Adapted from a slick hip-hop French TV series, this film follows the escapades of two criminals whose friendship is tested when one falls in love with a rich woman and vows to go straight. Loaded with oddball caricatures of various urban types and backed by a nonstop rap beat, the movie’s view of Paris is one of dirt and grime, graffiti covering the walls and various apartment building halls. Translated into English with voice work from Jimmy Fallon (replacing a far better Vincent Cassel), Seth Green, and Diane Kruger, it’s decent, if slightly dated in its commentary.
Luc Besson produced this amazing looking movie from the man who directed Shark Tale and The Road to Eldorado. The title creature is a flea, made massive by a combination of kooky chemicals in a scientist’s lab. Once big, the bug wants to do nothing but sing. Soon, he is a Paris sensation. As a clever combination of Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame it works, and the CGI is spectacular. The story slips up toward the end, but overall, it’s a shame it took so long for this film to reach American shores.
It was Judy Garland’s one and only appearance doing voice over work for animation. She even brought along her Wizard of Oz composers to add a few tunes. With additional vocal stylings from newcomer Robert Goulet and work from such talents as Mel Blanc, June Foray, Paul Frees, and animator Chuck Jones (in violation of his contract with Warner Bros.), it had all the earmarks of a potential hit - or a massive flop. Luckily, the G rated brought in the wee ones with their parents hoping to catch one of their favorite old Hollywood greats.
The story centers on the title feline and its devious double life. By day, it is a well loved pet of a police officer’s daughter. At night, it is the hard working helper of a master thief. Utilizing hand drawn animation techniques and an unusual, artistically impressive design style, the movie went from little known French artifact to an Oscar contender (it lost to Rango). A clever combination of cartoon noir and Hitchcock homage, it’s the kind of kid flick that adults will adore as well.
This was the moment when Pixar “grew up.” Sure, the story centered on a clever little mouse who wanted to become a chef (pure kid’s stuff), but the whole attitude and approach was given a post-adolescent polish by The Incredibles own Brad Bird. The result was an Oscar, a new respect for the perfectionist animation company, and a belief that nothing could stop these hard working wizards. While groused about at the time, the years have been kind to the fascinating foodie film.