A Monster in Paris

A Monster in Paris (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

A delivery to the botanical gardens goes horribly awry when Raoul (voiced by Adam Goldberg) and Emile (Jay Harrington) decide to step beyond the front door and play with some of the potions while the professor in charge is away on a trip. What results from a chemical mixture is a giant creature, about seven feet tall, with red eyes, hairy, and spikes all over. Soon, the creature is spotted by Parisians and a collective fear in the air grows thick. Maynott (Danny Houston), who is aspiring to become a mayor, takes advantage of the situation by volunteering to hunt down, capture, and eliminate the beast.

Not groundbreaking by any means, “Un monstre à Paris,” directed by Bibo Bergeron, is a nice-looking computer animated picture that offers a few chuckles, songs that are easy on the eardrums, and an extended chase scene near the end that is sure to catch the attention of children under the age of ten as well as adults with nothing much to do. But the problem with the film is that it fails to put anything truly special on the table. It will not be remembered ten years from now.

It starts off strongly. It gives the impression that the lead character is a shy projectionist who cannot find it within himself to ask out a co-worker named Maud (Madeline Zima) on a date. Instead, he daydreams of heroic ways to approach her, like fighting a dragon that emerges from a fountain. This opening scene is cute and effervescent but not so frothy that the possible romance is jammed down our throats.

It has an eye for details. The faces and bodies of certain characters resembles that of food. Look closely and notice Raoul’s face likens that of a banana. Madame Omelette’s body is shaped like an egg. The picture’s playful nature is evident but not overbearing. There is even a running gag involving a thief who appears to be unable to catch a break.

Turning the focus on a singer who is rather moody and up herself is a risk, which is appreciated, but a big miscalculation. Lucille (Vanessa Paradis) comes across as hard, her personality that of sandpaper, but the animation shows her face and body as soft. If the screenplay had offered a deeper and well-ironed story, it might have worked. Here, it is awkward and I found her to be off-putting. She may have the voice of an angel on stage but I would not want to share a meal with her and pretend to be interested in whatever she had to say. I kept waiting for Raoul to snap out of whatever spell he is under and realize that Lucille should be the one wooing him.

The monster is not that appealing to the eyes. He is neither scary nor adorable. I wondered if perhaps it has something to do with the design. Granted, he is supposed to be gargantuan in stature but putting a so-called lovable face on top of that build is, like Lucille, a contradiction that does not work. I might have preferred it if the monster is completely adorable or completely horrifying.

“A Monster in Paris” is a movie that is safe—which makes it boring at times. One of the main ingredients that makes the Pixar movies so successful is that they are willing to take calculated risks whether it be in terms of character design, story, or message. Here, it feels as though it is consistently taking the middle ground. What’s the fun in that?

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