When buying videos for your children, it is wise to be cautious,...
if only because you may end up having to watch anything you buy for them over and Over and OVER! ("The horror! The horror!") Movies you've all seen and enjoyed before are easiest.
Movies you have never seen before, cannot recall being shown (or shown very long) in theaters, and (especially) have NEVER HEARD OF before should sound alarm bells. Such was the initial case for A Monster in Paris with me, but a local retailer was recently playing it on all the TVs in their TV department, and I stopped to watch a bit...
and found myself utterly surprised and enchanted into buying it. In retrospect this film SHOULD have had an extensive US theatrical release because I believe it would have done very well.
In a 1910 Paris experiencing record flooding (even the Eiffel Tower is approachable only by boat) four friends/acquaintances/potential future lovers are about to experience an extraordinary adventure. Emile Petit, a movie theater projectionist, is too shy to confess his feelings for Maud, the ticket taker, despite the encouragement of Raoul, his friend who is in the delivery business. Raoul imagines himself quite the lady's man (he isn't) and a brilliant inventor as well, largely based upon his home built delivery van Catherine, which is chock full of remote controlled features.
One night while making a delivery to the Botanical Gardens accompanied by Emile, to an out of town Professor who has trained a remarkably intelligent (unrealistically, he communicates with written cards in a running gag reminiscent of the only funny bit in the otherwise awful The Pirates! Band of Misfits) proboscis monkey named Charles (Darwin, get it?) to be his assistant and in his absence a guard, Raoul decides to take advantage and start snooping around the Professor's laboratory. The all too predictably disastrous results are to give Charles a beautiful singing voice, produce sunflower seeds that grow almost instantaneously into tree sized giants, and grow one of Charles' fleas into a seven-foot-tall monster, all of this recorded by Emile's new movie camera.
The now sentient giant flea hops all over Paris generating panic and a fiendish plan to take advantage of said panic for his political advancement by the odious Commissioner Victor Maynott before ending up at the stage door of the club L'Oiseau Rare (The Rare Bird) and scaring the wits out of Lucille, a childhood frenemy of Raoul and the star cabaret singer of the club. However, upon hearing the giant flea beautifully singing a sad and lonely song about being viewed as a monster (ridiculous, but if you buy the premise, you buy the bit), Lucille invites him to hide in her dressing room, names him Francoeur (meaning "honest heart"), and gradually discovers him to be a musical prodigy of astonishing talent.
But with an increasingly desperate and increasingly evil Maynott both hunting the "monster" and attempting to woo Lucille, just how long can she and her reluctant allies Emile and Raoul protect Francoeur? A climactic struggle on the Eiffel Tower where Maud is awaiting the date Emile finally had the courage to ask her on tells the final tale.
The animation truly is beautiful as is the music. Normally, I take a dim view of anthropomorphizing obviously dangerous animals in this fashion (fleas are blood suckers so if a seven foot tall flea were even possible, which it isn't, it would be a hideously vampire like horror), but Francoeur earns his "humanity" by heroism above and beyond the call of duty. Fans of the French original will be disappointed by the decision NOT to include the French language track; for the moment the only Region 1 solution is to track down the Canadian version, which is not available in Blu-Ray.
Not to be missed!
Note: There are a couple of nice Easter eggs, extra little scenes showing the draining of the Seine flood waters and a punishment fitting the crime, in the Credits, so be sure to watch them all the way to the end.
Accidentally Conservative Movie Note: This is rather subtle, but there is definitely something interesting politically going on with the villains in this film. The first villain is a snatch-and-grab thief; nothing very political there (at least not until the final Easter Egg), but the second villain is a sniveling cowardly weasel of a worthlessly arrogant and lazy waiter who fancies himself a (terrible!) singer of workers' protest songs, despite (or because of?) the fact he's never truly "worked" a day in his entire working life, an interesting apparent commentary.
However, it's the third villain, the main villain who really raises eyebrows. It is not simply that he is a selfish and amoral politician entirely consumed with pursuing his own ambitions (rather than the selfish and amoral businessman entirely consumed with pursuing his own ambitions we might have expected), rather it is the fact that he is a narcissist of Caligula-like proportions. Most politicians arguably have a bit of narcissism in them, but our main villain goes far beyond the norm into the area of clinical excess. He not only wants the world to revolve around him; he appears to believe it actually already does, at a point in his career when it clearly doesn't. Thus, he is prone to making the most lunatic narcissistic outbursts right out in front of people with the apparent expectation that all who hear him will agree with him...
rather than have him locked up. The thing is that if this character was intended as a parody of a real politician, there is truly only one world known political leader in living memory it could possibly be aimed at, a current one, one who actually responded publicly to acts of what can only be called pseudo-religious worship, not with the, "You're creeping me out. Stop that!" you'd expect from any politician of any political stripe, but rather by BASKING in it and uttering narcissistic remarks only slightly less lunatic than any heard in this film.
Which brings us to who is IMHO the fourth villain, the main villain's assistant. Despite hearing almost every single lunatic outburst the audience has, this toady remains loyal until said main villain has gunned his way across Paris, endangering innocents every step of the way. At some point the Loyal Supporter becomes morally complicit in the Madman's plans, and Captain Pate cuts it awfully close.
Was it all just an accidentally conservative coincidence? Or did the creators of this film demonstrate more guts than almost every other filmmaker on the planet? Perhaps someday we shall know.