Phantom Boy film review: animated excellence?

Is Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol’s Phantom Boy a surprise hit?

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A stylish Saul Bass-inspired title sequence opens up this slinky cartoon about a sick young boy who, when asleep in hospital, is able to leave his body and invisibly roam about. The European-helmed film is set in New York City, where an evil Forties-type gangster is attempting to bring terror to its inhabitants. Luckily, Phantom Boy – or Leo, as he’s known to his family – is on hand to help wheelchair-bound detective Alex solve the case.

The animation bursts with elegant visual flourishes that are at times hauntingly beautiful and at others jam-packed with energy. When Leo whooshes over the city to help Alex, or journalist Mary captures a villain with a face that resembles a Picasso painting, the screen instantly jumps to life.

The backdrops are also intricately designed, featuring detailed Times Square signs and a cosy hospital playroom filled with inviting toys. When the jigsaw faced-villain (voiced by Vincent D’Onofrio) is revealing his plan, the animation switches to that of a pixelated arcade game configuration.

Though the narrative follows a standard beat, it is enjoyably told and features many amusing characters. Particularly enticing for younger viewers is a tiny, scruffy, vicious dog, who gets a brilliant redemptive arc. Leo’s sickness and the impact it has on his family is sensitively handled in a fantastic sequence where he follows his mother out of the hospital to witness the pain and tears she has been hiding from him. While Leo disappears as an undercover detective and superhero of sorts, the film doesn’t forego the human drama, making it an appealing blend of noir and compassion with a good sense of humour.

Directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol excelled with their debut feature A Cat In Paris, and though this is a lovely addition to their artistic brand of storytelling, it doesn’t quite match the heights of their previous endeavour.