Today: April 19, 2024

La Planete Sauvage

Rene Laloux’s 1973 animated science-fiction opus finds its way
onto Blu-Ray and might just have influenced one of the biggest films of
all time.

Although you may not have seen or heard of La Planete Sauvage,
translated as Fantastic Planet, you will no doubt have witnessed its
effects on cinema. In 1973 Fantastic Planet was seen as a break through
in animation and has since influenced the likes of Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle).
Based on the novel by Stefan Wul the film is a psychedelic trip into an
unknown world that has political undertones while always maintaining a
hypnotic sensibility.

On the planet Ygam, humans are known as Oms and are kept as mice like
pets by the rulers known as Draags. The Draags are giant blue people
who spend much of their time meditating while their children play with
the Oms. Although some Oms are tame the majority of them run in the
undergrowth and form rebel like insurgence against the dominant Draags.
When a tame Om known as Terr (Baugin) starts to learn the Draags ways he escapes and must try to unite the wild Om clans in order to fight the superior Draags.

Throughout the film, the species are at war with each other. However,
when the Oms discover the Draag’s secret the two groups form an
alliance. At the time of its 1973 release this was a clear commentary on
the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia which is just one of many
themes that the film throws up.

With giant blue people in a dream like state and the Oms living in a bush they call ‘Big Tree’ this was clearly a film that had an impact on James Cameron’s Avatar.
Much of the ideas and concepts in the huge grossing Avatar are apparent
in Fantastic Planet. Where it differs is that Cameron’s film is pure
entertainment where as Planet is more about ideas.

The planet of Ygam is rife with weird and wonderful animals and it is
here you can see its impact on the breathtaking worlds that Studio
Ghibli always create. Witness the bizarre creature that kills fish-like
birds by shaking them to death, for no other reason than pleasure, or
the device that projects ideas directly into the listener’s brain.
Unfortunately, it throws up so many ideas it often forgets the main
story and as a result is fascinating to look at but never engaging.

The animation is rich and endlessly detailed. Roland Topor’s design is nothing short of mind-blowing
and startles with its inventive nature. There is no Pixar digi-mation
here, everything is done by hand and the love of the craft translates
into the vibrancy of the film. Laloux’s direction is languid but in a
way that seduces the senses. It never feels drawn out but rather
enchanting to witness what he will concoct next. Imagine if David Lynch (Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks)
were to venture into animation and you have some idea of the tone that
Laloux conjures. In terms of style it is strangely reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s animation of the Monty Python days, it lacks the slapstick mannerisms but shares the colourful charm.

For all its concepts and ideas, La Planete Sauvage does lack a warm
centre. The nearest thing to a loving relationship is between Terr and
his owner Tiwa but it is never fully explored. Where it really works is
in the visualisation of fascinating ideas. That it has had such a
wide influence on animation and cinema as a whole is credit to the
intuitive ways of Laloux’s imagination.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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