In January of 1910, flooding struck the city of Paris. Water saturated the earth and flooded through storm drains, pipes, catacombs, and the Metro, inundating the city for several weeks. Citizens of Paris were forced to travel by boat or build wooden walkways too and fro, while hundreds struck out for refugee camps on the hills like Montmartre, where the famed Basilique du Sacré Cœur was nearing completion. And, in the cinematic world created by Bibo Bergeron, a monsterous man-sized flea won the hearts of Parisians through song.
French trailer for Un Monstre à Paris.
Un Monstre à Paris (or A Monster in Paris in English) was released to acclaim in 2011 under the helm of director and storywriter Bergeron, with help from producer Luc Besson and screenwriter Stéphane Kazandjian. Inspired in part by The Phantom of the Opera, this cabaret musical stars French singers Vanessa Paradis and -M- as the two leads. The former voices the singer Lucille, star of the Montmartre cabaret L'Oiseau Rare, and the latter croons as Francœur, the giant flea created by a chemical accident at the Jardin des Plantes. The accident was caused by the troublemaking inventor/deliveryman Raoul and his lovelorn friend Emile (voiced by Gad Elmaleh and Sébastien Desjours respectively), who were dropping off some fertilizer at the lab of a famed botanist at the Jardin but couldn't keep their hands off the various potions in his laboratory. Unfortunately the crazed police commissioner Maynott (François Cluzet) becomes obsessed with tracking down the harmless monster, both to distract the citizenry from his mishandling of the flood situation and help his campaign for mayor.
The story is fairly typical of a misunderstood monster plot, thankfully without an interspecies romance. It is quite charming and Francœur is adorable for a giant insect. For the most part, what it really has going for it is the beautifully rendered setting of 1910 Paris. Many films set in the City of Lights cannot help but become an ode to it, even by little more than using its notable locations as backdrops. In Monster in Paris we see the Jardin des Plantes, Montmartre and its funicular railway, Basilique du Sacré Cœur, the city's Haussmannian skyline, and a grand climax on, of course, the Eiffel Tower.
Locations in Un Monstre à Paris:
|A greenhouse in the Jardin des Plantes.|
|La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre.|
|Paris roofline in the style mandated by Haussmann|
in his extensive renovations of Paris.
|A grey day at the Eiffel Tower.|
That said, ,y wife and I have a disproportionate number of films set in Paris in our collection (e.g.: Midnight in Paris, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, Paris, Je T'Aime...) so it is hard for us not to see them as odes. Many films set in Paris go beyond merely using the city as a backdrop, as one might see of so many other cities in cinema. Paris itself is a character, sometimes more alive than the actors. A city of its age and beauty and history demands attention. We might also be sentimentally attached to Monster in Paris because we first saw it onboard our flight to Paris back in 2013.
Besides locations in Paris, there are also other nice nods and winks to French culture. Georges Méliès earns a natural and logical mention. A few fun bits of Edwardian retro-futuristic technology also work their way into the film, like Raoul's high-tech delivery truck and a peddle-powered dirigible. The latter especially fits in with the image of Belle Époque Science Fiction in illustrations from the time period.
With a voice actor as eccentric as -M- it is hard for the film to resist a few in-jokes. Born Matthieu Chedid and hailing from a musical family, he took the stage name -M- to distance himself from his family's reputation and to overcome his stagefright. The character he created was a flamboyant trickster (and a bit of a letch) with hair curling into the shape of an M. He initially rose to stardom in 1997 with the release of the single "Machistador" but has left his persona more by the wayside since his 2009 album Mister Mystère. Prior to Un Monstre à Paris, -M- provided the headline song "Belleville Rendez-vous" for Sylvain Chomet's Triplets of Belleville and collaborated with his costar Vanessa Paradis. Renowned for her Chanel modelling and past relationship with Johnny Depp, Paradis is a strong musician in her own right, having released a "best of" album just prior to Un Monstre à Paris.
Official video for "La Seine" from Un Monstre à Paris.
Even if one does not have any particular sentimental attachments to Paris or affection for French culture and history, Monster in Paris is still a delightful CGI animated film in a beautiful setting. The music is well-done and will leave one humming it for some time after the credits roll. The story of the misunderstood monster resonates well with pretty well anyone, anywhere, of any age. Un Monstre à Paris has air of a monster movie, fairy tale, and a Scientific Romance, with the benefit of being entertaining and charming (and French!).