Powerful and poignant, this noirish adventure is both a love letter to New York and a tribute to the courage of its terminally ill young hero. Like other recent French animated films, the film is stylized and colorful, with unforgettably interesting looking characters and cityscapes. The relationship between Leo and Alex is beautifully depicted, as are the tense, emotional interactions between Leo, his parents, and his little sister, who's believably always interested in playing and reading with her older brother. Despite his supernatural ability, Leo is an authentic character: a boy caught between an unthinkably difficult reality as a chronically sick patient and the unbelievable ability to soar above the clouds and observe anything he wants in the entire city. Like a superhero, he comes to terms with his responsibility to use his gift for the greater good -- not just to see his family or wander around New York.
Phantom Boy's darker noir elements include the maniacal crime boss and his two dim-bulb goons, who act as a comic relief in some of the more intense moments. In one scene, the henchmen try to record their boss explaining how he got disfigured, but things go hilariously awry, and the boss nearly kills them out of anger -- but it's all fairly funny. That said, the action can definitely be pulse-pounding and tense, since foreign movies don't always end in the same happily-ever-afters that American audiences are used to. But ultimately this is a lovely character study. The three brave characters (Leo, Mary, and Alex) stand out as they attempt to save the City from the grips of the Joker-style madman, but it's the quiet moments between Leo and his family and friends that will affect audiences most.