The Triplets of Belleville

The most imaginative lampoon of 2 societies.

When does strange become entertaining? When does satire become art? When does cartoon eclipse film? It all happens in writer/director Sylvain Chomet's French Canadian "The Triplets of Belleville." Bypass your Burton (Tim, that is) and discover that this film is the most imaginative lampoon of 2 societies in at least a decade, maybe forever.

The French live on a diet of frogs; Americans eat anything. The French love bicycling (Think Tour de France); Americans love to watch them loving it. Both the French and the Americans are prone to exploit the culture for fun and profit.

The plot is simple compared with the mise en scene. Grandma pursues crooks who have abducted her bicycle-racing grandson for gambling purposes. The Triplets will be instrumental in helping grandma look for him. Along the way we'll see Frenchmen dynamiting for frogs and Americans adoring a voluptuous, overweight Statue of Liberty.

Chomat and company have layered so much pop-culture in with sociological profiling in "Triplets" that one must see the film several times to catch all the cross references (e.g., Don't miss the framed poster of "Mr. Hulot's Holiday," the auto licenses expressing "In Vino Veritas," or the frog-sicle!).

The look is unique: a hand-drawn, digital combination of "Betty Boop," "Felix the Cat," and "Return of the King." The jazz score delivers the right tone of hip and haste. The style is more "South Park" than "Toy Story." If it were a documentary it would remind you of "Capturing the Friedmans" and "American Splendor."

Have those witty French framed a narrative skewering American culture's ravenous profit mongering and egregious eating? Yes, but it fries the French as well. Although there is almost no dialogue, there is something for any imagination that tips like grandma's house to the left.