Magic vs. reality in Sylvain Chomet's lovely, animated 'Illusionist'
he lovingly hand-drawn animated feature, The Illusionist, is an artifact of another era—in so many ways. The second feature from French animator Syvain Chomet (his first was the nutty-sweet The Triplets of Belleville), it has the look of old-school cel animation, in which every luscious frame is a mini work of art. The milieu it depicts, too, harks back to an earlier time, the waning days of postwar vaudeville, with its plucky variety acts, once-glamorous theaters, and slightly seedy showbiz hotels.
It’s not surprising then that the script was actually written decades ago by the late French film comic Jacques Tati. Although the word "script" can only be loosely applied to the scenario of plot and encounters in a film that is mostly without dialogue. Tati himself was practically a mime, in a series of live-action comedies with the visual gags, balletic precision and timelessness of silent film comedy. There is sound aplenty in The Illusionist —voices, music, laughter, traffic—but very few distinguishable words, which contributes much to the wistful whimsy and charm of Chomet's film.