If I could play God, when the Best Animated Feature envelope is torn open at next month’s Oscars, the winner wouldn’t be the presumed lock of “Toy Story 3,” but the dark horse, “The Illusionist.”
Go see “The Illusionist,” opening Friday, but leave the kids at home — not because of content, but because the PG-rated film has nothing that will be turned into items on next year’s Christmas list. The French work is near-silent, adapted by Sylvain Chomet (“The Triplets of Belleville”) from a story by the late Jacques Tati, that country’s king of comedy.
Unquestionably based on Tati, the title character is a past-his-prime magician who finds that his style of entertainment is no longer in vogue in 1959 Paris, where rocking guitars have usurped pulling rabbits. While traveling, however, he gains his biggest fan in a teenage girl; together, they form a surrogate father-daughter relationship.
Its plot is admittedly slight, but blossoms with immense heart and warmth. With so little dialogue, Chomet lets the story be told in its splendidly hand-drawn visuals, with a wonderful score echoing each emotion, but shorn of audience manipulation. No pushed pixels here; this was painstakingly crafted by hand, with a sheer love for the medium that bathes its every frame. —Rod Lott