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Based on several graphic novels by co-writer/director Arthur de Pins, collaborating here with Alexis Ducord, Zombillenium is an entertaining, irrepressibly European animated feature grounded in an amusing gothic fantasy concept. The idea is that the titular amusement park is run by real vampires, werewolves, zombies and other creatures of the night, all pretending to be fake monsters. Given the supernatural themes and more spooky than usual content, this probably skews a little older than the all-ages demographic of most U.S.-backed cartoon features, which could help bolster the film’s appeal as a niche item.
That said, beyond the realms of co-producing nations Belgium and France and their near-neighbors, the script’s clanking plot skeleton, the lack of star names in the voice cast and the unfamiliarity of the property will still keep this on the distribution margins among Francophiles and graphic-novel fans.
The story is set in architecturally and meteorologically distinctive northern France, where towns of tightly terraced housing are enveloped by industrial zones and sodden gray skies. Widowed single parent Hector (voiced by Emmanuel Curtil for the French-language version, David Gasman for the English one) lives with his 8-year-old daughter Lucie (Esther Corvez-Beaudoin/Ann Herstad). As a health and safety inspector, Hector is naturally cautious and rather officious, so when Lucie won’t stop going on about how much she wants to visit the nearby theme park Zombillenium to ride its roller coasters and the like, Hector’s suspicions are piqued. Hoping to find a safety violation so he can refuse to allow Lucie to go, he instigates a spontaneous inspection.
Unfortunately, when he takes an elevator down to the ninth sub-basement floor, he discovers that the park is built over a gateway to hell, a purgatory ruled by the Devil (Emmanuel Jacomy/Geoffrey Carey), to whom park manager and head vampire Francis (Alain Choquet/Jerry Di Giacomo) must answer. Francis has no choice but to bite Hector and thereby turn him into a monster like himself, although the form Hector eventually takes — with a beefy, super-strong physique, asymmetric horns and tremendous agility — conforms neither to vampire, werewolf nor zombie characteristics, but has a little bit of everything.
Hector also develops ace ax-man skills on the electric guitar, which comes in handy when he ends up forming a very Gallic-style rock combo with assorted other characters from the park, including zombie-skeleton Sirius (Mat Bastard/Doug Rand) and comely, sleeve-tattooed teen witch Gretchen (Kelly Marot/Kaycie Chase), who is literally the Devil’s daughter and has been working as a sulky intern at the park. Antagonism is mainly provided by vampire Steven (Alexis Tomassian/Mark Jane), a chiseled looker who conforms to the Twilight-established physical characteristics of a vampire, down to the sparkly-in-sunlight skin and withering condescension toward lesser beings.
The script by de Pins and Ducord spends a disproportionate amount of time establishing the contours of its universe, clearly with an eye to world-building sufficiently to lay the groundwork for sequels. Less energy is expended on developing an engaging narrative trajectory. Ultimately, storytelling seems to be less the point than finding instances to show off the dazzling visuals, a hyper-seamless melding of 3D rendering and 2D design that extracts lines and shadows from the figures but still has an extraordinary fluidity. A scene, for example, in which Gretchen takes Hector for a ride on her skateboard-broomstick has a whizzy swoop and swish, and will look spectacular in 3D.
With the attractive character design making the “cast” especially appealing to tweens and up, this could almost be described as the hippest animated feature involving undead creatures and amusement parks since Scooby-Doo.
Production companies: Maybe Movies, Belvision and Dupuis, France 3 Cinema, Gebeka Films, 2 Minutes, Pipangaï Production, Gao Shan Pictures, 22d Music, Bonnie, RTBF (Television Belge)
Cast: Emmanuel Curtil, David Gasman, Alain Choquet, Jerry Di Giacomo, Kelly Marot, Kaycie Chase, Alexis Tomassian, Mark Jane, Mat Bastard, Doug Rand, Emmanuel Jacomy, Geoffrey Carey, Esther Corvez-Beaudoin, Ann Herstad, Fily Keita, Lee Delong, Gilbert Levy, Jeremy Coffman, Hervé Caradec, Doug Rand, Claire Beaudoin, Brenda Clark, Jean-Christophe Quenon, Jerry Di Giacomo, Lucia Sanchez, Lucia Sanchez, Maëlys Ricordeau, Tiffany H, Arthur De Pins, William Swyers, Hugues Boucher, Max Gabarre-Grindrod, Juliette Gesteau, Kaycie Chase
Director-screenwriters: Arthur de Pins, Alexis Ducord, based on the graphic novels by de Pins
Producer: Henri Magalon
Animation director: David Nasser
3DFX director: Sebastien Rossi
Storyboard: Simon Andriveau, David Berthier, Nicolas Pawlowski
Technical director: Sebastien Courtois
Editor: Benjamin Massoubre
Music: Eric Neveux
Songs: Mat Bastard
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Special Screening)
Sales: UDI – Urban Distribution Intl.
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