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In respect to the country of origin -- and this review was not planned in advance -- I want to talk about the existential nature of animated movies.
In the modern age, clear trends are in place. In Japan, which has become the home base for an entire universe of animation (known as anime) we have a wide variety of animation styles all of which have one thing in common -- depth. Japanese anime is the closest thing I have found to a true alternate universe. Ten minutes in a good Japanese anime, you begin to see the characters as almost real and their reality becomes your reality. Japanese anime is an extraordinary experience.
Western animation (leaving aside the superhero films, which are unique in their own way and follow their own rules) is best exemplified by the work of the Disney studio, Pixar and the occasionally brilliant independent project such as for example the mind-boggling LITTLE PRINCE 2015.
What western animation offers, beyond a great story, is a zeal to express the characters to a degree not possible in live action. It is as if, in western animation, characters are "injected" with more personality than could be possible in real life. The number of major awards currently going to "voice actors" in the west reflects this trend.
Which brings to Phantom Boy.
The story is odd. It is essentially a paranormal tale based on the notion of Astral Travel. (You can get a crash course in this by watching the new Dr. Strange).
The paranormal tale is mixed with a typical crime story -- cops and robbers being much more popular in France than in other cultures -- and the whole thing is served up to the viewer in a very unique and stilted animation style.
And now we get to the crux of the review.
Watching Phantom Boy, I could not help but notice that (with the sole exception of the character of the baby sister) not one character in the film had the "oversized" personality we have come to associate with animation. In fact, most of the characters had either "toned down" personalities (the cop and the boy) or, worse, "unpleasant" personalities, ie, characters who were not much fun to watch or listen to (the arch-villain and even his dog).
(And yes, I speak French, so I did not miss any nuance in the dialog).
Which raises the question, if you are going to negate the very quality that makes animation fun in the first place, why use it at all? My review -- and fans of the producers will not agree I know -- is that this film is more irritating than entertaining because of the fact that most of the characters (except the little sister) are either dull as toast or deliberately written as annoying. The story would have been more interesting as live action, all things considered.
The ending is sweet and that is the nicest thing I can say about the film.
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