More noise than signal

Fantastic Planet

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Now, in so far as I am ever 100% sure about any of my addled memories, I am sure I’d not even heard of Fantastic Planet in advance of this podcast. More fool me. René Laloux’s 1973 La Planète sauvage, a French / Czech co-production presents a startlingly animated took at a most peculiar planet indeed. For a frame of reference, perhaps the most widely popular similar animation look and feel would be Terry Gilliam’s work for Monty Python, although the tone here is rather less humorous, but if anything, more surreal.

We are introduced to Tiwa a young Draag girl, from a race of hulking, titanous blue humanoid aliens, with highly advanced technology and weird psychic meditation powers. Not quite Dr. Manhattan level, but getting there, for all you Watchmen fans out there. While out playing one day she comes across an orphaned infant wild Om, that she cajoles her parents into letting her keep it, with the promise that she will house train it and feed it and walk it, and so on. Oms, by the way, are humans. not the deity from THX 1138.

For such is Ygam, the world of Fantastic Planet, where some Oms are raised as pets, with a remote control collar to prevent them scampering off, as Tiwa fits to the infant she names Terr, while some live wild as tribals in the often bizarre and dangerous environment of Ygam, occasionally culled as pests and frequently tormented for fun by younger Draags. Draags age much more slowly than Oms, so before long Terr has grown to a rebellious adolescent, who has been teaching himself with the telepathic tutoring device intended for Tiwa.

He soon makes a break for freedom, tutoring doohicky in tow, and makes contact with a tribe who initially keep him at arms length, viewing him as an outsider and possible spy, before eventually his knowledge leads to them avoiding a purge, and in what’s admittedly a bit of leap, invading a disused Draag space facility where they repurpose that tech to escape to the planet’s moon, which is the actual titular Fantastic Planet, where further revelations await that could see a peace brokered between the races.

Fantastic Planet is, on the narrative surface at least, a strange fruit indeed, all backed by a psychedelic jazz soundtrack and with an animation style that’s all decidedly non-traditional, certainly as viewed from today. It’s a visually imaginative and impressive world, which if anything only suffers from not being explored enough. Boiled down and bulletpointed, you could, I suppose, argue that the overall narrative and even the exploration of the characters and the world is overly rushed, and there’s not much of a counter to that in a 70 minute film.

It certainly feels like it could easily sustain a miniseries at least, but the flipside of that is that there’s certainly never a dull moment, and oddball visuals and concepts are thrown at you in such quick succession that it is dizzying, in a good way indeed.

It is, I think, more concerned with making an overall allegory, which I’ve seen claimed to be about animal rights, which I suppose works but is rather more literal than the points on colonialism and slavery that came to mind when I watched it. It works on all those levels, although admittedly not while saying anything more obvious than “these are bad”, but, well, this was, as far as I understand, still aimed at a young teen audience.

I suppose as best a summary I can give is that it’s narratively a bit immature, but visually and in terms of its imagination and overall concept, it’s fairy sophisticated, and certainly worth a mere seventy minutes of your lifespan.