For live action features, there is no city like Paris. The bistros. The sidewalk cafes. The bakeries filled with baguettes and croissant. The nightclubs with their exotic can-can dancers. Every cliche in the cinematic book. Fimmakers from Woody Allen to innumerable French auteurs like Renoir and Chabrol love the gorgeous city of light. It exudes elegance and romance. It offers stunning locations and famous landmarks. It’s a backdrop with a bounty of available angles and approaches. It’s also an easy symbol, shortcut for emotions otherwise needing explanation or examination. Of course, not every genre finds the town as tantalizing. While cartoons occasionally visit the banks of the River Seine (it’s the home to Pepe Le Pew, after all), most pen and ink offerings avoid the city.
Still, there are a few celebrated examples of Paris as an animated backdrop. In recognition of the latest (see number four on our list, out of DVD and Blu-ray this week), we bring you this collection of 10 films that made the magical metropolis their narrative home. Many are well known and acclaimed. Others are so obscure it requires an encyclopedic knowledge of the artform to discover their delights. In all cases, Paris plays an important part in the storyline, highlighting the humorous, and sometimes hazardous existence along the Champs elysees. In all cases, the artists have found unique and iconic ways of representing the famous skyline, bringing everything from the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower to vivid life. Even something geared specifically to the elementary school set (like our number ten choice) does a great job of showing why Paris is such a special place.
In this sequel to the popular film, which was in turn based on the well loved Nickelodeon TV series, we find Tommy Pickles and his pals traveling to the title locale to find a new mom for depressed buddy Chuckie Finister. Once in Paris, they run into the villainous Coco LaBouche, who needs the kids to help her take over an amusement park. With its wonky animation style and clever grown-up references (including homages to Bugsy Malone and The Godfather), this remains the best of the Rugrats efforts - and a nice Parisian primer for the wee ones.
Only part of this film takes place in Paris. The rest tells the urban legend version of the Russian Grand Duchess and her “survival” of a curse placed on her family by the mad monk Rasputin. Co-directed by Don Bluth (best known as a House of Mouse exile and the mastermind behind several celebrated efforts like The Secret of NIHM, An American Tale, and The Land Before Time) and featuring many of the genre staples (songs, cute creatures), it was an unexpected hit. It was also the first film from Fox’s Animation division.
As the ‘70s started, Disney’s post-Walt work truly began to suffer. Though he personally approved this film, he died four years before its release and the lack of his input on the final product shows. There are many who enjoy this buoyant effort, including the voice work of Eva Gabor, Phil Harris, and Scatman Crothers. On the other hand, when compared to what came before, as well as what was soon to come, this uneven effort indicates a company without clear creative leadership. Not as bad as one remembers, but definitely not a Golden Era Classic.
As odd as any entry on this list. A post-Wonderland Alice daydreams about visiting Paris. Almost immediately, she is visited by a magical mouse who offers her some enchanted cheese. Before you can see “eat me” our heroine has shrunk down to rodent size and sets off for adventures in the city of light. What we then get are adaptations of five short stories, almost none of them linked to a fall down a rabbit hole or a walk through Lewis Carroll’s creative playground. Surreal, and rather strange.
As part of Disney’s mid-‘90s dip back toward the routine and mundane, this movie has many detractors. After all, how do you take Victor Hugo’s book about a deformed, lovesick bell-ringing and turn it into a feel good musical? Well, the House of Mouse tried, and the results were uneven if entertaining. In fact, many critics complimented the company for not going overboard with the sap, though many found the songs beyond maudlin. Still, the character design and animation are amazing, giving this film a look that often surpasses its story.
// Notes from the Road
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