Title: The Illusionist
Directed By: Sylvain Chomet
Voice Cast: Jean-Claude Donda, Eilidh Rankin
It’s nice to find a filmmaker with good intentions, but there’s just so far the intent alone can get you. Writer-director Sylvain Chomet aims to conjure up quite a degree of emotion in his nearly dialogue-less, animated 80 minute film, and while he comes close to making a powerful impact, winds up falling flat thanks to a key facet missing from his movie – entertainment.
Life is rough for The Illusionist in Paris in 1956. Nothing he pulls out of his sleeve or his hat can draw a crowd quite like the rising rock bands. The theater is packed full of screaming girls drooling over the glammed up boys in the band, but the moment The Illusionist takes the stage with his trusty, but testy rabbit, the place empties out. He’s got no choice but to take his show on the road to try to find a crowd that appreciates his magic.
The Illusionist tries to sell his act at theaters and parties, but it isn’t until he winds up in a small pub in Scotland that he finds someone who’s completely taken by his show, a young local named Alice. When The Illusionist decides it’s time to move on, he heads to Edinburgh with Alice secretly in tow. Once there, the two immediately fall for each other – Alice for The Illusionist’s magical abilities and The Illusionist for her interest – and the two begin to form a father/daughter relationship. However, Alice can’t stay a little girl forever and The Illusionist’s acts begin to pale in comparison to Alice’s new beau.
The Illusionist is a beautifully sweet and simple tale. In a world packed with wildly active and implausibly magical movies, it’s rather nice to experience something entirely unpretentious. The Illusionist isn’t a character harboring superhuman powers or even particularly outstanding magician abilities; he’s just an awkward yet likeable man trying to make due the only way he knows how. Despite his situation, he’s always humble and never acts out of rage unless it’s to nab that pesky rabbit. Within moments, The Illusionist earns your sympathy.
Alice is a bit down and out herself, stuck working in a bar with nothing more to show for her effort than a dilapidated pair of boots. Now, not only are you desperate for The Illusionist to have a ray of light in his life, but Alice too. When the two finally unite, the result is quite powerful. If only the film took hold of these more uplifting moments of the story rather than drowning us in the sorrow of their situation, which is seemingly hopeless, there might have been not only more to appreciate, but more to enjoy.
As touching as this story of two lonely souls wants to be, The Illusionist is just plain old sad and boring. Yes, the story is admirably effortless, but it’s also quite dull. Perhaps it’s only because our brains are saturated with the bold and bubbly animation of Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, but even the look of The Illusionist is rather depressing, particularly the expression on The Illusionist’s face which is perpetually forlorn.
Actually, forlorn is the perfect way to describe this film in its entirety. Even to the tune of a more upbeat score, The Illusionist’s exploits are dire. In fact, it’s the mixture of rather hopeful ditties combined with the main character’s sour expression and grim prospects that make the piece even more dismal. Yes, there is an instant connection between the audience and the character, but that winds up making his situation more painful. The only honest moment of satisfaction comes when The Illusionist and Alice unite, but otherwise they live in a painfully bleak reality.
As easy as it is to admire the film’s noble intentions, it’s equally as hard to keep your eyes from closing during the show. The detail of the animation is quite spectacular as is the modest joining of these two characters, but what it comes down to is that actually experiencing The Illusionist isn’t only a major downer, but a downright bore, too.
Voice Acting: N/A
By Perri Nemiroff