The Prodigies: Cannes Review

French animated action saga may be too prodigiously violent to reach wide audiences.

Animated French thriller about traumatized child geniuses and their deadly mind-control games is definitely not for kids.

An intensely dark and violent addition to the recent slew of 3D animation flicks, French thriller The Prodigies will need to harness all of its superpowers to draw crowds to this Warner Bros. France summer release. Closer to R-rated anime than to family-friendly Pixar, this frenzied action tale, about traumatized child geniuses and their deadly mind-control games, may find that rape, suicide, shootouts and decapitation is better suited for ancillary than for a Sunday matinee.

Based on a 1981 bestselling novel by Bernard Lenteric, the story takes place in a somberly recreated New York City, where computer whiz Jimbo (Mathieu Kassovitz) teaches physics at an exclusive research institute funded by multimillionaire mogul Killian (Feodor Atkine). Between his beautiful girlfriend, Ann (Claire Guyot), and his incredibly adept smart phone, Jimbo looks to have finally overcome a nasty childhood event that left his abusive parents dead, for reasons that have something to do with their boy’s massive brain power.

When the aging Killian passes away, and his daughter, Melanie (Julie Dumas), decides to pull the plug on Jimbo’s projects, he needs to find a way to support a clan of five child prodigies that seem to share his lethal combination of nerd rage and ESP. Inviting them to participate in an American Idol-meets-Jeopardy-style game show, Jimbo sets out to meet the kids at night in Central Park. Before he gets there, they’re accosted by vicious thugs, one of whom savagely beats and rapes the 14-year-old Liza (Jessica Monceau).

That scene, like others in first-time director Antoine Charreyron’s extremely visceral depictions of assault and anguish, may be off-putting for viewers seeking either a superhero thrill ride à la X-Men, or an ironic adventure à la Toy Story. Instead, screenwriting team Alexandre de la Patelliere and Matthieu Delaporte (22 Bullets) go for all out pathos, exponentially upping the violence quotient as the masterminds team together to revenge Liza. We’re thus entitled to several slow-mo Matrix-style shootouts, a few pounding fistfights, and one gruesome bit where a guy gets his head sliced off by a subway car.

While such moments are virtuously rendered in motion capture by visual creator Viktor Antonov (Half Life 2), they’re so over-the-top that they squash the narrative. Lenteric’s book was a hit with French teens in the ‘80s, for whom its mix of comic book fantasy and adolescent misery was something new. Nowadays, such material has been handled with either more humor (Buffy) or more eye-candy (Twilight), and as The Prodigies drifts further into a 3D-modeled bloodbath, its message gets lost amid all the megabytes.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Official Selection (Séance Lycéen)
Sales: Kinology
Production companies: Fidelite Films, Onyx Films, Studio 37/TP, Luxanimation Scope Pictures
Voices: Mathieu Kassovitz, Alexis Tomassian, Fedor Atkine, Julie Dumas, Claire Guyot, Jessica Monceau, Thomas Sagols, Diouc Koma, Sophie Chen
Director: Antoine Charreyron
Screenwriters: Matthieu Delaporte, Alexandre de la Patelliere
Based on the book by: Bernard Lenteric
Producers: Marc Missonnier, Olivier Delbosc, Aton Soumache, Alexis Vonarb
Visual creator: Viktor Antonov
Character design: Humberto Ramos, Francisco Herrera
Animation director: Tarik Hamdine
Music: Klaus Badelt
Editors: Benjamin Weill, Vincent Tabaillon, Sebastien Prangere
Special effects supervisor: Karim Keddache
No rating, 94 minutes