I remember seeing the feature length cartoon Fantastic Planet (La Planete Sauvage, 1973)when I was young & the film was brand new. It played at the Neptune Theater in Seattle, a nice big screen, & it was an overwhelming experience.
It left very deep impressions. It was a film embraced by the counterculture of the time. I hadn't seen it in decades, & I was a little bit afraid it was going to turn out to be one of those things that was perfect for its day but in retrospect as goofy as wearing a paisly shirt while singing "if you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair."
Imagine my delight that the film is much more than a perfect stoner's psychedelic dream. The animation from the art of Roland Topor is elegant, eerie, imaginative, sometimes reminiscent of Salvadore Dali, elsetimes of the animation of Terry Gilliam. It is a perfect antidote to Disney or Japanime arch-commercialism.
It is certainly no wonder that it received Special Grand Prize at Cannes in 1973. The only thing puzzling is how it could've receeded from public awareness, as it's not half as well known today as it ought to be.
It tells the story of the savage planet on which the blue Traags are a race of gigantic hominids that keep humans (or Oms) the way we on Earth keep pet rats, but simultaneously attempt to exterminate "wild" humans as pests.
The first half is told by a tame Om so that we become intimately familiar with the society of the Traags who have an advanced aesthetic culture of meditation & emotional detachment.
When Terr the pet Om escapes to the wild, the rest of the story is about the lives of wild Oms, their persecution & slaughter by the Traags, & their appropriation of Traag technology to assist their quest for freedom & safety.
Based on the novel Oms En Serie (literally Oms by the Dozen, 1957) by Stefan Wul (pseudonym of Pierre Pairault, 1922-2003), his works of science fiction are well-known with sustained cult status to French-speaking readers, but very little has ever been translated into English, so outside of Europe he's not as well known as he deserves to be.
Fantastic Planet can be taken as a literal fantasy but is simultaneously a fable of struggle against Soviet Russia's incursions into Europe. A viewer doesn't have to consider the symbolic meaning to appreciate the fairy tale, but the symbolism does lend a bit of depth to an otherwise simple story.
I watched the French language version with English subtitles. I suppose it might have been just as good with the English dub which I never heard, but I wanted the artist's full vision inclusive of audio, & I in general mistrust dubbing because of what it does to spoil live-action films, even though animation can more easily bare up in different languages.
If there is any flaw in the film, it is in the climax. After such deliberate & even hypnotic pacing with plenty of time to appreciate the ramifications of the story & the highly imaginative visuals, the ending changes that pacing entirely.
It's extremely rushed, as though money for further animation ran out. It involves revolutionary changes in the cultures of the Oms & the Traags, yet it leaves one thinking, "Hmm, that was quick." Apart from the haste of the conclusion, this is a masterpiece throughout.
The DVD includes three earlier short works of animation by LaLoux. None of these are really excellent, though The Snails (Les Escargots, 1965) is best & most reminiscent of the wildlife imagery that would later be developed for Fantastic Planet.
Monkey's Teeth (Les Dents du singe, (1960) incorporates designs by mentally ill people LaLoux encountered while working at a psychiatric clinic, but apart from the novelty of the inspiration it is poorly done. Dead Times (Les Temps morts, (1964) is a trivial homage to death & human cruelty.
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