Movie Maniac

Visually beautiful tale 'The Illusionist' a magical experience

“The Illusionist (L’illusionniste)” may be animated, and while there isn’t anything objectionable about it, it’s not kiddie fare.

It’s poetic, sophisticated, sweet and charming. And even though it’s lesser-known, it nabbed a surprise Oscar nomination for best animated feature (knocking out such blockbusters as “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Despicable Me”). It opened in Wichita on Friday for a limited run.

Almost completely hand-drawn, “The Illusionist” is visually, artistically beautiful, looking almost like a moving watercolor painting in subdued hues and stylized features on its characters.

And although it’s a French film and there are some French words spoken, there really is very little dialogue throughout — but the story doesn’t need it (the few French words that are spoken don’t have subtitles, either, but they aren’t necessary). This is almost a silent film set to tender music.

Not to say there is no emotion, the characters evoke feeling through their actions and expressions, and we know — practically feel — what they’re thinking.

The story starts in 1950s Paris, with an aging, not very talented illusionist, who is finding that his act of pulling rabbits out of hats and sleight-of-hand tricks are going out of style.

Rock bands are taking over the stages he once played, and younger audiences aren’t interested in him. So he wanders looking for a place to perform, finally settling in at a small village pub off the west coast of Scotland.

That’s where he meets Alice, an innocent young girl working at the pub and the hotel above it. While the other patrons are only slightly amused by the illusionist’s talents, Alice is awestruck and thinks his magic is real.

Slowly, the two lonely people become friends — even though they don’t speak the same language — through small acts of kindness. And slowly, that evolves into more of a loving father-daughter relationship.

When the illusionist departs the hotel for Edinburgh, Scotland, Alice stows away on the boat with him, leaving her life behind.

They find a boardinghouse for vaudevillians, and Alice maintains their small room while the illusionist works at a small local theater.

Soon, he becomes even more of a father figure to her, lavishing her with gifts. And not wanting to disappoint her and ruin her belief in magic, he even takes a second job at a local garage to make ends meet.

Then Alice meets a man and falls in love. And that changes all their lives dramatically.

“The Illusionist” (which was directed by Sylvain Chomet, whose “The Triplets of Belleville” also was nominated for an Oscar) certainly is quietly powerful. It’s delightful, funny and eventually sadly sentimental. Like I said, not kiddie fare.

But there is something about it that rekindles a youthful wonder, which gives “The Illusionist” a magic all its own.


“The Illusionist”

Three stars

Rating: PG (thematic elements and smoking)

Directed by: Sylvain Chomet

Showing at: Warren Theatre (east)