Up until this week the champion of classic and indie films, Criterion, has only released 2 animated films– Fantastic Mr Fox and Watership Down. Well, now they have a third entry: the 1973 french science fiction film Fantastic Planet. As you might expect from Criterion, it is different from mainstream fair, but I think worth taking a look at.
If you are a fan of Don Hertzfeldt and World of Tomorrow, I think you may like Fantastic Planet. It’s a little less obtuse than World of Tomorrow but there are some similarities in the style and storytelling.
Fantastic Planet was directed by René Laloux with production design from Roland Topor and it tells the story of a distant planet Ygam in the future, which is ruled by blue giant creatures called Draags. Humans exist in this world but are called Oms and are basically the pets of the Draags.
One particular Om boy named Terr is adopted by a Draag named Master Sinh. The Draag have a special device or headband that allows them to learn via osmosis. Eventually the Draags loose interest in Terr and he escapes with a headband that gives him access to the learning device. He eventually joins a group of other Oms who are routinely managed using population control tactics by the Draags.The story goes from there but I won’t give any more away.
I am sure you can tell from that plot description that Fantastic Planet is not going to be for everyone. It has a psychedelic feel of the 70s and certain moments are admittedly bizarre (but in an artistically interesting way if you ask me). But if you can persevere through the strangeness, the film does have interesting things to say in its allegory about group thought, traditions, racism, population control, peace and education.
Fantastic Planet is an adult animated film with nudity but more in a tribal setting like watching a film with natives of a particular culture. It’s not salacious in any way; although reproduction is part of the allegory. It can be bloody as well.
Part of the joy of watching Fantastic Planet is how completely different it is. I especially love the unique animation and production design created by Roland Topor. It was made using cutout stop motion animation, a technique I haven’t often seen. I really like the vibrancy of the colors and the way the sketches move on top of the backgrounds. There’s surprising depth to the images given this style.I suppose when you see as many animated films as I do it’s refreshing to see something so different. I also really like the music by Alain Goraguer, which is psychedelic and strange without being overbearing.
Fantastic Planet was distributed by Roger Corman in the United States who was famous for producing and directing independent horror movies like the original Little Shop of Horrors in 1960, Swamp Women and Attack of the Crab Monsters. I can see why someone with his sensibilities would be attracted to Fantastic Planet.There are chilling moments and yet the movie feels small and thoughtful.
For Criterion, the extras are a little disappointing. We get two short films made in the 1960s by Roland Topor and René Laloux. Then there are three pieces made for French and Italian TV which profile Topor and Laloux. I was hoping to have more information about the movie and perhaps its influence (like I love the interview with Guillermo Del Toro on the Watership Down Criterion).
But still if you are tired of mainstream animation and want something different Fantastic Planet is definitely worth picking up. Criterion has done a painstaking 2K digital restoration with monaural soundtrack. It looks great and will be a wonderful addition to your animation collection.