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The International Writers Magazine
: On the Oscar Winning 'Triplets'.
Reverend Father Antonio Hernández, O.M.D., A.B.F.
Founder of the Independent Order of American Buddhist Fathers

The Triplets of Bellville

The days of repulsive Japanese anime (that's Japanese for "animated cartoon" in case you didn't know) are hard upon us, dulling our minds and senses. Pokemon is more popular than ever, more due to its refusal to go away than anything else. Now we have 'microtoons', ten or twenty seconds of animated nothing (e.g., "Clone Wars", courtesy of Cartoon Network). Thus it is a shock to discover a new masterpiece, a jewel, among all this trash. It isn't American, which is automatically a good sign ever since the demise of Chuck Jones.

It's a French-Belgian-Canadian collaboration called "Belleville Rendezvous" (mysteriously mistranslated as "The Triplets of Belleville"), and it is an animation marvel such as I have never seen in all my decades.
Grandmamá Souza, a round, tiny, club-footed Portuguese Sephardic Jewish lady living in Paris, has her hands full with her grandson, Champion. At the cartoon's beginning, we see Grandma trying to catch little Champion's interest- apparently the child's parents are deceased. Champion shows some interest when grandma buys him a puppy, who is aptly named Bruno. No matter what Grandma Souza does, whether it's piano-playing or watching the train set while knitting, Champion seems bored.

Then Grandma Souza notices a photo cut from the newspaper- it leads to the discovery that Champion wants to be a Tour de France cyclist. She buys him a tricycle, and Champion is elated. We then cut to several years later. Champion is truly a cycling champ, and Grandma Souza is pacesetting right behind him, with her bossy little coach's whistle, riding Champion's old tricycle. She trains him up nicely, and becomes quite the rim-balancing expert to boot.

At the Tour de France- the most classic animated sequence ever filmed- Champion is kidnapped by two identical henchmen of an evil French gangster. He is taken to New York City (thinly veiled as "Belleville") to serve as a slave in a gambling parlor. Grandma discovers that something is wrong, and she spots the people who took her grandson from Monte Ventoux. Her van-driver, an unbelievably realistic old French gentleman, aids her in tracking Champion to the wharf.

The rest is cinema history. Grandma Souza takes fat old Bruno with her on a pedal-boat (called a "pédalo") out into the open ocean, to follow the ship her grandson is on... it is as breathtaking and lonely as any scene from Storm of the Century. They arrive in the Big Apple, which is unflatteringly shown in its true light: everything and everyone is big and fat. The Statue of Liberty looks like a 400-pound wrestler, as she holds a hamburger on a plate above her fat head.

Grandma loses track of Champion, but meets up with three hilarious, wraithlike old ladies. They are none other than the once-popular legendary group, the Triplets of Belleville. Three-time 'Oscar' winners for a hit song called "Belleville Rendezvous, Grandma Souza and Champion once watched them on television when they were young. We are treated to a scratchy 1920s-like television broadcast of them performing, at the very start of the cartoon.

Things are so bleak that they take in Grandma Souza and Bruno- they will end by helping her in ways they could never imagine. They are daredevils at heart. But not before Grandma Souza has to endure several meals comprised entirely of frogs and tadpoles- and not until she has performed on stage with the triplets at the local restaurant.

Here, Grandma spots the men who took her grandson, wends her way into the oppressive "French Wine Center", and what she finds is a surprise too wickedly good to give away. Same with the ending- but I can advise my readers to watch for a handy little thing, several of which the triplets always have with them.
This film is animation at its best, something like the last of Disney's great films before computers came along. While "Triplets" has some computer animation, it is seamless, and pales against the good old-fashioned hand-painted cels. The characters come to life with such power that it seems someone copied our families as inspiration. The humor is wry, tongue-in-cheek, but always hilarious. And Grandma Souza is one tough Jewish grandmother!

As my good friend and editor Sam North wrote in his review, the French don't come across any more beautified than the Americans. They are Art Nouveau, stereotypical, symmetrical, geometrically shaped, wine-sucking sloppy and robotic. They are all, in fact, exactly as the dog Bruno perceives- and dreams about- them. Only 'Madame' Souza, as she is wrongly called in reviews, is sympathetic and familiar.
The soundtrack is also pure gold. From Gounoud's "Dies Irae" and Bach's "Brandenburg Concerti", to the haunting ambient music, "Triplets" affords a timeless magic, a savory, grown-up magic comparable only to "Fantasia". There is precious little dialogue in the film; what little is heard is hilariously apropos. Listen for Grandma Souza's special, heartily belted-out Portuguese song, "I Am Portuguese".

This film should be shown at schools, in my opinion. Not only is it unashamed art-for-art's-sake: it is the very pinnacle of it. We find ourselves enmeshed in the characters and their story, interwoven in a way that cannot be easily described. Rarely has any work on film accomplished that as well as "The Triplets of Belleville".


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