Toy Story 3 is heralded by many, myself included, to be the frontrunner for the Best Animated Film award at next year’s Oscar ceremony. The creators behind Toy Story 3 may not want to get their acceptance speeches ready just yet. If there is one film that could pull off the upset, it will be The Illusionist. A humorous and touching film, The Illusionist could potentially steal some of Pixar's thunder come award season.
Helmed by Sylvain Chomet, the director who brought the world Les Triplettes de Belleville back in 2003, and based on an unproduced script by Jacques Tati; The Illusionist centres around a magician, Tatischeff, who goes to great lengths to keep a poor Gaelic girl believing in magic. Tatischeff seems to be the last vestige of a golden era of performers. The world no longer cares about folks who do magic tricks as rock bands, like The Brittoons, are now the focus for young minds. While performing in a small Scottish pub, Tatischeff comes across a young girl who works as a maid in the establishment. Seeing that the girl is in need of new footwear, Tatischeff uses some of the money he receives from the performance and buys her a nice pair of shoes. The girl believes Tatischeff magically pulled the item out of thin air and, as a result, decides to follow Tatischeff assuming his magic will bring her a better life. Not wanting to dampen the girl’s spirits, Tatischeff is forced to take on extra jobs in order to keep the charade going.
Behind Blue Valentine, The Illusionist ended up being my second favourite film at this year’s TIFF. The film is far more moving than you would expect from an animated feature. It nicely reaffirms how powerful a simple act of human kindness can be without being too sentimental. Although Tatischeff becomes a surrogate father to the young girl, his kindness does seem to influence the girl to do the same for others. In one poignant scene the girl makes stew for a few of the other tenants in their apartment, including a suicidal clown. Despite having several characters, like the aforementioned clown, whose lives are downright miserable, The Illusionist is a wonderfully uplifting work.
The Illusionist is as much a tribute to Jacques Tati as it is a look at the power of the human spirit. Tatischeff is not only a representation of Tati but, in one playful scene, actually ends up in at cinema that happens to be showing Tati’s film Mon Oncle. This scene, as well as numerous others, will evoke a smile from even the grumpiest viewer. Plus if the story does not grab you, which it will, the visuals surely will. The animation is beautiful especially the jaw-dropping details in regards to the Scottish landscape. The fact that the majority of the film was hand-drawn speaks volumes. Sylvain Chomet is able to evoke more genuine emotion out of the film, using very little dialogue, than most of the computer rendered 3D animated features that fill most multiplexes today.
I cannot recommend The Illusionist highly enough. I am confident that it will not only join Toy Story 3 in the animation Oscar race; but it shall also join that film on my list of best films of the year as well.