FANTASTIC PLANET Review
On a faraway planet called Ygam, a world that defies human logic in its own unique alien way, a rebellion brews. The dominant species, the tall, intelligent and at times emotionally cold Draags find themselves at a crossroads with their recent imports: the miniscule yet ferocious Oms, a long descended species of humans from a long ago decimated Earth who now act as the Draag’s pets and toil away at the bottom of the food chain on Ygam. The Oms, tired of being literally stepped on eventually begin their revolt against their blue oppressors, setting the stage for an animated film that truly feels alien in the best of ways.
Created in 1973 as a French-Czechoslovakian project as an adaptation of a novel by Stefan Wul, FANTASTIC PLANET (or if you really want to be cool at a party, LA PLANETE SAUVAGE) lives up to its moniker. Directed by Rene Laloux, who co-wrote the script with Roland Topor, FANTASTIC PLANET’s story is the tried and true tale of the underdogs rising above their abusers but filtered through a transfixingly bizarre animation style that brings the alien world of Ygam to reality. Animated primarily by the Czechoslovakian half of the production unit, FANTASTIC PLANET offers visuals that feel archaic and exotic in equal measure with its 2D animation offering up detailed and unique visions of giant blue aliens with red eyes and the vast, literally breathing world they occupy. Strange and confounding is the name of the game here when it comes to world-building as Laloux and his crew display the daily rituals that the constantly meditating Draags and constantly surviving Oms undertake. The beings that the animation team brings to life rarely make sense, physiologically or design wise, but in the case of this film, that pinching mysteriousness only brings the viewer deeper into this strange planet and its dwellers. While the actual movement of these doodles looks jagged and suffers from looping animations that plagued animated films of those times, these flaws only add to the film’s alien atmosphere, resulting in a film that looks and feels like a message scrawled from the Draag’s themselves and transmitted to Earth’s silver screens. With an accompanying jazzy score composed by Alain Goraguer that mixes bombastic horns and spastic psychedelic notes perfectly suited to all the alien shenanigans, FANTASTIC PLANET soars on its sights and sounds alone.
Not to say that the film’s central story is lacking. In fact, while Laloux and Topor offer a story that in these modern times feels a tad redundant, it’s nonetheless impressive how much the storytellers fit into their pretty lithe runtime. An epic odyssey at its core, the film quickly and neatly tells the rise and triumph of the little Om who could: Terr (Jean Valmont), orphaned as a baby and “adopted” quickly by a family of Draags who take the babe into their home as a pet, who soon becomes the leader of the Om uprising. Laloux and Topor leave little room for deeper characterizations for any of their characters, letting them to thrive as basic archetypes and leaving most of the heavy lifting to Valmont’s wizened narration, but that hardly matters when those characters occupy a world as strange as Ygam. A world with its own unique customs and flora and fauna, Ygam feels like the result of a frazzled fever dream: scary and mysterious yet always entrancing. Whether its in the strange rituals of the Draags or in the various organisms that Terr comes across in his journey — who toe the line between comedic and terrifying — Ygam and its inhabitants make for an unforgettable visit. In a beautifully strange world like this, even the familiar tale of a slave turned leader gains a bit more dramatic weight to it as Laloux and Topor tie their finale together with the ideas of conciliation and legacy that surprisingly rings with emotion.
To put it simply, FANTASTIC PLANET is exquisite. A true and literal work of animated art in every sense of the word. A bizarre and occasionally unsettling vista brought to life, Laloux’s journey to a mysterious planet is something you won’t soon forget.