×

Film Review: ‘Phantom Boy’

After finding success in America, the creative duo behind 'A Cat in Paris' adapt their style to a New York-set supernatural detective story.

With:
Audrey Tautou, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Edouard Baer, Jackie Berroyer, Gaspard Gagnol, Noa Bernaoui-Savreux. (French dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1856057/

Galvanized by a surprise Oscar nomination for “A Cat in Paris,” animation co-directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol stand their stylistic ground with “Phantom Boy,” producing another pop-art kidpic whose vibrant hand-rendered look openly defies the trend toward smooth, computer-generated toons. Where the city of Paris gave “Cat” much of its personality, this relatively awkward follow-up takes place in an alternate New York — a parallel version of the Big Apple where everyone speaks French, and the citizens are progressive enough to elect a black mayor, but so technologically backward that an amateur hacker can bring the city to its knees.

Already acquired by Gkids, “Phantom Boy” ought to find a slightly wider theatrical audience than its predecessor, though script shortcomings make it less suited for kudos, if only because adults will find less to hold their interest. For young audiences, however, this story of a bedridden 11-year-old who discovers that he can float free of his body should easily delight, blending sentimental fantasy with radio-serial detective story elements to intriguing effect.

With his serious health problems, Leo makes for an extremely unconventional hero: His potentially terminal condition worries his family, but comes with the unusual perk of allowing him to float phantom-like wherever he pleases — from the city’s tall skyscrapers to the Statue of Liberty’s torch. While drifting around the hospital, Leo makes friends with a courageous cop, Alex, who’s recuperating on the floor below, volunteering his unique gift to serve a pivotal role in an ongoing police investigation.

Across town, a mobster who calls himself The Man With the Broken Face (for obvious reasons, since his Cubist countenance might as well be lifted from a classic Dick Tracy lineup) is planning an attack on the entire city’s infrastructure. As villains go, this oddly old-school goon doesn’t seem all that threatening — or competent, for that matter. While clearly modeled after Batman baddies, the Man’s jigsaw-puzzle face suggests a rejected Picasso painting, while his dainty feet and yappy mutt Rufus undermine whatever fear he’s supposed to strike into the city’s residents.

Since the Gotham police chief inexplicably refuses to pursue any of Alex’s hunches until the frustrated cop has fully recovered, that puts Leo in an invaluable position. Hovering unseen, he can spy on the bad guys — or even look out for their mutual friend, Mary, a fearless journalist who volunteers her services, communicating with Alex by cell phone, while Leo serves as his eyes and ears.

It’s a complicated arrangement, considering the sickly sidekick’s weird superpower comes with certain rules: Leo can only leave his body for so long, and while gone, he becomes almost comatose, able to speak and hear, but not move. (Will the boy die if he’s separated from his body for too long, and are those really reasonable emotional stakes for such a movie?) Animation-savvy viewers will spot conspicuous CG assists here and there, particularly with the  boats and water featured during the climax, though the film’s most essential effect — Leo’s ghost-like blue glow — is as old-fashioned as it gets.

Though Felicioli and Gagnol’s visuals suggest colorful kidlit illustrations come to life, their labor-intensive style isn’t for everyone. Their hand-drawn characters have a strange malformed look, with uneven eyes and seemingly radioactive lines — the latter due to the jittery “SquiggleVision” technique, a common enough cheat used to suggest dynamism in relatively static low-budget toons. Aesthetically speaking, “Phantom Boy” may fall at the other end of the spectrum from super-polished DreamWorks and Pixar product, but the directors’ impressionistic touch won’t seem so alien to fans of Cartoon Network and Nicktoons series, which have conditioned youngsters to such playful expressionism and, alas, many of this creative project’s narrative shortcomings as well.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Phantom Boy'

Reviewed at Annecy Animation Film Festival, June 19, 2015. Running time: 84 MIN.

Production: (Animation — France, Belgium) A Diaphana Films (in France), Gkids (in U.S.) release of a Folimage presentation, produced with Lunanime, France 3 Cinema, Rhones-Alpes Cinema, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cine Plus. (International sales: Doc & Film Intl., Paris.) Produced by Jacques-Remy Girerd. Executive producers, Emmanuel Bernanrd, Michel Nicolas, Tim Martens. Co-producer, Anneie Deryse.

Crew: Directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol. Screenplay, Gagnol. Izu Troin; editor, Herve Guichard; sound, Loic Burkhardt; re-recording mixer, Jean-Paul Hurier; colors, Maryse Tuzi.

With: Audrey Tautou, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Edouard Baer, Jackie Berroyer, Gaspard Gagnol, Noa Bernaoui-Savreux. (French dialogue)

More Film

  • Noele trailer Anna Kendrick

    Disney Unveils 'Noelle' Trailer Starring Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader

    Among the many announcements at the D23 Expo, Disney debuted the first look at holiday feature “Noelle,” which is set to premiere exclusively on Disney Plus this fall. “It isn’t Christmas without Santa’s Sister,” Walt Disney Studios said of the film on Twitter. Starring Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader, the Christmas flick tells the story [...]

  • A Hidden Life Movie Austria

    Film News Roundup: Austin Festival Selects Terrence Malick's 'A Hidden Life'

    In today’s film news roundup, the Austin Film Festival selects a Terrence Malick title, “A Day Without a Mexican” gets a sequel and DCR Finance signs a first-look deal. FESTIVAL SCREENING The Austin Film Festival will screen Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life,” which won the Francois Chalais and Ecumenical Jury awards at the Cannes Film [...]

  • Blake Lively

    Blake Lively's 'Rhythm Section' Moved Back to 2020

    Paramount Pictures has moved the release date of Blake Lively’s “The Rhythm Section” back two months from Nov. 22 to Jan. 31, 2020, the weekend of Super Bowl LIV. The spy tale, adapted from Mark Burnell’s novels surrounding character Stephanie Patrick, is produced by James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson through their [...]

  • The Mandalorian

    'The Mandalorian': Watch the First Trailer for 'Star Wars' Series

    The gunslinging lone warrior — the Mandalorian, as they call him — calls the far reaches of the “Star Wars” galaxy home. Disney dropped the first trailer for the spinoff series during its biennial D23 convention on Friday, finally giving fans a closer look at the franchise’s newest character. “The Mandalorian” creator Jon Favreau, who [...]

  • Lady and the Tramp trailer

    'Lady and the Tramp': Disney's Live-Action Remake Gets First Trailer (Watch)

    Ready your dog-friendly bowl of spaghetti, Disney has debuted the first trailer for its live-action remake of “Lady and the Tramp,” starring Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux. The teaser was released during Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim at the Disney + presentation. In addition to Thompson and Theroux, who play the Lady and Tramp, respectively, [...]

  • Mickey Mouse waves to members of

    Spider-Man, Spicer and Splashy First-Looks: Everything We're Looking For at D23

    As if Disney hasn’t owned enough weekends this year at the box office, the biennial D23 Expo will light up Anaheim, Calif. over the next three days to celebrate the content monolith. From a new Netflix-competing streaming platform to scores of movie and series reveals — along with a few hot controversies to confront — [...]

  • Angel Has Fallen

    'Angel Has Fallen' to Dominate Modest Box Office With $20 Million Weekend

    Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman are leading the way at the North American box office with “Angel Has Fallen” on its way to about $20 million, early estimates showed Friday. Should forecasts hold, “Angel Has Fallen” will take in about double the next title, Universal’s second weekend of raunchy comedy “Good Boys” with about $10 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content