After scoring a surprise Oscar nomination for its noir tale, A Cat in Paris, creators Jean-Loup Felicoli and Alain Gagnol are returning with a heart-warming tale of a young boy named Leo who discovers his battle with a terminal illness has imbued him with special powers. Leo is able to leave his body and fly around the city for a set period of time before having to rush back, lest his phantom form fade away. Leo's story links him up with a police officer and a reporter in New York City where they face off with an enigmatic new Picasso-inspired villain named The Face who wants to take over the city.
Along with some bumbling henchmen and the stupidest looking attack dog in the history of cinema, The Face has a computer virus, one that he can use to shut down all of the New York City. Luckily for New York they have Alex, the usual cliché movie cop who gets chewed out for leaving destruction in his wake as he captures the bad guys. Alex gets injured early on and ends up in the same hospital as Leo. In fact, it is possible Leo saves his life, as Alex begins to leave his body and Leo's astral projection-style powers help him return to his body. Alex and Leo team up to take on these criminals, along with the help of a cliché feisty reporter.
Cliché is the name of the game here; it's a simple and straightforward story and there's nothing surprising or innovative here. Considering the setup of a potentially dying child, it lacks any real punch for the audience. In fact, it fails to even get its audience emotionally connected with the characters. It instead seems to be retreading old ground for the creators, who take just about every element from A Cat in Paris and try to reuse them here.
While the art is certainly not on par with their previous film, it maintains the same style and direction, the type of which is rarely seen anymore, certainly not on the big screen. The film is a whimsical throwback to the hand-drawn films of old. The problem with this is, frankly… it looks ugly. It's a style that perhaps would attract a certain audience who grew up with the style, certainly French viewers, but for the majority, it's hard to focus on the action on-screen when the style is so off-putting. Conversely, the sound design is fantastic, and this is definitely worth watching in the original French - the soundtrack, sound effects, and voice actors (including Amélie's Audrey Tautou) all combine to produce a quality product.
Phantom Boy tries to be something different and that's good. Nobody needs a world of animated films that are only produced by Disney or Dreamworks, Pixar or Ghibli… Okay, just Ghibli would be amazing, but it sadly cannot bring anything new to the table, other than its experimental-but-ugly style. It tries to live up to the stories of Miyazaki but cannot deliver a story that connects with the audience in the way Studio Ghibli always makes seem effortless. Phantom Boy tries to create a superhero, but ends up delivering a ghost of one.
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