An animated science-fiction saga made in France, Fantastic Planet applies a novelistic approach to a cinematic genre that often devolves into predictable action/adventure formulas. The weird narrative of Fantastic Planet sprawls over decades of time, includes a vast number of bizarre concepts, and resolves into an allegorical statement about the need for beings to overcome differences. There’s a hero of sorts, but the protagonist of Fantastic Planet is more of a window through which viewers can observe the strange world in which the story takes place. Although there are action scenes, the real focus of Fantastic Planet is the trippy stuff about astral projection, the behavior of godlike aliens, and the savagery of primitive human cultures. That all of this material gets crammed into a scant 72-minute running time reveals one of the picture’s key problems—characterization is largely an afterthought. Ideas rule in Fantastic Planet, placing the film squarely within the sphere of overly cerebral fantasy fiction. If you want a movie that makes you ponder unusual notions, this one fits the bill. But if you want a movie that touches you emotionally, expect to be disappointed or at least frustrated.
Briefly, the picture takes place on a distant planet where giant aliens called Traags keep humans as pets—a fully grown man is no bigger than a Traags’ hand. One particular human, Terr, is adopted by a Traag child while Terr is an infant. The Traag child outfits Terr with a slave collar that restricts Terr’s movements. Because of a malfunction, the slave collar allows Terr to understand Traag language, making Terr more intelligent and sophisticated than the other humans on the planet. Once he reaches adulthood, Terr flees Traag society and encounters wild humans, assuming a leadership role and leading a rebellion. Other elements percolate in the story, notably a trope of Traags exiting their corporeal forms while meditating, but that’s the overall gist.
Fantastic Planet has a peculiar look, because the filmmakers created stop motion from elaborate line drawings—somewhat in the vein of Terry Gilliam’s old Monty Python animations. This inevitably limits expressiveness, since there’s virtually no facial movement. Furthermore, some of the imagery is so odd as to be silly, like the bit during which two humans duel by strapping lizards to their chests and letting the lizards have at each other. Huh? Some of the concepts in Fantastic Planet are interesting, though many are trite staples of the sci-fi genre, and the story concludes in a fairly satisfactory manner. Nonetheless, one suspects it was the combination of the funk/lounge score and the wild visual aesthetic that earned Fantastic Planet a U.S. release, rather than the virtues of the storyline. Interestingly, the U.S. version has subtitles, even though replacing the voice cast with English-speaking actors would have a fairly easy task, seeing as how the dialogue isn’t synchronized to lip movements.
Fantastic Planet: FUNKY