#820 Fantastic Planet
1973 // France, Czechoslovakia // René Laloux
Criterion Release Date: 21 Jun 2016 (LINK)
In a distant planet called Ygam, humans (a.k.a. Oms) are treated as either domestic pets (tamed Oms) or pests by the blue-skinned fin-ears giants Draags. A slaved child grows up to become part of a rebellion and save his species with the knowledge “stolen” from his Draags’ master. The fantastical dystopian story, adapted from Stefan Wul’s sci-fi novel Oms en série, sounds like the mix of Planet of the Apes (1968) and Gulliver’s Travels in reverse. Yet Fantastic Planet, the 1973 paper cut-out stop motion animation by French director René Laloux, is more horrid and revolting in its themes’ execution, unflinching in its cynical view of brutality and complacency.
Co-produced with Czech animators, co-written and designed by Roland Topor, whom Laloux collaborated with in his two preceding short films Les temps morts (1965) and Les escargots (1966), in addition to Alain Goraguer’s eerie and psychedelic music, Fantastic Planet is undoubtedly a masterpiece in craftsmanship from adult’s point of view, whereas children could be traumatized, yet mesmorized, by the unsettling premises of the film.
From the beginning of the film, where the mother of our baby protagonist is “innocently” killed by three Draags children, just like human children playfully step on a group of ants, to the collar and pet training our infant survivor Terr endured later on, the allegory of human in reality equals to Draags is crystal clear. But there are still sweet moments in the master and pet relationship. Tiwa, the female Draag who saves baby Terr and keeps him as a pet and friend, is genuinely kindhearted, although in the sense of supremacy.
Some Draags believe Oms are more than what they seem and could be intelligent, some consider Oms as a threat, others just treat them as harmless animals. Draags have the habit of meditation, where the surrealistic animated presentation renders a hypnotic, drug-induced like effects. And what distinguish Draags from Oms, besides their appearance and size, is the level of knowledge. The key for Terr’s escape and future human uprising is the learning device Terr stolon from Tiwa, which human could learn the Draags’ language and technology simply by connecting mentally to the device.
Terr and his fellow humans survive from the annihilation plan (the “de-om” with gassing, hard not to think of the genocide and Holocaust) and rebuild the abandoned rockets Draags once made. They move to the moon “the Savage Planet” (which is the original French title “La Planète sauvage“), and discover the secret of Draags’ meditation. The film seems to be rushing to the end at the last act, where a treaty of peace comes out as over-simplified and idealistic. The story also suffered from pacing problem and lack of character development, which in other films may be highly disadvantageous. But in Fantastic Planet, it suits the foreignness and the eerie visual tone, where narrative becomes secondary to the allegorical setting and the director’s reflective vision.