I have nothing but admiration for Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, a heartfelt homage to the great filmmaker and comedic artist Jacques Tati, based on one of his unproduced screenplays. But I wanted to love the film wholeheartedly, and I didn’t.
Tati’s films like Mon Oncle, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, and Playtime, are marvels of comic invention, but they are not so much hilarious as droll. My Merriam-Webster dictionary defines that word as “having a humorous, whimsical or odd quality.”
Chomet has captured all three of those qualities in his lovingly-crafted film, but it remains—
—odd and distant, difficult to embrace emotionally even as one appreciates what he has achieved. First and foremost, he has brought Tati’s screen character Monsieur Hulot back to life, in animated form. I never would have dreamed it possible. His unique posture and body movements are all here, along with his off-kilter view of everyday life.
The Illusionist also has a distinctive look that sets it apart from any other animated film we’ve seen this year. The production design and color palette are certainly attractive, but the mixture of traditional and computer-generated animation creates a peculiar-looking hybrid that too often calls attention to itself.
Taken in bite-sized portions, The Illusionist is charming, quirky, surprising, and funny, but as a whole there are too many lulls in its lumpy narrative. I wanted to be transported into its world and forget that I was watching a movie, but it never happened.
To be fair, I should point out that friends of mine whose opinions I respect where animation is concerned love the picture. You may, too.