Our TIFF dispatches are off to a very slow start but it's only because both Amir and myself, Nathaniel, have been cramming so many screenings in on the first few days. For now, a brief animated diversion.
French directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol were surprise Oscar-nominees just four years ago for A Cat in Paris and they're back with their second full-length feature. You could call this one A Cancer Patient in New York to mentally connect them but that doesn't have a catchy ring to it and wouldn't sell tickets to families.
The subject this time is a remarkable little boy in New York City who leaves his afflicted body in the hospital each night to regularly float above the city. He's become so adept at the astral projection that he helps other patients in the hospital when their spirits start wandering away.
When his parents leave the hospital each night it's clear that this is now familiar routine as he follows them home where he sees more private moments. When they cry he tenderly averts his gaze from respect at their stiff-upper-lip efforts of composure in the hospital.
If that makes Phantom Boy sound unusually dour for a cartoon, fear not. It's emotions may spring from its matter of factness about life and death and danger (such a welcome change of pace for a kid's movie) but, as befits a cartoon about a high spirited (sorry) young boy who wants to grow up to be a cop, it's also an funny adventure story. Consider the tagline.
He's eleven, he's invisible, he can fly, and he's got 24 hours to save New York.
Through a series of dastardly crimes and comic misshaps outside the hospital the boy becomes involved in the story of a policemen, also hospitalized, and a His Girl Friday type alpha reporter who are both out to stop a "disfigured" villain (his face is amusingly cubist as opposed to disfigured). The villain is threatening to wipe out New York City with a computer virus.
Though the story begins to feel a touch repetitive towards its derring-do finale, it is never less than pleasant with an engaging story and memorably odd beats. Sometimes the film straight up soars, particularly in its quieter moments when we go flying with the boy, reading a story to his baby sister, or marvelling at the way he slips in and out of his body, sometimes like it's as natural as stretching and other times like he's slipping on clothes that no longer fit as well. Running through the pleasantry and peaks is the always expressive traditional animation, sophisticated sight gags, endearing broadly sketched characters, and a really top-notch long-running joke that keeps threatening to abandon its punchline. Highly recommended.
Oscar Chances: I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it among the nominees this year if it qualifies. But it's worth noting that their last film A Cat in Paris (2010) didn't show up in the Oscar race until a year after its premiere so this one may float towards the gold in 2016.