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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although this film is animated and rated PG, it's not aimed at very young children. From the same French filmmaker who made the award-winning The Triplets of Belleville, this melancholy look at the touching, platonic friendship between an older French magician and a younger Scottish barmaid has grown-up themes that are best appreciated by adults. In several scenes, characters drink and in certain cases are drunk. A key sequence in the movie takes place in a pub. The language is limited to a "dang it"; in fact, the story is nearly wordless -- which may mean that children will have a hard time understanding it.
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What's the story?
In 1959 Paris, aging magician Tatischeff (voiced by Jean-Claude Donda) struggles to find paying gigs as audiences dwindle in favor of rock-and-roll acts. After a humiliating reception, THE ILLUSIONIST takes up a Scotsman's offer to perform at his pub in the U.K. During his stint at the small village pub, Tatischeff befriends wide-eyed young barmaid Alice (Elidh Rankin), who's so enchanted with his routine that she actually believes he has magical powers. The two travel together to Scotland's bigger cities, where they live in a rooming house full of other hard-on-their-luck performers -- mimes, acrobats, and ventriloquists. With Tatischeff having become Alice's provider (he spends his pay buying her presents), the two develop a bond that, while not explicitly romantic, is more intimate than a regular friendship. But without a suitable venue for his talents, Tatischeff could lose everything -- including Alice.
Is it any good?
In The Illusionist, French director Sylvain Chomet proves once again that impressive animation isn't solely the domain of Pixar. His tender tale about Tatischeff and Alice isn't going to draw in hordes of kiddies, but it will compel adults who yearn for quality storytelling and nuanced animation. Tatischeff, who's based on the real French illusionist Jacques Tati (and if you pay attention, you'll see Tati in a brief movie-theater scene), is so patient, loving, and kind that you almost hope that his May-December friendship will blossom into romance.
A Pygmalion-esque story that makes you wonder about all of the old-school performers without a stage, this is an excellent film. It's not a fast-paced Pixar dazzler or a high-stakes Miyazaki adventure, but it's fantastically depicted and so touching that it's sure to make you shed a tear (or more!) for the kind of magic that transcends age and language -- true friendship.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what the movie is saying about modern entertainment. How has the fate of illusionists and other performers changed throughout the years? Are magicians as nonexistent as the movie suggests?
How does this movie compare to most of the animated films you've seen? What sets it apart from the crowd? Who do you think it's intended to appeal to?
Discuss the relationship between Tatischeff and Alice. What kind of relationship did they have? Were you surprised at how the movie ended?
- In theaters: December 25, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: May 10, 2011
- Cast: Elidh Rankin, Jean-Paul Donda
- Director: Sylvain Chomet
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship
- Character Strengths: Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and smoking
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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