The Illusionist (PG) ★★★★


From French director Sylvain Chomet “The Illusionist” Photo credit: Sony Pictures

Proof That 2D Animation Is Still Viable

At the risk of dating myself, being a fan of the late, comic genius Red Skelton, I highly recommend “The Illusionist.” The humor of the film is superbly understated, and the comical misfortunes of the main character, Tatischeff, brought Skelton to my mind more than once. Originally written in 1956 by French director and actor Jacques Tati, we can thank Sylvain Chomet (“The Triplets of Belleville” 2003), for bringing this 2D animated, feature film to fruition. Not only did Chomet direct the film, he also adapted the screenplay and wrote the original score. The film has been nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature Film category.

“The Illusionist” is a beautifully depicted story of an aging, kindhearted, magician, Tatischeff, who is floundering with the changing times. The film opens in Paris, circa 1959, and vaudevillian acts such as Tatischeff’s are becoming afterthoughts. This is in large part due to younger, and much louder, rock and roll boy bands. Persistently traveling from venue to venue, Tatischeff takes his act to a small, Scottish village where he meets Alice, a girl who believes wholeheartedly in his magic. Her naiveté results in Tatischeff becoming a sort of foster parent to her. The film follows Tatischeff’s struggles, both financial and emotional, as he tries to keep the illusion of magic alive for Alice.

Subtitles aren’t needed for this French film, because the dialogue is extremely limited, and rightfully so, making it more universal. The film’s animation tells the story, in the manner of a beautifully illustrated children’s storybook. Although a dark horse in the Oscar race, pitted against “Toy Story 3” and “How To Train Your Dragon,” “The Illusionist” deserves this nomination despite, or perhaps because of, it’s seemingly simplistic animation and storytelling. This bittersweet tale will touch your heart and leave you smiling. A second viewing left me loving it even more.

For fans of Tati, there is a wonderful “tribute” wherein Tatischeff walks briefly into a movie theater and “Mon Oncle” (Tati’s 1958 film) is playing on the screen.

On a final note of warning, if not for one scene, I would encourage parents to take children of all ages to see this film. In it, a man is about to commit suicide by hanging himself, only to be interrupted by a knock at the door. The man reconsiders, and all’s well that ends well. This scene is surely the reason for the PG rating, and may be disturbing to some young children.

Written by: Tyna S. Cline © February 2, 2011