It wasn’t marketed as a children’s film, but it should have been. It had very little dialogue yet said more than most talk-heavy movies in its genre. It was French, but has mass appeal. It’s called The Triplets of Belleville, and chances are you and you children have never seen it.
But you should.
The wonderfully obscure animated film was released in 2003, and quietly made its way around the world. It’s the story of a Tour de France racer, Champion, and two fellow riders who are kidnapped by the mafia. In pursuit of Champion is his grandmother, Madame Sousa, her dog and the titular Triplets, a music hall singing trio.
The adventure that ensues is reason enough to watch this with the petite enfants, but moreover, it’s the understated animation, the characters and the lack of dialogue that make Triplets such a joy. Rendered in a palette of gritty earth tones, the scenes are driven by style and action. Period costumes — harkening to the ’20s and ’30s — and oddball characters are supported by a foundation of era-specific jazz, recalling the music of Josephine Baker and Django Reinhardt.
Talking the kids into watching this may be a bit of a challenge. It’s far from bombastic, and there are, maybe, five full sentences spoken throughout the entire film. Try enticing them with the PG-13 rating. (“It’s almost rated R!”) Though unwarranted, the rating is probably due to a few harrowing chase scenes, images of gangsters and a few people smoking. But honestly, it’s little to worry about. If your kids are sitting through The Deathly Hallows, Triplets will seem tame.
This parent guarantees that 10 minutes into the film, you and your kids will be hooked. The exaggerated pantomime and sticky situations will keep your kids guessing as to what’s going to happen next. There are imaginative fantasy sequences and knee-slapping gags perfect for youngsters, and the adult themes will set squarely in parents’ consciousness. This is a story about love, about the human spirit and about fearlessness.
Check out this brief scene for an example of how no dialogue can convey so much emotion:
The pacing of the journey out to the ocean liner alone creates such an ominous air that, in the context of the entire film, is nearly unbearable. These moments are rife in the film, and kids respond with as much enthusiasm as they would watching battle scenes in Transformers movies. It’s a magnificent experiment to engage in, one that may encourage your kids to become more involved in the experience of watching films as art, not just as entertainment.
We owe them a little of that every once in a while … don’t we?