Directed by Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli
Starring the voices of Fred Armison, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jared Padalecki, Marcus D’Angelo
Released 21st October 2016
Animation Phantom Boy made its UK debut as part of the Family strand at the London Film Festival this month. Now the latest from Gagnol and Felicioli, makers of A Cat In Paris (2010) spreads its wings into British cinemas – and the directors have moved the action to New York.
Eleven year old Leo has a secret. He’s in hospital with a serious illness, but he also has the ability to transform himself into a phantom boy. This means that, while he’s asleep, he can leave his body and fly around the city without anybody seeing him. While he’s in hospital, he meets a cop who has the same condition but is stuck in a wheelchair after trying to arrest a gangster who’s holding the city to ransom. The race is on for the two, plus a fearless journalist, to save the city from total destruction.
The special powers idea is straight of super hero comics and both Gagnol and Felicioli gives themselves plenty of opportunities to indulge in their favourite art form. Here, though, those powers are mixed with reality and the have their limitations. Leo’s illness is clearly life threatening and it has a serious effect on his family: his parents constantly worry and his little sister talks to him when he’s not there simply because she misses him. His illness has weakened him, which makes stopping the gangster from destroying his home city even harder. He can only stay out of his body for a certain amount of time, after which what’s left of his strength starts to fade. He doesn’t know for sure what would happen if he pushed his powers too far, it’s a safe bet that the outcome wouldn’t be great. He may be flying through the air, but the film’s feet are firmly on the ground.
There’s plenty in here for all the family. Adults will pick up all the references to detective stories and thrillers: the film positively overflows with them and it’s similar to watching a lighter weight cop drama. Diagnosis Murder, perhaps, but with no Dick Van Dyke. For children, it’s open and honest about the realities of being in hospital – needles, taking blood and feeling ill – but that’s all balanced by characters having exaggeratedly comic moments, in an almost Loony Tunes or Tom and Jerry style, so there’s some laughter as well.
The animation mixes computer graphics with hand-drawn images on paper: the drawings were in wax crayon and the backgrounds re-worked on a computer. So the pencil and crayon lines are visible on screen, and it emphasises that what we’re watching hasn’t all come out of a machine. It helps in another way, because the style is angular – people have slanted eyes and pointed faces – so the hand-drawn lines soften what could otherwise have been very hard images. There’s some imaginative moments as well, literally allowing the audience to look at the world through the eyes of the characters, eyelids and all. Put together, it produces images that you easily accept and, because the English voice overs are an especially good fit, you take it all in.
The film makers’ heritage gives it a pleasantly old fashioned feel, even if the setting is very much present day – mobile phones come in rather useful, but there’s a payphone in there as well. Phantom Boy has enough action to keep the children interested and more than enough to cater for the adults. The only thing it lacks is just that extra spark of originality.
Phantom Boy was released on Friday, 21st October and reviewing on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 20th October.