[24 April 2013]
It’s a shame that A Monster in Paris is never able to live up to the magic conveyed by its opening sequence. During its first scene we see the insides of a Parisian movie theater in which we are told of the disastrous floodings of 1910—the River Seine rose unexpectedly, leaving Parisians in a state of panic. Using beautiful animation and captivating music, we are then shown the feature attraction, a movie in which the young Emile (Jay Harrington) romances the shy Maud (Madeline Zima). After facing a monstrous crocodile—in a way foreboding what the whole movie will be about—we realize that this is all happening inside Emile’s head. The reality is he’s no brave hero, he’s just a projectionist dreaming his life was as interesting as the movies.
His life soon takes a turn for the weird, as he and his friend Raoul (Adam Goldberg) accidentally create a monster when they play with the mysterious chemicals of a famous botanist. Unaware of the harm they’ve caused, they flee the scene, while the monster scares the citizens of Paris. We learn that the monster isn’t an evil creature when he encounters chanteuse Lucille (voiced by the luminous Vanessa Paradis) and she discovers that he has musical talents and turns him into her accompanist, but little do they know that the wicked Maynott (Danny Huston) wants to hunt down the monster and seal his mayoral campaign.
With a brisk 90 minute running time and songs and visual gags to please the eyes and ears, one can’t help but feel endlessly disappointed by how great this movie could’ve been. The animation of A Monster in Paris has nothing to envy larger American productions and the English voice cast—which also includes Sean Lennon and Catherine O’Hara—is quite terrific, given that the director seems to have understood that fitting the voices to the actors is more important that just casting famous people (director Bibo Bergeron also made the star studded but mediocre Shark Tale and the forgettable Road to El Dorado).
A Monster in Paris seems to have been trying to ride the wave generated by Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, which deftly combined a very French aesthetic with the idea that the love for the movies is universal. Conversely, we are given a cinephile in the shape of Emile, who seems to forget he owns a camera less than halfway into the movie. The monster is originally discovered by the police after they spot him in one of Emile’s films, but then the story completely lets go of this intriguing line, instead concentrating on the less interesting Raoul and his courtship of the pretty but shallow Lucille.
For a movie that tries to teach kids a lesson in seeing that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the screenwriters would’ve done well by applying this to their own work. We get endless moments with the dull relationship between Raoul and Lucille, when the film feels much more alive every time Emile interacts with Maud. They aren’t animated in a traditional sense, and one could say they’re not very pretty, but they are characters of such warmth and tenderness that we wish the movie could’ve been only about them.
To this we should also add the fact that Lucille seems to have more chemistry with the monster—whom she names Francoeur—than with Raoul. Said lack of spark even leads to an awkward moment before the ending, in which screenwriters seem to have realized that they never had the right foundations for this romance to ring true.
A Monster in Paris is often rescued by the lightness of its proceedings and by how trivial its twists and turns are. Other than a few scenes in which Paradis gets to show off her delicious musical talents, the rest remains a rather uninspired affair that always seems to tease us only to turn the other way and let us down.
The Blu-ray presentation is quite great, given that the film’s cinematography is particularly gorgeous. The opening scenes feature a soft iris effect that would’ve worked wonders if used during the whole film, but might’ve put off youngsters who’d crave to see every single thing. Therefore, it’s not particularly prominent again, until the climax. Also included is a 3D version of the movie, which never seems to add a worthy extra dimension, other than for a couple of jack-in-the-box like gags. A trailer is the only other bonus material included, making for a rather lackluster edition that might’ve benefited from short documentaries on the 1910 flooding, or the history of movie cameras, or even a few music videos, not to mention a couple of interactive games for the kiddies. But no, nothing.