Fantastic Planet (La Planete Sauvage) (1973)
Once in awhile comes one animation which is so powerful in its message and so unusual in its presentation, it becomes quite unforgettable. “Fantastic Planet” is precisely such adult-themed animation, co-produced between France and Czechoslovakia. A winner of the Cannes Special Prize in 1973, this French-language animation has even been named one of the greatest (Rolling Stone). In its presentation, “Fantastic Planet” is highly imaginative, inspired by some psychedelic art and, as some commentators put it, by “cut-outs from Soviet science magazines” (CinePassion). Based on Stefan Wul’s 1957 science-fiction novel, Oms en série, the animation is about blue-skinned giants, the Draags, who keep as pets a human race of Oms on the planet Ygam. The animation may be a tad too disturbing in its content, but, because the world it creates is so fascinatingly strange, and because its concept of the fight to have freedom is so relatable, it is well worth all the attention and praise.
Our main character in the story is Terr, a human pet to Tiwa, a daughter in the family of the giant Draags. Tiwa plays with Terr as though he was a doll, while other Draag children also host battle contests between their little human dolls and use them for other entertainment purposes. When he is older, Terr manages to escape his Draag family and to settle into the colony of other Oms who live in the state of nature and whom the Draags at times gas to get rid of. What strikes one is an allegorical content of the story, with many themes and concepts mixing to establish a story of a fight against injustice and racism. The Draags think Oms are unintelligent beasts who are merely vermin, and, although they keep them as pets, they do not accord them much welfare consideration. To that effect, the story would have been completely surreal if not for the events in the WWII and other genocide practices around the world. Thus, despite fantastical presentation, the animation is capable of bringing to mind some very horrifying, but only too real imagery.
The power/importance of knowledge is another theme/concept of this animation. When Terr was Tiwa’s plaything, he was, unnoticeably to the Draags, receiving knowledge of the Draags through the special headphones which Tiwa wore on her head to receive her education. In that way, Terr gathered considerable knowledge about the planet Ygam and the nature of the Draag life. When Terr escapes, he brings to his colony of wild Oms the priceless headphones of knowledge. It is clear from this animation that knowledge is the true and ultimate power, no matter how small you are in comparison to your adversary, and that, whoever possesses the most up-to-date and true knowledge will ultimately win the battle. Thus, because Terr brought with him the educational headphones to his colony, the Oms were then capable of gathering knowledge and using Draag machinery, which gave them hope of freedom and salvation.
If the plot sounds fascinating, than the animation presentation is even more so. The art design is done by Roland Topor, the author of “The Tenant”, later, a film by Roman Polanski. Topor’s imagery evokes the paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and projects psychedelic experiences, with their bright colours and visionary distortions. The world, which the animation projects, is very imaginative: from plant to animal lives, and from planet’s atmosphere to surreal vistas. In relation to its visionary component, the fascinating element of “Fantastic Planet” has to be the emphasis on spirituality and meditation. The Draags seem to have attained some form of “higher intelligence” since they often practice meditation and their deity is also connected closely to this practice. The hallucinatory nature of the animation seems to reflect this concept of higher orders of strange spirituality being the governing principles of advanced civilisations.
On the negative side, some of the animation’s nudity and sexual references are a bit superfluous, and the animation may be disturbing and even shocking for the viewers of today. There is some uncomfortable display of violence and even gore since, at one point, the Oms kill a flying creature and not only drink, but also bath in its blood. The traumatic element of the animation also includes the death of Terr’s mother in the story’s beginning, as well as numerous other inhumane practices carried out by the Draags.
“Fantastic Planet” may disturb and even shock with its content, but it is also strangely fascinating and thought-provoking. Its odd imagery and music will leave a lasting impression, and, although it is grim, it is also inspiring, probably providing later a lot of inspiration for Cameron’s “Avatar” (2009). 9/10
The King & The Mockingbird (Le Roi & L’Oiseau) (1980)
Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away” (2001)) and Isao Takahata (“Only Yesterday” (1991), Japanese directors, once stated that Paul Grimault’s “Le Roi & L’Oiseau” was their inspiration source and a definite influence. In fact, Miyazaki’s first feature “The Castle of Cagliostro” (1979) took some material from “Le Roi & L’Oiseau”. The influence of Grimault is also evident in Miyazaki’s “Castle in the Sky” (1986). What is “Le Roi & L’Oiseau” all about? The story was initially conceived as “The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep”, loosely based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen, and was released without approval of the director/scriptwriter in the 1950s. It was only in 1980 that the director finally released his own version. The story is about the solitary, vain King Charles of the Kingdom of Tachycardia, who detests people and who likes hunting. He is in a perpetual war with the talking Bird of the Kingdom who raises his four little children on his own because of the murder of his bird wife, undoubtedly by the hand of the King. It also so happens that the portraits in the King’s private suite in the castle become alive and the Shepherdess and Chimney Sweep, having fallen in love, try to escape the tyranny of the King, who, in turn, set his mind on marrying the beautiful Shepherdess. The great thing about this animation is the way it fuses book story-telling with animation, as well as the inspiring castle architecture and its environs. The characters of the King and the Bird are well-written, and the story is also more ironic and profound than first appears.
One of the most admirable features we notice is that, as the Shepherdess and Chimney Sweep make their getaway down the castle stairs to escape the King and his police, the castle itself is a pure marvel to behold with all its “futuristic” technology. Firstly, there is the King’s capsule lift which takes him to his hidden chambers on the 296th floor of the castle. Then, there are Venice-inspired grounds of the castle, which watery roads require special mobile water scooters to use them, not to mention a myriad of other interesting gadgets, such as the King’s button to open up floors and “swallow” undesirable subjects who disobey him. In this wonderful animation, modernity and old times mix, and while we hear subdued melodies of the French Royal Court and wonder at the background Renaissance/Baroque paintings, there is also futuristic technology introduced, such as the giant robot of the King that pursues the Shepherdess and Chimney Sweep as they try to hide among the poor vagabonds of the Kingdom.
The animation now recalls also the productions of the Soyuzmultfilm, such as “Dyuymovochka” (Thumbelina) (1964), a story also based on the fairy-tale by Hans Christian Andersen. In that story, incidentally, there is also the motive of a reluctant marriage. Le Roi & L’Oiseau has a deeply-imbedded message about societal hierarchy and unfairness, but it is probably its characters which remain the most memorable, rather than its theme. For example, the police of the King often find themselves in funny situations as they pursue the escapees, and resemble Thomson and Thompson from the “Adventures of Tintin” series. The King is also very memorable, and now resembles the vain and arrogant Lord Farquaad from “Shrek” (2001), who, incidentally also has some physical defect/abnormality.
“Le Roi & L’Oiseau” may be inconsistent in its visual quality, but it is also child-friendly, charming and delightful. Its interesting story boasts great main and side characters, and its animation ideas are awe-inspiring even today. 9/10