A Monster in Paris (Un monstre a Paris): Film Review

Charming Paris-set animation tale may lack broad appeal.

Vanessa Paradis leads the voice cast in director Bibo Bergeron's Paris-set 3D animation film.

A nostalgic waltz through a century-old City of Light, Bibo Bergeron’s A Monster in Paris (Un monstre a Paris) is an enchanting little 3D animation film that nonetheless lacks the international scope of similar fare from Pixar and DreamWorks. Short and sweet, and filled with catchy song-and-dance numbers from real-life French musicians Vanessa Paradis and Mathieu Chedid (aka “M”), this 1910-set tale of a gigantic and musically-gifted flea is primarily for kids, although its colorful recreations of historic Paris is something older Francophiles could well admire.

Made back in 2007-2008 and originally scheduled for release almost three years ago, the €22 million ($30 million) EuropaCorp production premiered at Annecy and then Toronto, where it was screened in an English-language version whose cast includes Adam Goldberg and Danny Huston. Yet not unlike producer Luc Besson’s three Arthur films – although Monster is a better movie in every sense – it may be tough for this very French fable to find significant overseas action following its wide local rollout, where it should reach a sizable number of Gallic tykes.

This isn’t to say that Monster lacks charm and even cultural interest, with animator-turned-auteur Bergeron (who directed DreamWorks’ The Road to Eldorado and Shark Tale) providing some intriguing factual details, beginning with archive footage of the 1910 flood that left sections of Paris underwater for several weeks. After this opening newsreel, we’re introduced to its shy projectionist, Emile (Sebastien Desjours), and his best bud, Raoul (Gad Elmaleh), a chatty delivery boy who takes them on a wild truck ride through the gorgeous city of yesteryear.

The two soon end up in the exotic greenhouse of a reclusive scientist, and when Raoul starts fiddling with various potions, he accidentally creates the monster in question: a freakishly giant flea (M) who, instead of going on a killing spree, somehow finds himself at the music hall where Raoul’s love interest, Lucille (Paradis), performs nightly. And, as can only happen in such a far-fetched affair, this super-flea (who’s given the name Francoeur) is also an incredible singer and guitar player, teaming up with Lucille to showcase his talents and hide from Maynott (Francois Cluzet, channeling the voice of Jacques Chirac), a power-hungry Prefet eager to exterminate him.

If the plot is at times sketchy, and the characters – beyond perhaps Francoeur – never developed enough to create an emotional experience, there are many pleasurable moments throughout the 80-minute (without end credits) affair, most of them involving the animated performances of pop stars Paradis (star of Heartbreaker and wife of Johnny Depp) and M (who sang in Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies). The former offers up two versions of a catchy hymn to Paris entitled “La Seine,” while the latter performs the movie’s theme song during an impressive sequence where we see Francoeur’s metamorphosis through his own eyes.

After years of Stateside experience both animating and directing big budget entries, Bergeron shows he can create a convincing and spirited visual universe, setting the action in various Parisian landmarks (the Eiffel Tower, the Sacre-Coeur, the Jardin des Plantes) rendered with a welcome mix of realism and fantasy. Dialogues (co-written with Stephane Kazandjian) are less tongue-in-cheek than in your average Hollywood offering, while 3D (clearly added as an afterthought) seems entirely unnecessary.

Opens: In France (Oct 12); Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF Kids)
Production companies: EuropaCorp, Bibo Films, France 3 Cinema, Walking the Dog
Cast: Vanessa Paradis, M, Gad Elmaleh, Francois Cluzet, Ludivine Sagnier, Bruno Salomone, Julie Ferrier
Director: Bibo Bergeron
Screenwriters: Bibo Bergeron, Stephane Kazandjian, based on a story by Bergeron
Producer: Luc Besson
Production designer: Francois Moret
Animation director: Fabrice Joubert
Music: M, Patrick Renson
Editor: Pascal Cheve
Sales Agent: EuropaCorp
No rating, 88 minutes