Hi ! I’m Mathilde, aka Belette, French Iggle and proud, and I want to introduce you to French animation. What can you tell me about French animation classics ? I bet you’ve heard of The Triplets of Belleville, which was nominated for the Oscars in 2004; you may also know Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s masterpiece which won the Oscar in 2008. Maybe you’ve seen them both -and it was a good idea. But I’m pretty sure that most of the wonderful cartoons I grew up with are unknown outside France. It’s a shame! French animation is various and surprising, and sadly, I won’t be able in this post to show you everything I like about it. Here are a few examples, I hope you’ll be curious!
I’ll start here with the TV shows. It might surprise you, but French studios worked on Highlander: The Animated Series and Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats, so they’re considered as French animation even if the universes are not French at all! I loved Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats, which is called “Les Entrechats” here, and the theme song was unforgettable -both in english and in french. Of course, we also have our own original stuff!
I don’t know what was the first animated show on TV in France, but I think The Shadoks was the beginning of something. Even if created in 1968, it is timeless. The Shadoks are strange, stupid creatures and they are always doing stupid things. Their design is like a child’s drawing and the animation is compendious. It’s quite a phenomenon here, people either hate it or love it. If absurd humor is your thing, you should like it – I do.
Some of the French cartoons have a bizarre humor, you never know if it’s meant for kids or adults, just like Space Goofs (Les Zinzins de l’espace). It’s the story of crazy aliens who live in an old house and -poorly- disguise as humans to get rid of visitors. The same company produced Oggy and the Cockroaches (Oggy et les cafards), which is a very silly show using slapstick humor, about a gang of coakroaches who do pranks to the two cats living with them. On the other hand, you also could watch I Reynard (Moi, Renart) which tells the story of a kleptomaniac and classy anthropomorphic fox…
But we also produced serious shows, I swear! As we grew up, most French children discovered the world, biology and history with cartoons named “Il était une fois…” (once upon a time…). Each cartoon talked about a different subject, but they all featured the same main characters: the old and wise man, the nice guy, the bad guy… It was easy to recognize them in each story and made everything more understandable.
One of the most depressing -yet beautiful- cartoon was Clémentine. Basically, it’s a girl in a wheelchair who travels the world to find a cure while, in her dreams, she fights terryfying demons. Most French people grew up with Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea (Les Mondes Engloutis), a science-fiction story with a social criticism twist.
I highly recommand those shows!
I’ll end this part dedicated to the animated series with two more recent shows you might like. The first is Code Lyoko, which follows the adventures of teenagers between the real world and a virtual one, in which they fight against an evil program –Tron style. The other one is Minuscule, an adorable 3D-cartoon full of insects, which is set on a natural French countryside! It became a César-winning movie last year.
At the beginning of the post, I wrote about animation movies: you might not know, but studios from France created some pretty good movies I think everybody should watch. I’ll take only five very different examples, but there are so much more… Again: please, be curious.
I’ll start with the famous The King and the Mockingbird (Le Roi et l’Oiseau,), the movie which inspired Miyazaki to become an animation director. The scenario was written by Prévert, the genious poet, and it’s both entertaining and beautiful. Both children and adults will love this magical and enchanting movie. Sadly, it will lose a bit of its charm with a translation.
Fantastic Planet (La Planète Sauvage) is not what I’d call “famous” here, but it is considered a classic. This masterpiece has the most peculiar art -the animation is actually made of paper cuts- and a wonderful science-fiction story. It’s based on a book about humans who are pets to giants… Very interesting, and I personaly think it’s one of the best animation films ever made.
Based on a book too, The Suicide Shop (Le Magasin des Suicides) is a crazy and funny musical. OK, I admit: the music is awful and the lyrics aren’t that good. But what makes the movie incredible is the way the animation is done -it’s like paper cut ! This hilarious story of a kid who wants to brighten the life of people while his parents are selling them suicide methods is really worth watching.
Loving *good* songs and romantic stories ? A Monster in Paris (Un Monstre à Paris) is a nice musical which, obviously, takes place in Paris, in the beginning of the 20th century. There is a monster, a cabaret singer, a scientist, a love story: if not perfect, this animation movie is the closest thing to a blockbuster made by a French studio, and it’s absolutely lovely.
Kirikou and the Sorceress (Kirikou et la Sorcière) is a wonderful animation movie, meant for kids but with a lot more meanings for an adult. This is the story of Kirikou, a little boy in an African village who, as soon as he was born, started to talk. He’s so clever he figures out a way to get rid of the witch who terrifies his village. Songs, beautiful art, nice story: this movie has everything.
French people should have noticed something, it’s that I didn’t really talk about the Franco-Belgian comics adapted in animated series or movies. Lots of famous comics just like Tintin, Astérix, Spirou, Lucky Luke, The Smurfs, Blake and Mortimer, became very good animated series or movies. But bande dessinée is serious business, and I don’t want you to discover those iconic characters elsewere than in the pages of the books !
This is the end of this post -my first, yeepee !- thank you for reading me to the end. I hope you enjoyed learning things about French culture. Now, you can go watch everything I talked about and more, and don’t forget to tell me what you think of it.
Featured image copyrights : © 2002 Les Armateurs, © Diaphana Films, © J. Rouxel, © Gebeka Films, © A2, © Sophie Dulac Distribution, © ARP Sélection, © DDH/Canal+, © Procidis