The string of Pixar hits and the mammoth worldwide gross for DreamWorks’ Shrek gave movie studios the signal to dump hand-drawn 2-D animation for the shinier, more popular CGI. Apparently Sylvain Chomet didn’t get the news. The French comic-strip artist spent five years making The Triplets of Belleville (also known as Belleville Rendez-vous), about an old woman who raises her grandson to be a Tour de France champion. There’s a dog, some bike-napping mafiosi and three old chanteuses whose diet consists entirely of frogs they catch by tossing hand grenades into a nearby stream. Vous guessed it by now: Triplets is terrific.
Chomet, who seven years later made the Jacques Tati–inspired The Illusionist — and who, for Triplets, did use computer animation for the film’s cars, boats and trains — has a canny design eye to match his narrative wit. The old woman is stocky and clubfooted, a compact metaphor for stubborn dedication; her grandson is so spindly, he could ride Giacometti’s chariot; Bruno the dog has more personality than 101 dalmatians. The movie isn’t aimed at kids, but they will find plenty to beguile them. And don’t worry that the film is French; it has hardly any dialogue. Doesn’t need it. There’s eloquence enough in the movie’s gnarly imagery and Chomet’s understanding of the human impulse not just to survive but also to save others.