Sometimes it really helps that I self-publish all my own reviews and don’t have a higher authority in which my reviews have to go through so I can do things a little unconventionally. This being said I feel like I can level with you, my reader, and give my unfiltered thoughts to you straight up. So, before I took in the new animated French film Phantom Boy, I was thoroughly disappointed by the adaptation of the famous comic book Killing Joke, something I had high hopes for. Thoroughly disgruntled and with no expectations at all, I came home and threw on the screener for this new film from the makers of A Cat In Paris, which was nominated for an Academy Award. Completely surprising to me, the film actually proved to be an incredible palate cleanser and I was astounded to find my bad mood turned completely around. Viva La France!
Unconventional in its animation, Phantom Boy is a beautiful use of realistic sound against a thoroughly French looking backdrop of hand drawn characters. With Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me movies, another France production, the character designs were something that really were the lower points of the film to me but with this film, I felt able to let it slide. The rich colors used throughout the movie let these problems just flow by me as I got deeper and deeper into the story, something else that is just as unconventional when you peel away the layers.
Taking place in New York City, Phantom Boy’s titular character is a young man named Leo, who has been diagnosed with a terminal disease and, at the start of the film, is telling hero stories with his little sister, preparing her for the eventuality of him going back into the hospital for treatment. Our other main is Alex, voiced by Jared Padalecki , a police lieutenant that has been known to be a loose canon, bringing countless headaches to his chief. While working the beat, Alex comes across a villain (Vincent D’onofrio) only addressed as “the Face” who is hellbent on destroying the whole city. In the altercation that follows, Alex is hospitalized and ends up in a wheelchair due to his injuries, hampering him from pursuing this man who wants to make his name by descending the Big Apple into chaos. To do this, Alex will need all the help he can get.
This is where Leo comes into Alex’s life. The young boy possesses a power that will prove to be very effective for what Alex needs to do. Leo is able to, in a way, astral project himself out of his body while his body is still able to say exactly what he sees and hears. After convincing Alex of his power by following his journalist friend, Mary, Leo starts to aid the injured policeman to save the city and thwart any future plans from the comically insecure villain. Unfortunately, the very unorthodox crime fighting duo is on a time clock as each time Leo leaves his body, it’s for a shorter amount of time and leaves him weaker and weaker every time. Leo and Alex may be able to save everyone in the city but it may come at the cost of a young life.
The atmosphere of Phantom Boy was something that I thought was astoundingly refreshing as, on the outside, the film looks fun and fanciful, which it is, but it’s far deeper than any throwaway fantasy story. There seems to be an underlying cops and robbers thread that travels the whole film, much like a noir “Sam Spade” style film. This seems to run alongside the apparent homage that directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol are playing on, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Alex consistently finds himself as a character that can only watch and listen as the action happens, helpless to the consequences, much like Jimmy Stewart in that classic film.
I spoke before about the sound of this film but I really must stress how much it adds to the experience of the whole movie. Sure, the feet may be pointed in an unnatural way but the dedication to real sound and immersing in in a real world feeling gives the film a lot more weight, definitely where the suspension of disbelief is needed more. That and some great writing for the voice cast really are the films greatest strengths, the humor shining through in places where the story may lag just a little bit. Among those more noticeable voices that Supernatural fans and D’onofrio fans will pick up, some great voice over actors make nice appearances like comedian Fred Armisen and, my personal favorite, Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s Dana Snyder. Being one of my favorite and most unutilized comedic voices, it always elevates a movie to hear the same voice as Master Shake.
As much as I really found myself enjoying Phantom Boy, it may be a hard sell for anyone who doesn’t appreciate a good coupling between animation and sound. The story might seem a little too fluffy at times but really, if you think about it, that’s just on the surface. Looking a little closer, it’s a film about a child almost accepting his eventual fate and trying to make a mark on the planet in any way he can and at the most ultimate price, his own existence. I found this deeper meaning the most interesting as I thought the film over before giving my thoughts to you. It’s entirely possible I overthought it but this theme seems to be consistent through the running time of the movie. I think it’s worthy of any fan of animated films to check out, rather than let it get buried by all the Pixar, Dreamworks or Illumination film. I give it a four out of five.