'The Illusionist' is a heart-warming animated feature that at its heart tells the lovely tale of a father and daughter, though the two main protagonists are not related in any shape or form. They are, in fact, strangers. He is in the twilight of his years and career, and the girl is coming to the dawning of her maturity. But during the course of this wonderful film from Sylvian Chomet, the writer and director of 'The Triplets of Belleville,' the two affect each other's lives in unexpected ways, making the plot as a whole into a thoughtful and layered love letter to an art form which requires immense talent. In spite of their language barrier, they are brought together through their enjoyment of illusions.
Based on a script by the celebrated French comedian, mime and filmmaker Jacques Tati ('Playtime'), 'The Illusionist' functions in large part as an homage to the cinematic legend. It's believed he wrote the story as his own expression of love for his daughter, but for some unknown reason never got around to filming it. While Chomet infuses the story with his own incredible beauty and classic elegance in the artwork and design, the director allows a great deal of Tati's comedic genius to come through. The movie is mostly silent, told through very brief, episodic scenes and mimed gestures, much like any Tati classic. At one point, we're even given a glimpse of Tati's brilliance with a brief scene of 'Mon Oncle,' and the old man is clearly modeled after Mr. Hulot in appearance and mannerism.
The entire presentation is graceful and enchanting, a splendid dedication to beloved entertainer, but it also seems to hint at something more meaningful, a commentary on the impact of an ever-changing society and culture. The man is a struggling illusionist, known only by his stage name "Tatischeff," which was actually Tati's true surname. His days of attracting and impressing large auditoriums with his seamless sleight of hand — which requires suspension of disbelief — is finally coming to an end, replaced by the rapidly-growing trend of rock 'n' roll and jukeboxes. And here we start to see an intriguing theme emerging, one which even touches on the magic of film and entertainment.
While on tour through the highlands of Scotland, the man, who it seems was once a renowned magician, has attracted the attention of a young woman named Alice. Believing his mystical tricks to be the real thing, she decides to tag along with the man once he decides to move on. When the two arrive in Edinburgh, they stay in a modest hotel inhabited by other waning performers. And it is here that we see the inherent magic of Tati's script unfold as the old man makes ends meet doing odd, demeaning work in order to keep the illusion alive for Alice. As the rest of the world's belief in magic begins to fade, he sacrifices a great deal so that she never loses the child-like wonderment many us eventually let go with age. On a deeper level, his desire to please her is what surprisingly saves him from a deep depression that the other tenants succumb to.
'The Illusionist' is an engrossing and remarkable animated motion picture, beautifully honoring the comedic genius of Jacques Tati. Following the journey of an old man and his surrogate daughter, the story develops into a fascinating tale of the inherent illusion within certain forms of entertainment, including film. There is an immense power and influence within the art of illusion which can awaken and broaden our senses, much like it does in Alice, while also saving one's own spiritual well-being, as in the great "Tatischeff." The film is a wonderfully memorable tribute not only to a cinematic legend, but also to the illusory art of entertainment for which he was loved and will always be remembered.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings Sylvian Chomet's 'The Illusionist' to Blu-ray as a two disc combo pack. Housed in a blue eco-vortex keepcase where the two sits on opposing panels, the Region A locked, BD25 disc commences with a commercial for 3D products and a series of skippable previews. Afterwards, viewers are greeted with the standard menu options while music and full-motion clips play in the background.
'The Illusionist' debuts on Blu-ray with a gorgeously detailed 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1), beautifully preserving the elegant artwork exactly as the filmmakers intended.
Individual lines and pencil strokes are crystal clear and razor-sharp, giving viewers the opportunity to appreciate the amazing work that went into creating this lovely film. Because of its unique and enchanting visual style, every smudge, mark and textural impression is plainly visible and unmistakable. Contrast is terrifically balanced with bright, crisp whites and black levels inky rich and intensely penetrating. The color palette is primarily focused on softer, pastel hues, and they are superbly rendered and charmingly saturated while primaries remain vivid and often dazzling.
Overall, the high-def transfer is as perfect as they come.
Despite lacking any real intelligible dialogue or lots of explosive action, this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is in a class all its own.
The entire front soundstage is alive with intricate details and amazing clarity. Imaging is highly engaging and spacious, full of warmth and splendid fidelity. Listeners can clearly make out the tiniest sounds, like the exchange of paper money, the rattling of keys or each individual footstep as characters walk the wooden floors of the hotel. The mid-range is extensive and sharp while the low end is subtle not to be noticed but exhibits enough power to give certain scenes some weight. The surrounds are mostly reserved for key scenes involving large audiences, city streets and falling rain.
Along with the musical score, this track presents the soundtrack very effectively and immerses viewers in this imaginative tale.
Sony offers Sylvian Chomet's 'The Illusionist' with a surprisingly skimpy collection of special features.
Based on the last known screenplay of cinematic legend Jacques Tati, 'The Illusionist' is a heart-warming and inspiring tale of a father's devotion to a daughter and her faith in his magic. Directed by Sylvian Chomet, creator of 'The Triplets of Belleville,' the film is gorgeously illustrated, with a protagonist modeled after Tati's Mr. Hulot, making this also a loving tribute to one of the world's greatest filmmakers. The Blu-ray stuns with a perfect picture presentation and wonderfully engaging audio. The supplements could definitely be better, but overall, it makes for a terrific package for everyone with a heart. Highly Recommended