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The New York International Children’s Film Festival Returns

It’s baa-ack! The days are getting longer and warmer, but the real sign of spring’s incipient arrival is of the return of the New York International Children’s Film Festival.

A Monster in Paris. All film images © 2011 EuropaCorp, Bibo Films, France 3 Cinema, Walking the Dog.

It’s baa-ack! The days are getting longer and warmer, but the real sign of spring’s incipient arrival is of the return of the New York International Children’s Film Festival.

The starting gun for the Festival’s 15th go-round sounded Friday night at the DGA Theater on West 57th Street with Eric Beckman’s traditional Tossing of the T-Shirts into the arm-waving audience. (He’s gonna need one of those ballpark shooters if folks in the balcony are ever gonna have a prayer of snagging a shirt.) After the equally traditional Thanking of the Sponsors (HSBC takes home the Platinum for the fourth year in a row – way to go HSBC!), it’s showtime!

Showtime begins with one of those wonderfully bizarro, we’re-in-an-alternate-universe-whose-rule-are-perfectly-logical worlds: Luminaris, a pixilated live-action short wherein factory workers pop a glass marble in their mouths, chew on it and blow it up, bubblegum style – into a light bulb. (Don’t try this at home kids!) Your partner gets it glowing with a flash of her expanding eyeglasses. But why her mustachioed partner swiping as many marbles as he can shoot up his shirtsleeve? It wraps up with a beautiful, romantic payoff – and makes way for Our Feature Presentation…

Where does Eric find these beauties? In the case of A Monster in Paris, it was at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Seems there’s a monster loose in Belle Époque Paris (duh) – but is he really a monster? The 3D CGI film is a charming piece of work with stylish character design and a sharp eye for getting its period details just right. (And be careful with those 3D glasses; bust them and the festival’s out $25.) It’s well-worth seeing for the mid-film fantasy dance number alone.

There’s a lot of The Phantom of the Opera, a bit of Buster Keaton, a likely Georges Méliès cameo and even a hat-tip to Georges Feydeau (I’d explain that last one but it would give away a plot twist; if you really need to know, get in touch with me and I’ll tell you; better yet, track down the movie) in Monster. If I had to quibble, I’d say the film tries to shoehorn one more b-story into its script than necessary (who’s our protagonist/hero – the monster, Emile the projectionist or his pal Raoul the inventor? Will either of them get the mademoiselle of his dreams?), but it gets major points for not joining in the celebrity voice-casting craze of the moment. (I mean, when the highest profile name in your cast is Bob Balaban…) There is one extremely recognizable name in the closing credits I don’t think anyone was expecting however – the offspring of one of the most famous musical talents of the last century…

Watch out bronies, you’ve got competition: A Monster in Paris has its own internet-spawned devoted fan following. After the film I met Aurelia, a soon to graduate high-schooler and aspiring animator/sequential artist. She was easy to spot – her homemade stuffed doll version of the monster was peeking over her shoulder from out of her backpack. Thanks to her I learned more about the film than I would’ve ever discovered on my own. (A French-animated film produced in English and then dubbed into French…how that musician’s fils wound up in the film…)

Budding high school animator Aurelia and festival director Eric Beckman.

Via tumblr – one of them new-fangled social media things I still haven’t figured out – Aurelia learned about the film way before the festival did as word of it spread ‘virally’ (God, I love these 21st century buzzwords) and trekked up from DC, dad in tow to catch its US premiere. (Shhh, don’t tell anyone – he thinks the trip was really to check out the local art schools.)

She quickly fell in love with “Francoeur’ (as the monster comes to be known in the film) and started producing her own fan art – quite nice stuff, from what I saw on her smartphone. Her work and plenty of other folks’ versions of Francoeur and company can be found at A-monster-in-Paris.deviantart.com