If you know the track record of French animator Bibo Bergeron – responsible for 2004’s Shark Tale and 2000’s The Road To El Dorado– you may assume that it would be best to stay clear of his latest directorial effort A Monster in Paris (2011) – but you would be wrong.
Set during the Paris floods of 1910, a monster is accidentally created and unleashed onto the streets by a meek cinema projectionist, Emile (Sébastien Desjours) and buffoonish inventor Raoul (Gad Elmaleh). When they discover that the monster is nothing less than an over-grown flea with the voice of an angel (obviously) they hide the creature in the cabaret of friend and love interest Lucille(Vanessa Paradis), far away from the dastardly Maynott (François Cluzet) who plans to hunt the creature down.
An historical newsreel opens A Monster in Paris, showing the damage the floods were causing. This is then neatly blended into the well-known animated style of Bergeron. This beginning sets up a cinematic theme that runs throughout the whole film, drawing on classic horror characters of literature and cinema, particularly The Phantom of the Opera and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. After this impressive start the film drops in interest until the start of the toe-tapping tunes of the cabaret. The catchy Latino influenced songs possess a great deal of charm, with one of the English voices being that of Sean Lennon, son of John and Yoko Ono.
The animated panoramas of Paris are beautifully naive and manage to capture the magic of the city. The characters tick all the boxes of zany, cute, absurd and scheming, all of which provide for entertaining viewing. Annoyingly (though unsurprisingly) the film is in 3D, which works well enough in the panoramic sweeps of Paris but is quite unnecessary overall.
The most enjoyable thing about Bergeron’s film (and akin to Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film Hugo) is that even though it references material that today’s children would be unaware of, it’s still very much a children’s movie. There are no irritating ‘in jokes’ for adults that pepper so many children’s films of recent years; it doesn’t talk down to its audience, but simply recognises what they enjoy. There are moments where the action drags, but ultimately, A Monster in Paris is worth seeing for the beautiful animation and songs alone.