Before Finding Nemo or Mulan turned cartoons into an art form wishing to be as visually realistic as possible, characters like Steamboat Willie and Daffy Duck (the original really daffy version) made cartoons... cartoonish. They didn't slavishly try to imitate real life—instead, they were interested in caricature and things that were physically impossible. As an homage to those forgotten times, enter Les Triplettes.

Les Triplettes de Belleville (or, for you Francophobes, "The Triplets of Belleville"), is an animated film released in 2003. It is unusual in two respects: a caricatured style of animation and its near-total lack of dialogue. The film is an example of excellent story-telling; no dialogue is necessary to understand what's going on. The characters are so cliched and one-dimensional that their motives are unambiguous; their actions transparent. This is not a bad thing—the movie's purpose is not to present an elaborate plot, but to be a vehicle for stunning visuals and memorable music.

The visuals... how to describe them? Let's put it this way: it's like a political cartoonist decided to make an animated feature. Our protagonist, who is entered in the Tour de France, has calves (and a nose) the size of his head; his arms and torso are matchstick thin. The hulking gangsters have perfectly rectangular physiques. When the scene shifts to Belleville (read: New York City), all of the citizens there are so obese as to be nearly spherical. The head of the French Mafia, whose headquarters' exterior decoration is dominated by wine bottles, has a tippler's enormous red nose. Every character is, in essence, a self-caricature.

The plot, such as it is, can be summarized thusly: a cyclist is kidnaped by the French Mafia and taken to Belleville; his trainer/guardian/grandmother (or aunt) follows him there, where she gets the titular triplets to help her rescue him. But that's not the point. The point is the ridiculously catchy tune that opens the film. It's the ships that rise up out of the water like skyscrapers. It's the lush colors of Belleville—complete with a hideously obese Statue of Liberty, holding a cheeseburger. It's about an old lady who can keep up with a trained cyclist—while she's on a tricycle.

The triplets of Belleville are the show-stoppers. Singing sensations in the '20s (as seen in the opening scene, where our protagonist and his grandmother/aunt/whatever watch an old recording of their performance), les triplettes remain in the musical theater business until the time this movie takes place—but now as percussionists. Their opening variety-show number is still stuck in my head; their percussive performance in the second half of the movie (with guest star grandmother on bicycle wheel) had me drumming along. The music really is a highlight of this movie.

Go watch this movie! It's not a life-changing film: there's nothing terribly deep or profound about it. Rather, it's entertainment at its finest, and a welcome respite from the drive for realism in cartoons. Plus, it's French, so you'll seem more cultured when you watch it.

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