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A review of this film by a guy actually named Sébastien because her mother liked the 60's TV series so much, what a concept! So this film is based on a children's novel by Cécile Aubry telling the story of a friendship between a young boy called Sébastien and a big white dog named Belle living in a small French village in the mountains in 1943. Before watching the film, I was only familiar with the anime version of the 80's that I loved, so I cannot evaluate how faithful it is to the original novel. My impression and Wikipedia tell me that a few creative freedoms were taken. So, we hear about a "beast" in the mountains killing sheep. Sébastien lives with his grandfather César and spends most of his time outdoors. It's revealed quite soon that the "beast" in question is actually a big dog that was beaten up by his former master, fled and became wild. Not that wild since Sébastien discovers the dog and quickly befriends her in secret, although the dog is still hunted and in constant danger of being killed by the villagers. Sébastien eventually names her "Belle" because once cleaned up, she's so beautiful. Of course, there's also a play on the Beauty and the Beast theme, la Belle et la Bête, that Sébastien probably never read. Not initially related but eventually becoming important, is that France is occupied by the Germans, and there's a clandestine operation by the French passing Jew refugees over the mountains to reach another country. There are regular visits by the Germans in the nearby village and they want to stop this.
So, I found the movie rather peaceful and relaxing with beautiful mountainous landscapes. Contrary to what another review says, there is a story and even a few mysteries such as what happened to Sébastien's mother, who's helping the Jews and the true motivations of a few characters. I loved Belle, she was expressive and she looked like I what I envisioned she should in real life. I didn't like the actor Sébastien so much. Yes, he's cute, but a few times, there was a little something off in the way he played. It didn't seem all natural for lack of better explanation. The relationship between him and Belle was mostly fine, but there was some chemistry missing. I sometimes felt some kind of "disconnect" between him and her. The other adult actors were adequate, except for the doctor that I found bland, and the German lieutenant that I found more interesting than the rest. In fact, I liked how ambiguously he was portrayed.
The animal sequences didn't particularly impress me, as it sometimes felt as if they were filmed separately, although they were real animals. Scenes of danger, especially the last one, felt a bit awkwardly filmed. At one point, there was a song sung by Sébastien in the background that I found very corny, but it might be my cynical adult side complaining. The couple of other songs sung by an adult woman fared better, but I would have preferred just poignant music instead. I don't really remember the soundtrack otherwise. I wish I would have been moved emotionally by the film, but I wasn't really, although I found a few sequences charming. So maybe it's nostalgia for the old cartoon talking, but for me, this adaptation, although competent enough, seemed to lack a certain magic. I'd recommend it for big dog lovers. As an aside, my girlfriend, not familiar with the story, liked the film much better than I did.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (good)
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