Monday, August 13, 2007

Fantastic Planet

I don't remember what got me all nostalgic about this movie, but I found out the entire thing is on YouTube, in pieces. So I watched it again. It's the French version, without subtitles--maybe that's how they get around copyright laws--but the story is simple enough that I was still able to follow it pretty well, especially since I read a couple of on-line synopses first.

Anyway, "Fantastic Planet" was a French/Czech coproduction originally titled "La Planete Sauvage," directed by Rene Laloux. It had its first release in America in December 1973, so I would have been 11 when I first saw it. What an eye-opener this was for an eleven-year-old!

Based on a French sci-fi novel titled "Oms En Serie," it tells the story of Terr, a young human (or "Om") who grows up as the plaything of Tiva on the planet Ygam. The humans' planet has been taken over by these giant blue humanoid aliens called Draags, and what few humans survive have been brought back to their home planet as pets and playthings. However, just like tribbles, Oms reproduce at a rate that alarms the Draags and many have escaped into the wild, so the Draags are constantly trying to cull the human population. The giant blue Tiva takes Terr as a pet after his mother is killed by a group of Draag kids.

Years later, Terr escapes from Tiva's house with a Draag teaching machine and joins a group of wild Oms in a park. They use the machine to learn Draag language and science. Armed with that knowledge, they begin a rebellion against their alien masters.

This sounds larger in scope than it really is. There's very little plot on display here, very little in the way of cause and effect. So much of the film consists of action in the background, depicting Terr and fellow Oms walking past landscapes of incredible strangeness, like a landscape of twisting orgainc pipes that look like intestines, which kink and curl and spasm when it rains. The characters are dull and undistinguished; the planet is the star.

Watching it now, it is obviously a product of its times. It has that early 70's psychedelia to it, a proto-synthesizer soundtrack, a ponderous and self-important obscurity in the storytelling. And it's full of sex, or at least it looked that way to an eleven-year-old kids who was just beginning to notice that girls were different in good ways. All of the female Draags have prominent bare breasts, although the Draags are distinctly non-sexual. The savage Oms also run around in clothes that leave at least one breast bared. There is a scene in which Terr watches the Oms conduct a mating ritual, which echoes a later scene in which the humans witness a Draag mating ritual (the climax of the film). The film begins with Terr's bare-breasted mother and ends with the Oms disrupting a Draag orgy, and everything in between is filled with the soft moans of a woman's voice on the soundtrack.

"Fantastic Planet" opened my eyes to the fact that animation was not just about funny animals and superheroes. It showed me a world of new possibilities, and though "Fantastic Planet" doesn't realize those possibilities terribly well, it is memorably weird and sometimes disturbing.

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