Jennifer Drake, Eric Baugin, Jean Topart, Jean Valmont, Gérard Hernandez
Director: René Laloux
“On a faraway planet where blue giants rule, oppressed humanoids rebel against their machine-like leaders” (IMDb).
»Currently streaming on HBO Max«
What to Expect
Paul Bunyan aliens with Babe-the-blue-ox skin
The no-pants dance
Why You Should Watch It
This French adaptation of the 1957 novel Oms en série stands out for its animation style and Alice-in-Wonderland-level worldbuilding. It earned the Special Jury Prize at Cannes for originality, and is a clear allegory for animal rights (and some argue human rights as well). There’s no other sci-fi film quite like it.
Rainy Day Flick (C)
My initial thought when I began watching Fantastic Planet (La planète sauvage in its original French) was that I was seeing an homage to Monty Python‘s animated interludes (such as this one that predates Fantastic Planet by two years). Both employ a stop-motion technique known as cutout animation, giving the characters stiff, fixed movements. They also both use fantastical landscapes and trippy scenarios in a way that only convinces me that everyone was on drugs in that era.
But that’s about where the similarities end. Monty Python is comedic photomontage, while Fantastic Planet is an originally animated, weighty sci-fi film about humans rising up against an advanced alien race.
No time is wasted in drawing parallels between the alien treatment of humans and human treatment of animals. The beginning shows a human mother being tortured to death by a careless young Traag alien, who is gargantuan in comparison. Other Traags pit their humans (AKA Oms) against each other, give them silly names, dress them in ridiculous outfits, and force them to perform tricks, much like some humans here on Earth do to their pets. Wild Oms are considered pests and regularly slaughtered. They’re also not considered intelligent, until the main Om, Terr (Baugin/Valmont), runs away with his Traag’s educational headset, which is eventually used to learn Traag technology.
Wanting to live away from persecution, the Oms use their new knowledge to build a rocket that takes them to the Wild Planet, a moon of the Traags’ home planet, Ygam. But there they discover massive statues that the Traags use in some strange-yet-horrifying mating tango with other aliens. The Oms begin destroying the statues and the Traags call a truce, partly in desperation to save their species, but also as an acknowledgement that Oms were more intelligent and deserving of respect than they had realized.
While I wasn’t enthralled by the movie’s plot, I did love seeing the avant-garde creativity of the creatures and environments on Ygam: ice crystals that shatter with a whistle, ribbons of earth that spring into arches in the rain, reeds that crack like whips, a yellow road that moves like a conveyor belt. It reminded me of the first time I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I was fascinated by Douglas Adams’s envisioning of things like a character that was “a super-intelligent shade of the color blue,” or how the restaurant at the end of the universe existed at a place in time, instead of a physical location.
Yes, the surreal imaginings in Fantastic Planet appear to be 100% fueled by psychedelics, but it’s that flagrant disregard for real-world logic that makes it so enjoyable. It’s the very reason so many people love Alice in Wonderland, and part of why I loved the Hitchhiker series so much (the other part being the humor, of course). It doesn’t bother to reason out why things happen the way they do. It’s just there for you to marvel at, the way children marvel every day at the magic of our own world.