Like many adults, I really enjoy a good children’s film. Now that my nest is thoroughly empty, however, I have far fewer opportunities (or imperatives!) to scope them out.
Of course, the emphasis must always be on ‘good’ – not an adjective to be applied lightly in the broad church of cinema, especially when it comes to kiddie flicks (I will never fully recover from my exposure to Baby Geniuses). So I was quite excited to see that Phantom Boy, a new animated feature from the creators of 2014’s Oscar-nominated A Cat in Paris, will open at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, July 29.
Unlike A Cat in Paris, there are no anthropomorphized animals to be found in Phantom Boy. The film’s characters are (almost) uniformly human: Leo, a young boy suffering from a serious illness (presumably, though not explicitly, cancer); Tanguy, a wheelchair-bound police officer; Mary, a spunky young journalist voiced by Audrey Tautou; and a super villain with a yappy dog (non-talking variety).
Though a Franco-Belgian co-production (as with A Cat in Paris, the Shattuck will be screening both subtitled and dubbed prints of the film; this review is based on the former), Phantom Boy takes place in a vaguely recognizable New York City. The town is under threat from a baddy with a facial expression only Pablo Picasso could love, and he intends to bring the City That Never Sleeps to a grinding halt unless the Mayor accedes to his demand for one billion dollars.
Despite this Doctor Evil scale threat, The Man with the Broken Face has only a few weapons at his disposal: two lunk-headed henchmen, the aforementioned nasty little dog, and a piece of malware he’s somehow installed on the city’s servers. Other than causing a blackout, it’s not clear what kind of mayhem the malware can actually unleash, but its creator implies it might even worse than Stuxnet.
It’s up to Leo and Tanguy, who’ve met in hospital while undergoing treatment, to stop him. Serendipitously, Leo has discovered he has a special power that allows him to leave his body and fly, ghost-like, through solid matter. Tanguy takes advantage of this skill to track down and capture TMWTBF before he can activate the password-protected program that will bring New York to its knees, while Tautou’s character provides on-the-ground physical support for our immobilized heroes.
Phantom Boy tries but fails to match A Cat in Paris’s old world charm, relying on heavier doses of slapstick humor and groan-inducing plot developments to keep things moving. Its New York setting and Home Alone-style bad guys suggest it’s aimed at a wider international market than its predecessor.
A very brief trip to a strip club aside, however, there’s nothing here that will harm the little ones, and they’ll probably be charmed by Leo’s annoyingly unexplained skill (I know, I know, I need to use my imagination). Unlikely to satisfy the grown-ups as much as did A Cat in Paris, Phantom Boy is a slightly disappointing summer time-killer for bored youngsters waiting for the school holidays to end.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.
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