27 August 2013

#2LR Too Late Review: A Monster in Paris

Tonight's #2LR Too Late Review is A Monster in Paris.  Yeah, I hadn't heard of it either.  That's okay, though, feel free to check your Netflix instant queue, that's where my wife found it.  The movie is a family movie, and it's perfectly suitable for kids (not like, say, Shrek with the occasional joke that the kids ask to have explained and you feel slightly uncomfortable).  It's in the cookie-cutter CGI mold, so if you've seen, for instance, Megamind or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, you'll be familiar with the art.

Getting back to how obscure this movie is, this movie is really obscure.  I don't know if any additional hits will generate from me writing about it here, but that's okay; me remembering the movie and telling you readers about it is fine, too.  I'm writing this description just as much for me so that I can remember the movie as I am writing for you readers to enjoy.

  Spoiler Space ahead (and this time, it really means something!)

The movie is set in Paris, 1910.  The backdrop is a Paris that is partially submerged from a flood that no one really expected.  Film projectionist Emile is shown first, daydreaming about his crush Maud, but gets interrupted by best friend Raoul.  Before Emile can ask Maud out for the first time, Raoul drags Emile away on a whirlwind adventure running Raoul's delivery route.

At the last stop of the night, they come across the greenhouse and lab of the curator of the botanical gardens.  He has a monkey valet (!) that is intelligent enough to provide cards to respond to questions.  After repeated warnings, Emile and Raoul end up playing in the lab, first creating a giant sunflower and then inadvertantly splashing an unoffending flea.  The flea grows to seven feet tall and runs off before attacking.

The police commissioner, Maynott, gets wind that a "monster" is loose in the city and uses it as a crisis to punch up his candidacy for mayor of France.  (Noun, verb, nine-eleven!)  There are various sightings of the bug through the city, e.g. an old woman, a man and wife, etc.  Eventually it comes to the doorstop of one of Paris' leading clubs, The Rare Bird.  There's a featured signer there... no, not Ol' Blue Eyes, but a girl that Raoul is crushing on but doesn't want to admit.

The singer, Lucille, also gets startled by the seven-foot flea.  The flea saves her when she swoons, making sure she doesn't hit the ground.  She comes to while still in the flea's ... uh, arms, I suppose, and scrambles back to the relative safety of the building she just left.  The flea remains outside, and then... starts singing.  (Keep following me, don't get sidetracked.)  This happened from one of the other potions that Emile and Raoul were playing with in the botanical gardens.  When the monkey was hit with it first, he gains a beautiful singing voice, and the flea is no different.  The flea can't seem to communicate by talking, just singing... much like the real-life Flea.

Lucille is enchanted by the singing and sets about disguising the bug from the city's rampaging policemen.  She manages to find a leftover mask from The Phantom of the Opera and adds a white variant on the Zorro costume for the giant flea, which she renames Francoeur.  Francoeur shows an aptitude for the guitar, and ends up on stage with Lucille when she performs next... his odd falsetto voice providing counterpart to her smooth alto as they sing a tribute to La Seine.  Go ahead, check the link out... it's only 166 seconds, and the music gets your toes tapping at least.

Afterward, Lucille and Raoul (remember, one of the two male protagonists) manage to find their mutual attraction.  As they troop down to the dressing room, Raoul and Emile find out that Francoeur is the giant flea, the Monster in Paris, and now they've been inducted into the little gang.  Commissioner Maynott receives word that Lucille is hiding the flea, and searches her quarters, but Raoul and Emile hid Francoeur well enough to avoid detection.  When the police depart, the conspirators decide on a plan, essentially staging Francoeur's death during a rally for Maynott's run for mayor of Paris.  One of Maynott's assistants sniffs out the subterfuge, and the subsequent scenes all converge on the Eiffel Tower, currently standing above about fifteen feet of water.

The penultimate scene throws Maud back into the mix, as the now four friends and the monkey try their darndest to keep Maynott from killing Francoeur.  The movie kind of loses steam at this point, I'm sad to say... the denouement was a bit surprising in that it felt like the screenwriters didn't know how to really end it well, unless you think about it a bit.

There's a final encore at the club where Lucille sings, and a short vignette about how Lucille and Raoul first met.  Then come the credits.

Spoiler space over

This is easily one of the most obscure movies I've reviewed.  It also manages to give its characters more than a bit of heart, including not just resorting to "big, ugly, scary mean person" as shorthand for the antagonist.  The antagonist is shown as venal and lazy, and with the depth (or lack thereof) on his character it's not a guilt trip that you root against him.  In this movie, people were *people*.  Heck, the monkey and the flea were even people, with the monkey providing comic relief and the flea filling in as the Frankenstein's Monster reluctant scarer du' jour.

It also helped that the music was enjoyable.  One of my own family members was not present for the Youtube scene I linked above, and I'll repost it here if anyone skipped Spoiler Space.  The actress who played Lucille did a terrific job through the singing portions, and while it was disconcerting to hear Julian Lennon singing higher than her, it actually kind of worked.

There's plenty of humor, there's very little (if any) blue humor, and it was a marvelous way to pass a quick ninety minutes.  There's not too many movies that can say the same thing, even if the moralizing was laid on a bit thick (look, ma, the giant flea wasn't the monster, it was the mean police commissioner!).

Final rating: 3.2

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