Nice illustrations, boring plot
Directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol
Starring Gaspard Gagnol, Edouard Baer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Audrey Tautou
Now Playing at the Kendall Square Cinema
Phantom Boy is an animated film full of charming, vibrant illustrations that take on a detective noir aesthetic at times — a nice break from Pixar’s 3D animation. The film has a handful of heartfelt moments, but the movie doesn’t start to pick up the pace until about two thirds in. The dialogue leaves much to be desired, and the plot is about as predictable as it gets. The film is for children, but unlike some other kids’ movies, this one might be best left for the PG audience.
The setting is a French-speaking New York City, and our star is Leo (Gaspard Gagnol), a young boy with a chronic illness and a remarkable superpower. He reveals to his younger sister that ever since he became sick, he can become a phantom, floating out of his body to fly around New York City. Leo loves superhero stories and wants to become a police officer one day, and throughout Phantom Boy, he gets the chance to test his mettle and save the day.
The film opens by following two storylines, soon to intertwine. On the one hand, we have Leo as he arrives at the hospital for his latest round of treatments. On the other, we see an unlikely friendship emerge between a journalist, Mary (Audrey Tautou), and a police officer, Alex (Edouard Baer). Alex is badly injured in an altercation with the story’s villain, the Man with the Broken Face (Jean-Pierre Marielle), and meets Leo at the hospital.
As a children’s movie, it may be appropriate that the villain is the most colorful character, drawn with the most detail. The Man with the Broken Face sports a colorful face mask that looks as if it were created by Picasso himself. Though the Man with the Broken Face seems to take over New York City with relative ease, he isn’t a very menacing (or competent) villain.
The movie sets up the Man with the Broken Face to be some horrible villain and a huge threat to the city, but he doesn’t really seem to have a plan. There are a few moments of suspense, but never a real feeling of pressing danger. The movie has a few funny slapstick moments featuring a comically sinister dog that will probably garner a few chuckles.
While the movie revolves around the police trying to capture the Man with the Broken Face, it is a little too convenient (and irritating) that the police chief won’t take Alex’s theories seriously despite the fact that Alex is the only police officer who had actual contact with the Man with the Broken Face — perhaps such is a children’s movie. Though (physically) stuck in the hospital, Leo and Alex become friends and figure out a way to thwart the Man with the Broken Face using Leo’s phantom abilities.
Two versions of the film will be playing, one in French with English subtitles and the other dubbed in English. Phantom Boy is now playing at the Kendall Square Cinema.