The Rain Children

An anti-war, pro-ecology toon for all ages, "The Rain Children" is a boldly told tale about trusting leaders whose favorite activity is sending youth off to war. Although some scenes are too harsh for very young viewers -- mom chomped by a dragon, spread-eagled warriors left to fry in the sun -- pic conveys the salutary notion that it is possible to be an excellent citizen while questioning authority.

An anti-war, pro-ecology toon for all ages, “The Rain Children” is a boldly told tale about trusting leaders whose favorite activity is sending youth off to war. Although some scenes are too harsh for very young viewers — mom chomped by a dragon, spread-eagled warriors left to fry in the sun — pic conveys the salutary notion that it is possible to be an excellent citizen while questioning authority. Franco-Korean co-production hangs together surprisingly well for a story that neither charms nor tries hard to be likable, and has been a steady local earner since opening in Gaul June 25.

Venture marks the first time producer Marin Karmitz has bankrolled animation, and comes when a new crop of European toons is emerging in which French coin is prominent. The one-of-a-kind “Belleville Rendez-Vous” is doing fine, though June 4 release “Kaena” underperformed despite name voice talents. With the exception of Michel Ocelot (“Kirikou”), no Euro tooner in more than a decade has approached the success Japan’s Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away,” 2001) has enjoyed in Gaul.

Heavy exposition informs that cosmic order was sliced in half when ying and yang were rent asunder. This yielded two separate civilizations locked in holy war.

The combative Pyross worship the sun and live in forbidding cliffs. Water is very bad news for them, much as it was for the meltable Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Meanwhile, the serenely self-actualized Hydross are as at home in water as Flipper. Too much sun turns them into statues, however, and they spend a full season paralyzed, in hibernation.

High priest and absolute dictator Razza sends hand-picked Pyross knights into the desert to combat the Hydross and capture their sun stones, which give off heat during the dark cold winter. Alas, the squires — pages-cum-stable boys — never come back.

Skan, whose father died a hero and whose mother is arrested for suggesting Razza is out for his own gain, trains to be a squire. He’s assigned to accompany Razza’s creepy son on a combat mission, during which he discovers a dirty secret as well as love for fetching Hydross lass Kallisto.

Narrative of “Rain” is a grab bag of elements borrowed from different faiths, mythologies and adventure sagas. In the 20-some years since Rene Laloux (“Fantastic Planet”) wrote an initial adaptation which stalled for lack of funding, the animation industry has taken stylistic and narrative leaps that make pic’s anti-fascist storyline a little creaky. While final result isn’t completely original — and graphic renderings are skimpy and/or derivative in places — pic manages to create its own clearly defined rival camps within an otherworldly, imaginary universe.

The Rain Children

France-South Korea

Production: An MK2 Diffusion release of a Leon Zuratas/Marin Karmitz presentation of a Belokan Prods., MK2, France 2 Cinema (France)/Hahn Shin Corp. production. (International sales: MK2, Paris.) Produced by Leon Zuratas, Marin Karmitz. Directed by Philippe Leclerc. Screenplay, Philippe Caza, Laurent Turner, based on the novel "A l'image du dragon" by Serge Brussolo.

Crew: Lead animator, Philippe Caza; special effects, compositing, Hahn Shin; music, Didier Lockwood; art director, John Day. Reviewed at UGC Les Halles, Paris, June 30, 2003. (Also in Annecy Film Festival -- opener.) Running time: 86 MIN.

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