A review of “The Triplets of Belleville” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for cartoon violence and adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes



Oooh la la and a certain je ne sais quoi permeate every frame of this imaginative French gem that leaves ordinary animated projects in the dust.  

Madame Souza is a woman of pure Gallic gusto; a feisty grandmother who adopts her grandson Champion and frets while he grows fat and lonely. The vigilant Madame sparks to the notion that Champion fancies bicycles, and revels in the joy of his first tricycle.

As Champion matures, the pair lives and breathes a rigorous two-man training program.  Champion rides for interminable miles on his sleek two-wheeler and develops into a rider worthy of his name, while Madame picks up the pieces as trainer, nurturer, and in-house counsel.

The family sacrifices come to a head at the whirlwind Tour de France competition.  Champion endures the grueling mountainous slopes as Madame and faithful pooch Bruno play pit-stop support crew. The trio’s dreams of athletic glory collapse when Champion is kidnapped by a pair of devilish Mafioso, looking egregiously chic in head-to-toe black. 

Madame and Bruno set out on an arduous journey to recover their Champion, literally crossing an ocean to the bustling metropolis of Belleville.  Once there they encounter the infamous Triplets of Belleville, a trio of eccentric 1930s cabaret singers with hearts of gold and an ardent desire to see the petite family reunited once and for all.

No standard mafia crime caper this, nor is it kiddie fare. The evil henchmen are running an underground cycling marathon at which athletes are grossly maltreated and physically abused. The triplets themselves are a kinky lot who subsist on freshly caught (read: live) pond frogs and tirelessly reminisce about their days in the spotlight. 

Belleville is surreal and refreshing, suffused with a quirky joie-de-vivre that’s appreciably absent from standard American cartooning.  The spare drawings are adult in nature and reminiscent of Fernando Botero’s voluptuous artwork. Frames are inhabited by plumply pleasing eccentrics who spring off the screen with two-dimensional flair.

With virtually no dialogue to support the narrative, one wizened and purposeful woman speaks volumes about loyalty and destiny.  Weird, wacky, and entirely original.