Do you believe in magic? Do you remember how you felt when you saw a magic trick for the first time? Have you ever wondered what a magician’s life is really like? That is the story behind “The Illusionist,” a rapturously animated feature film by French animation director Sylvain Chomet about the languishing art of amusement, recently nominated for an Oscar. You can view 6 different clips from the film on AWNtv  and visit the official film website  as well.
The main character, an old, curious, skillful, and good-natured magician, was based on Jacques Tati, who wrote the screenplay. He was also a famous actor, comedian, director, and mime. With many more successful enterprises coming out in the late 1950’s, such as Rock musicians and dancers, the magician and many other old entertainers, like puppeteers and clowns, are slowly being pushed to the brink of extinction, as they were fighting a losing battle.
Searching for an audience for his profession, the magician meets Alice, a charming maid who looked as if she was barely a teenager working at a hotel. When he performs a magic trick for her, she believes that he can create anything out of nothing. After following him to Edinburgh in Scotland though, she gets vainer, feeding off the magician’s money to satisfy her needs. The poor magician has to toil hard over second jobs as a painter, a clothing shop promoter, and even as a car washer (which he got fired in all of them), to buy expensive gifts for the girl; since he has such fatherly love for her and did not want to disappoint her. Alice didn’t seem to understand that he cannot make something from nothing in real life. The magician and Alice slowly drifted apart, fueled by her vanity and newfound love as she grew older.
The Magician has a companion and main attraction to a younger audience, a very mischievous white rabbit who enjoyed biting people who put their hand too close to his cage. The rabbit always struggles furiously when the magician stuffs him into his top hat. He acts very “un-rabbit like,” as if he is rabid (rabid rabbit!). The magician is always scrambling after the rabbit as he escapes after each show! The rabbit adds a lot of humor to the film, making it more light-hearted. The kids will love him!
I loved this magical film and gave it 4.5 star fish. It is “Perrific!” “The Illusionist” is gorgeously animated, especially the illuminated night streets of Edinburg, and the beautiful scenes in nature, in particular, a scene of a duck flapping off from a lake when a train passes by. Many other scenes are stunning, and the story is enchanting.
The magician’s magic looks so real, but a recommendation for the film “Mon Oncle,” starring Tati, really helped enrich my understanding about Tati. It was recommended by Scott Marks, another San Diego film critic featured on KPBS Film Club and a good friend of ours. “Mon Oncle” incorporated a lot of physical comedy. After watching this film, you can really see all the similarities between Tati in Mon Oncle and the magician in “The Illusionist:” they are both silent types, they are curious and have the spirit of professionals, but the hearts of children, they have a stiff-legged walk, and their pants are too short. There is actually a scene in “The Illusionist” where the magician walks into a theater and “Mon Oncle” is playing inside. The music was delightful and light-hearted. It is very similar to the music in Mon Oncle. Both films have little dialogue.
The story has a lot of humor in it. Besides the hilarious scenes of the rabbit, another funny scene is one of the lead singers of The Britoons, an early rock and roll band. My mom and I writhed with laughter, when the lead musician (Billy) writhes on the floor of the stage, in front of hysterical, screaming fans, refusing to leave the stage when his time is up, forcing the eager magician following him to wait for hours.
I thought of a variation for a critical scene in the film, which my mom actually liked better. In that scene, the magician is on a train and sees a little girl looking for a lost pencil she was using for a drawing. He found her very short pencil and gave it back to her. In my variation, he does a magic trick in which he takes his own pencil, which is longer and gives it to her, so when she grabs her short pencil she gets a long one and looks stunned! I thought this will give the film more magic, power, and hope.
This film is a bit more spiritual and I think adults will probably appreciate it more than kids. But I want to challenge children to watch it and discuss it with their parents, as “The Illusionist” is among the three Oscar-nominated animation features this year and included in our “Amazing Kids Perrific Oscar Picks” contest. Kids can learn a lot from this film which is different from most other animation films.
Today, the art of magic is flourishing. Many people create astounding tricks, and even children are in the magic business. If you don’t believe me, watch the film “Make Believe,” a moving documentary directed by J. Clay Tweel about a group of talented young magicians going for an annual international magic competition in the magic industry. My mom and I saw it at the Los Angeles Film Festival last year and met the filmmakers and star magicians in the film. If you believe me, watch it anyways. I am glad magic is alive and well nowadays!
The Illusionist is about fatherly love, lost, and the dying art of amusement. Magicians may not exist, but magic definitely does.
Copyright 2011 by Perry S. Chen
Perry Chen has been reviewing movies since he was 8 in third grade. He recently became the youngest winner of San Diego Press Club 2010 Excellence in Journalism awards for his movie review, and was featured in “The Young Icons” TV show. He reviews G/PG-rated movies for the San Diego Union Tribune and San Diego Entertainer Magazine with over 1 million readers combined. Perry is also the resident film critic for Amazing Kids, a non-profit organization with kids-generated content on its monthly magazine with about 1 million readers. He was featured as "Amazing Kid of the Month" in Feb 2011:
Perry regularly covers red carpet premieres, press junkets, film festivals and awards, interviewing Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning directors and producers. He was the first child film critic invited to present at the Annie Awards for animation in 2010, and was featured on Variety for being one of the leading young film critics:
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