'Titeuf, the Film'

For the eponymous protag of "Titeuf, the Film," there's nothing worse than not being invited to the birthday party of the coolest girl in school, not even the fact that his parents are going through a rough patch.

For the eponymous protag of “Titeuf, the Film,” there’s nothing worse than not being invited to the birthday party of the coolest girl in school, not even the fact that his parents are going through a rough patch. Titeuf’s childlike view of the adult world is equal parts naivete and early-teen rebelliousness, and the feature debut of monomonikered Swiss comicbook artist Zep, adapting his own material, is mostly confident and frequently funny. The 3D animated pic has done extremely well since its early April release in Gaul, with more than 1.2 million admissions.

Something of a national treasure in France, where his comicbooks have topped the charts for years, Titeuf might have a harder time charming foreign auds on a similar scale. Zep’s unflinching view of the highs and lows of preadolescent life, which includes a developing sense of sexuality as well as a healthy dose of gross-out humor, could be deemed less suitable for preteens offshore. (A 2005 British translation of one of the comics in which the character is called Tootuff — though the original French means “little egg” — was tepidly received.)

Titeuf (voiced by Donald Reignoux) is about 10, though he looks like a baby; his huge, egg-shaped head is bald except for a single blond and bouncy plume of hair. He’s in love with his classmate Nadia (Melanie Bernier), but each time she looks in his direction, he does or says the wrong thing (sample dialogue: “All girls suck”).

When his bickering parents decide on a trial separation, Titeuf’s life is turned upside down, though he tries to focus on getting himself an invitation to Nadia’s birthday party as a distraction. His mother (Zabou Breitman) goes to stay with her parents (Maria Pacome, Jean Rochefort) in the (lovingly rendered) countryside, while his dad (Sam Karmann) remains in the city as he tries to adjust to life as a potentially single parent, something Titeuf finds he does rather too easily.

Though the film’s narrative focuses mainly on Titeuf’s everyday dramas, in keeping with a child’s low-goal priorities, talented scribe-helmer Zep integrates some spectacular setpieces that allow him to take advantage of the animated medium more fully; these include a dinosaur-era prologue and an impressive musicvid-like sequence, set atop a moving train, in which Titeuf duets with Gallic rock legend Johnny Hallyday (who does his own singing). Appropriately, music plays quite a large role in this coming-of-ager.

Animation is clearly inspired by the original comicbooks, though the backgrounds are more detailed and have a less cartoonish look than the characters. Given that Titeuf and his family and chums never looked particularly multidimensional to begin with, the 3D adds little. In fact, in one key sequence, in which Titeuf and Nadia face each other and the “camera” circles around the pair, it becomes evident that Zep and the animators did not conceive their characters in three dimensions at all, creating all sorts of spatial problems. Stereoscopic issues aside, overall animation quality is high.

The flavor of the very slangy dialogue, some of which has actually entered French youth jargon, will be tough to translate. Voice cast is strong, with all the kids having cartoonish, hyperactive voices. Veteran actor Michael Lonsdale (“Of Gods and Men”) strikes a welcome note of calm in the small role of a shrink.

Titeuf, the Film

Animated - France-Switzerland

Production

A Pathe Distribution (in France) release of a Moonscoop, Pathe Prod., France 3 Cinema, Pointprod, RTS production, in association with Canal Plus, CineCinema, France Televisions. (International sales: Pathe Intl., Paris.) Produced by Benoit Di Sabatino, Christophe Di Sabatino. Directed, written by Zep, based on the character created by Zep.

Crew

Camera (color, HD, 3D); editor, Xavier Mutin; music, Thierry Blanchard, Nicolas Neidhardt, Zep, Moise Albert, production designer, Max Braslavsky; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), Francois Musy, Gabriel Hafner. Reviewed at Cine Utopia, Luxembourg, May 7, 2011. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Voices: Donald Reignoux, Maria Pacome, Jean Rochefort, Zabou Breitman, Melanie Bernier, Michael Lonsdale, Sam Karmann, Johnny Hallyday. (French dialogue)
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