Program Length: 80 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p
Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA
Subtitles: English, English SDH
The Illusionist is a delightful and charming Academy Award-nominated animated feature film from director Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville). It is based upon an unproduced script written by the famous French director Jacques Tati. The story opens in Paris in 1959. The title character is Tatischeff, a middle-aged magician whose best years apparently are behind him (inside joke: Tati's birth name was Jacques Tatischeff). The times are changing and audiences are growing weary of seeing a rabbit pulled out of a top hat. Tatischeff performs before sparse audiences at theaters in Paris, and he is fired after his rabbit gets loose and creates chaos for the following act. He packs his bags and crosses the English Channel to look for work in London. He is hired to perform at the Emporium Theatre, where he has the misfortune of following a rock 'n' roll band called Billy Boy and the Britoons. A screaming audience of mostly teenage girls encourages the band to perform several encores while Tatischeff waits impatiently in the wings. When the magician finally goes on stage, only two people are still in the theatre to watch him. He then meets a slightly inebriated Scotsman who encourages him to head north and do his act at a pub in a remote Scottish village which is just discovering electricity.
Tatischeff not only finds a receptive audience in Scotland, he also makes the acquaintance of Alice, a poor orphan girl who works at the pub. Alice is immediately fascinated by Tatischeff and concludes that he really is a magician. She washes his shirts and cleans his room, and he reciprocates by buying her a much-needed new pair of shoes. When Tatischeff leaves the village in pursuit of other venues, Alice packs her suitcase and follows him. They meet up on a ferry and he agrees to let her accompany him to Edinburgh. What follows is a simple but highly entertaining tale involving a solitary man who has found a daughter he has never had and a young girl on the cusp of womanhood who is trying to find her way in life. However, the illusionist soon discovers that caring for both him and Alice is a financial challenge. Along the way we are introduced to an array of wildly exaggerated but entertaining theatrical characters, including a trio of gymnasts and a ventriloquist. Fans of Tati will be amused by the scene of Tatischeff walking into a theater which is showing the film Mon Oncle.
The Illusionist is beautifully produced with striking, hand-drawn animation. There is virtually no dialogue - just a few words here and there - but it is a testament to the power of the animation that dialogue is mostly unnecessary. The thoughts and motivations of the characters are made clear through the wonderfully expressive drawings that we see on the screen. The Illusionist received a 2010 Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Animated Feature, and it won the awards for Best Animated Film from both the New York Films Critics Circle and the European Film Awards. The Illusionist had difficulty finding an audience in U.S. theaters, grossing only slightly more than $2 million at the box office to date. However, it has been turned into a splendid Blu-ray by Sony, giving the film a second chance to find the audience it so richly deserves.
Sony's 1.85:1 Blu-ray transfer is wonderful in every respect. The hand-drawn animation is beautifully rendered with exquisite detail and vivid colors. Indeed, the attention to detail is extremely impressive. Little things such as illumination emanating from a single light bulb or a drizzle turning into a downpour manage to look highly realistic without losing any of the wonder of watching animation. A simple thing such as Alice struggling to walk in heels is both amusing and touching. In fact, there are so many fine details in the drawings that repeat viewing is necessary to appreciate all of them. Fortunately, this Blu-ray disc looks so good that most viewers will be happy to watch it multiple times.
As noted, the dialogue in The Illusionist is minimal and often intentionally indecipherable. Consequently, although the Blu-ray includes English subtitles, they are largely superfluous and add little to the viewing experience. However, the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio is terrific in every other respect. Ambient sounds are highly effective at conveying a sense of mood and place, and the evocative score by director Sylvain Chomet is given a very pleasing soundstage.
The extras on this Blu-ray disc are as sparse as the dialogue.
A brief "making of" featurette is interesting but contains no narration or explanation whatsoever. It is instructive to see how the original line drawings develop into completed scenes.
Another feature is a look at the animation process, including some before and after sequences.
The only other extra is the film's original theatrical trailer.
Sony also has included previews of Another Year, Get Low, Of Gods and Men, Persepolis, and You Got Served: Beat the World.
There are BD-Live features which have not been reviewed.
The Blu-ray disc is packaged in a standard-size Blu-ray keep case and is a combo pack which includes the DVD of the film.
The Final Analysis
The Illusionist is a gorgeous and enchanting animated film which is suitable for family viewing and will surely delight fans of Jacques Tati. The lack of significant extras is regrettable, but the potential for repeated viewing and the inclusion of the DVD version will certainly be an inducement for purchase.
A note of interest: this Blu-ray disc is noticeably slow to load on my Blu-ray player. From the time it began reading the disc, it is a full three minutes before I am able to access the menu. It may perform differently on other Blu-ray players.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: May 10, 2011