Fantastic Planet (1973)

Review #1,353

Director:  Rene Laloux
Cast:  Barry Bostwick, Jennifer Drake, Eric Baugin
Plot:  This futuristic story takes place on a faraway planet where blue giants rule, and oppressed humanoids rebel against the machine-like leaders.

Genre:  Animation / Sci-Fi
Awards:  Won Special Jury Prize (Cannes)
Runtime:  72min
Rating:  NC16 for some nudity
International Sales:  Tamasa Distribution

“What a shame we can't play with her anymore.”

An animation competing for the Cannes Palme d’Or is as rare as it comes, but Fantastic Planet has had the distinctive honour for more than forty years, even winning a Special Jury Prize for its achievement. 

You have to turn back the clock to the early ‘70s, a time when animation was still synonymous with American cartoons.  For the longest time prior to the ‘80s, before Japanese anime reached more mainstream and international exposure, Walt Disney and co. were dominating the medium.  So the existence of a counter-force in Fantastic Planet was sure to have raised a few eyebrows when it was first released.

Fantastic Planet is a French animated feature with arthouse sensibilities, dealing with adult themes of philosophy, existence and power.  Made using the innovative cut-out animation technique, the film draws from its bizarre visuals influences from the surrealist art movement, and of speciesism, a prejudicial notion of moral domination as a result of a whole species thinking it exists as superior to others. 

What if humans become playthings of huge giants?  That is how the plot first start on this note, but the film has a strong undercurrent of politics that not only shapes the relationship between the ‘Draggs’, the giant blue aliens, and ‘Oms’, the human slaves, but one that was also shaped by the context when it was made—the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. 

Although directed by Frenchman Rene Laloux, much of Fantastic Planet’s animation was done by Czech animators, who at that time were arguably above everyone else in Europe in their field.  Czech animation in general, as led by such stalwarts as Jan Svankmajer (Alice, 1988), who made award-winning surrealist shorts since the ‘60s, was considered the pinnacle of European animation, and it’s no surprise that Fantastic Planet had benefitted from such artistry and creative nous. 

Alain Goraguer’s music, a mix of ‘70s synths, wah-guitars and bass, arranged in a trippy, jazzy style adds to the psychedelic experience that lasts all of its economical 72 minutes.  Short it may be, but it is not slight at all.  After all, the animation deals with such serious and important themes as the machinations of enslavement, the revolutionary spirit of the oppressed, and the perils of prejudice, all of which are still painfully relevant today as they surely were back in the ‘70s.

Laloux’s one-of-a-kind film, strange and disturbing in almost every way, ultimately fascinates because despite being a fantasy, it hits home the fact that humans are easily capable of such atrocities and ill-will against one another, and will for the eternity of time, continue their mutual devastation. 

Verdict:  This bizarre yet fascinating French cult sci-fi animation is one-of-a-kind, and a disturbing look at the machinations of enslavement. 


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