

    'Beauty and the Beast' revamp gets lost in the details.
    • Mar 23, 2017
  • Swamp brawl

    'Kong: Skull Island' goes apeshit with the visuals.
    • Mar 16, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Brant Collins named Group Travel Manager for Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Brant Collins named Group Travel Manager for Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Collins to work toward increasing visitation to Arkansas by groups and promoting the state's appeal

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed


© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation