A charming animation that wears its heart firmly on its sleeve.
Animation has moved on since the days of Disney churning out its glorious hand drawn delights. Few people still work in the medium of traditionalanimation, preferring instead to follow in the footsteps of the gargantuan Pixar.However, the like of Studio Ghibli continue to show that there is life in the old dog yet with such stunning releases as Spirited Away (2001) and Ponyo(2008). It is therefore a welcome addition to the pantheon of animation that writer director Sylvain Chomet, who also gave us Belleville Rendez-Vous (2003), should capture the imagination with this ode to a dying art-form.
In the 1950s an Illusionist finds his craft is diminishing demand. As he flits from theater to private function he is invited to perform in Scotland. There he meets Alice an innocent young girl who believes the magic on display is real. Together they travel to Edinburgh and the Illusionist desperately tries to keep up the pretence that he can create anything Alice wants by constantly buyingher gifts. However, this life style soon catches up with him and the future looks bleak.
French comedic actor Jacques Tati wrote the film but he felt it too personal to translate to screen. As such it gathered dust until his death, but it is to our benefit that it has now been adapted and made by director Chomet. The Illusionist is clearly modeled on Tati himself, although having the character walk into a cinema where one of Tati’s films is playing is selling the point a little too hard, and as such mimics the mannerisms from Tati’s Monsieur Hulot, his character in films like Mon Oncle (1958) and Play Time (1967). Beneath that comedic waddle lurks a man trying to find his place in a world all too anxious to leave him behind in favor of rock and roll.
Although The Illusionist is less fantastical than the Studio Ghibli output it is no less magical. The landscapes and overall look of the film is stunning, despite often being drenched in Scottish weather, and almost every frame could be used as a postcard to mark the occasion. Furthermore, it conjures an endearing quality that draws you into the emotions on offer. The dialogue is intentionally sparse lending the characters a Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton like quality, which manages to evoke endless sympathy for the characters.
For some The Illusionist may be too quaint with its quirky ways and obvious nostalgic nuances, but even a cynic will see the genuine delight to be had in a perfectly rendered character created in traditional animation. While The Illusionist himself may be a dying breed this shows that there is still life in this form of art and it is to Oscar’scredit that it has been nominated in the Best Animated Feature category this year. Truly spellbinding.