Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Illusionist

THE ILLUSIONIST is a tale audiences have seen before, where the older, simpler ways are constantly being tested against the newer, flashier world. In this case THE ILLUSIONIST, directed by Sylvain Chomet, the master behind The Triplets of Belleville, follows a year in the life of a magician struggling to get by in the world. We had the great opportunity to see this with a Q&A with the producer Fiona Hall and animator Justin Hall last evening at the Angelika Plano hosted by's Mark Walters. The Q&A was really helpful in giving a better insight into the movie.

Javi: The big draw here is the visual style, and the bravery of having a hand-animated silent movie in this day and age. Thankfully, visuals add up, and you  constantly marvel at the detail of the backgrounds and the mannerisms of the characters as they progress through the story. We find the protagonist magician going through the motions of his act, during one of them, he gets hired by a kindly (and perpetually drunk) bar owner of a small island town. The bar owner asks the magician to come perform, and during his stay there, he amazes a young girl, Alice, who ends up running away with him.

It's at this point where a lot of the movie brings its charm full on showing us a goofy rockabilly band, an eclectic group of struggling performers, and a beautiful depiction of the town of Edinburgh. The story becomes a series of humorous sequences with the magician trying to stay afloat as he constantly tries to keep Alice believing in magic.

I would say that I would recommend this movie as a storytelling and technical marvel. There will never be a shortage of hand animated projects, but the amount of motion pictures is going the way of the magician in the story. This movie has the heart of Pixar with the old school style of Disney. The biggest drawback would be the lack of dialogue, which is off putting towards some people. Not only that, but the ending is not the most family friendly.  If anything, the movie seems to target more towards adults that appreciate animation than children. Either way, it's a great movie that should be seen. It has no chance at all to get the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but it's a worthy entry nevertheless.

Jonesy: I'm a complete sucker for hand drawn animation.  In post Toy Story era, it's difficult for a studio to release an animated movie that isn't CGI.  However, as Fiona and Justin pointed out during their Q&A, Disney was able to generate some success with The Princess and the Frog last year, thus opening the door for The Illusionist. Hand drawn animation is a dying art that doesn't get enough recognition.  The amount of time and talent it takes to create a movie like this is unbelievable.  Justin Hall brought up an interesting point that all CGI animators begin their career in traditional hand drawn animation.  So, with all that talent out there, why aren't more studios making the move back towards traditional animation? Just a thought...

About twenty minutes into the movie, I realized that this would be a silent film.  Initially I was worried that I wouldn't feel for the characters or emotions would get lost, but I was shocked at how engrossed I became in the story.  The story is fairly simple, as my cohort stated above, but every feeling comes through because of the breathtaking animation.  The silent film aspect is definitely a different step for a modern movie, and unfortunately isn't for everybody. 

A bulk of the story is set in Edingburgh, Scotland.  I had the privilege of visiting Edinburgh when I was in high school, and The Illusionist captures the movement, beauty, and layers of the city perfectly.  The scenery was so breathtaking, it made me want to go back even more.  One observer at the Q&A described the movie as walking through a watercolor painting, and I couldn't have said it better myself.  You get lost in the movement, colors and wonder of the world created by Sylvain Chomet. 

Even though The Illusionist doesn't stand a chance against Toy Story 3 or How to Train Your Dragon at the Oscars, the nomination will hopefully bring some attention to this gem of a movie. 

THE ILLUSIONIST is now playing at the Angelika Plano and Dallas.  Check your local listings and go see it!

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