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The Illusionist (2010) Review


RATING:
(3 STARS)

The Illusionist is an odd little film that doesn’t do much but is charming enough to get away with it. The film is Sylvain Chomet’s follow-up to The Triplets of Bellville, and anyone who’s remotely familiar with that film won’t be surprised to hear that this features some unique animation. Even more noteworthy, however, is the decision to make the film virtually dialogue-less. It’s a bold choice, but the sweet central relationship—and the wonderfully slim running time—ultimately makes the lack of dialogue an acceptable and enjoyable stylistic choice. If only the film carried a little more heft, I’d be able to give it as strong a recommendation as its fellow Best Animated Feature nominees, Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon.

The film takes place in post-WWII Scotland and England, and follows an old-fashioned illusionist who is getting up there in years and losing a little of his talent—not to mention the fact that magic as a form of entertainment is being shunned in favor of rock-and-roll. So the illusionist travels along, struggling to find an audience. But a young girl he meets in a pub, Alice, is immediately taken by his magic. She thinks it’s real and decides to follow the illusionist on his “UK tour,” so to speak. The two develop quite a bond, but in his quest to make Alice happy, the illusionist buys her things and begins to go into debt. The result of his problems will change their relationship and give both of them a tough life lesson.

Though punctuated with moments of gentle humor, The Illusionist is a drama through and through. The overall arc of the film is actually quite tragic, as we observe the decline of a delightful profession and the dissolution of Alice’s innocence. That being said, the film never gets too serious. The simple charms of the animation are enough to keep a smile on your face, and watching these two individuals bond is the film’s chief pleasure.

I’m unfamiliar with Jacques Tati, but from what I’ve read it’s impossible to see this film and not discuss the beloved French comedian and filmmaker. The Illusionist comes from the mind of Tati, and the illusionist himself is supposed to be modeled after him. Not knowing Tati or his work, I’d say the film reminded of the work of someone like Buster Keaton. The illusionist is clumsy at times, and his mishaps are quite funny. But the humor is never over-the-top. All the laughs are relatively subtle, and they help give the film a good, steady pace.

Ultimately, though, The Illusionist just feels like a minor entry in the surprisingly good 2010 film canon. I consistently enjoyed it, but I rarely felt crazy, head-over-heels, in love with it. The smiles it brought to my face were welcome, but it hasn’t left much of an impact on me. But if you’re looking for a pleasant way to spend an hour and 15 minutes, The Illusionist is a better than solid choice.

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