Like their Oscar-nominated "A Cat in Paris" (2010), "Phantom Boy" by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gangol is a modest, engaging film that reminds viewers of the intimate pleasures of drawn animation in an era of CG blockbusters.
While in the hospital, 11-year-old Leo (Gaspard Gagnol) discovers he can leave his physical body to explore his surroundings. He quietly assists other patients and dreams of using his supernatural power to fight crime. Outside the hospital, police Lt. Alex Tanner nearly captures the Face (Jean-Pierre Marielle), a gangster with a grotesquely marred visage who's threatening to launch a devastating cyber-attack on New York City unless he's paid a $1-billion ransom. During the chase, Alex breaks his leg and winds up in the hospital with Leo.
The Commissioner (Yves Barbout), Alex's boss, refuses to believe his reports about the criminal's whereabouts. But Alex's journalist girlfriend, Mary (Audrey Tautou), goes in search of a scoop in the best Lois Lane tradition. Although initially skeptical of Leo's powers, Alex enlists his aid to fight the Face's scheme and assist Mary.
Gangol and Felicioli suggest a film noir-inflected New York using a simple drawing style reminiscent of the illustrations of Seymour Chwast. The limited, stylized movements feel appropriate for the minimal designs: Leo's walk is slow and a bit unsteady, but as Phantom Boy, he loops and curls effortlessly through the urban sky.
Like other recent modestly budgeted animated films from Europe, "Phantom Boy" offers a welcome change of pace for viewers weary of the homogenized chases, poop jokes and one-liners in many American CG features.
Shown in both English and French (with English subtitles) versions
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, violence and a suggestive situation
Playing: Landmark Nuart, West Los Angeles