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A Monster in Paris: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

A Monster in Paris (2011) Blu-ray + DVD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com A Monster in Paris

French Theatrical Release: October 12, 2011 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Bibo Bergeron / Writers: Bibo Bergeron (original story & screenplay); Stιphane Kazandjian (screenplay)

English Voice Cast: Adam Goldberg (Raoul), Jay Harrington (Emile Petit), Danny Huston (Victor Maynot), Bob Balaban (Inspector Patι), Sean Lennon (Francoeur), Vanessa Paradis (Lucille), Madeline Zima (Maud), Catherine O'Hara (Madame Carlotta), Matthew Geczy (Albert), Paul Bandey (Narrator, Newsman, Policeman, Journalist), Mirabelle Kirkland (Florist, Wife), Alan Wenger (Husband), Jodi Forest (Madame Omelette), David Gasman (Clerk)

Songs: "La Seine and I Cabaret", "A Monster in Paris", "La Seine and I", "Papa Paris", "Love Is In My Soul", "Just a Little Kiss", "Funky Baiser", "Nini Peau De Chien"

Blu-ray: 1.85:1 Widescreen; 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
DVD: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Extra Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Two single-sided discs (BD-25 & DVD-9) / Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Blu-ray Release Date: April 16, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $24.97
Also available as standalone DVD ($14.97 SRP)

Buy A Monster in Paris from Amazon: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy • DVD

It hardly seems fair that American animation consistently does great business outside the United States while the rest of the world's animation is lucky to secure a limited theatrical release here.
It's true that America's animation output is at an all-time high. Healthy returns are responsible for that; while comprising less than 10% of wide releases, the medium regularly accounts for at least a quarter of the year's top performers (six of 2012's top 20 domestic grossers, 30%, were animated). The numbers skew even further in animation's favor when dealing in worldwide hauls.

Imported animation, meanwhile, continues to represent a niche fringe market, often relegated to no more than two dozen screens in major metropolises. Disney had something going with Studio Ghibli films, which managed to enjoy decent ticket sales in 1,000 theaters or more. Now that kind of exposure is in doubt, with Disney passing distribution duties to GKIDS, whose specialty of art house animation never expands beyond a double digit theater count. Unless they manage to sneak into the Best Animated Feature Oscar category, as they have on occasion, most foreign cartoons won't even get that.

A Monster in Paris is one such cartoon. This 3D computer-animated French film opened in theaters of Belgium and France back in October 2011. It spread to other European nations, the Middle East, parts of Asia, Mexico, and Quιbec. But it comes to DVD and Blu-ray in the US this month, having played at just a single film festival in each New York and Los Angeles.

Don't blame the foreign language and American moviegoers' resistance to subtitles. The DVD and Blu-ray editions present the film exclusively in an English language version that synchs perfectly with the animation. There are even a few accomplished actors in the voice cast, though no one you'd call a star. Still, the film wasn't a commercial hit back home and between the cultural differences, technical deficits, and the limited impact of animation imported from anywhere but Japan, you understand why it's probably a strong business decision not to spare Monster a direct-to-video appearance.

Emile and Raoul fear they've made a terrible mistake in a professor's lab. Charles the monkey, an assistant botanist with a golden singing voice, corrects Raoul's tree misidentification.

Monster is set in 1910 Paris. It boasts a strong cast of characters that it spends ample time developing. In the foreground are smooth operator straw-coated deliveryman Raoul (voiced by Adam Goldberg here) and the short, shy leprechaun-ish movie projectionist Emile. Each of them has a love interest they're slow to approach. For Emile, it's bespectacled ticket gal Maud. For Raoul, it's his longtime crush, the singer Lucille (Vanessa Paradis). Buddies Raoul and Emile are responsible for the titular monster's creation. They're poking around a professor's lab, when an accident turns a tiny flea into a seven-foot monster.

The gentle giant of a monster comes to Lucille's nightclub, where she befriends him, costumes him to shroud his nature, and even allows him to share his surprisingly terrific singing voice (courtesy of Sean Lennon, son of John) onstage alongside her. Meanwhile, upon reported sightings and disturbances, pompous commissioner Mayor Maynot (Danny Huston) becomes determined to find and eliminate what he perceives as a pest.

Judging from this, CG animation in France isn't as developed as in its American contemporaries. Monster's settings lack the type of detail expected of Pixar but also provided now by just about all of their major competitors. The characters themselves appear to be lacking some sophistication too, somehow resembling the CGI of preschool TV shows for reasons you can't put your finger on.

Francoeur the monster joins Lucille on stage as musical accompaniment. The film's villain, Mayor Maynot, may or may not be full of himself.

Having 1910 as a setting is pretty arbitrary, although it allows for touches like Raoul's jaunty automated car Catherine and a climactic hot air balloon. For all the thought that goes into creating these distinctive personalities with their unique designs, the story linking them isn't the most interesting. It devolves into a straightforward chase, the blowhard bad guy in pursuit of the misunderstood monster and the good-natured people who aid him.
Several songs plainly performed on stage (by Paradis and Lennon) slow the proceedings, while doing almost nothing to advance the plot. Though the film needs a long end credits scroll to reach 90 minutes, the musical numbers are bound to make some viewers, especially younger ones, restless.

Monster doesn't seem to court the young demographic as much as general audiences, while still making for a tame PG rating. It's diverting enough, only its artistry cannot meet its ambitions and its story engages less than the characters featuring in it.

Distributor Shout! Factory makes Monster available to US and Canadian customers in two versions: a single-disc DVD and a two-disc Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack that pairs that DVD with a hybrid Blu-ray 2D/3D disc and relegates the digital copy to an Internet download.

Watch a clip from A Monster in Paris:

VIDEO and AUDIO

The animation may not be breathtaking, but the Blu-ray's 1.85:1 presentation is as flawless as it should be on a direct digital transfer. While the CG is light on detail, the element is immaculate, colorful, and appropriately sharp.
The default 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is nothing short of splendid too. It's an active, exciting mix, presenting the dialogue with crisp immediacy and effects with sharp impact. In a rare touch for Shout! Factory, English SDH subtitles are nicely included.

The slightly animated DVD's main menu functions much like a Blu-ray's, with other listings summoning pop-ups.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

On both discs, the only bonus feature is an American trailer for A Monster in Paris (2:03), a nice touch but one that ignores that this was a movie that French people made.

The discs open with a none too tempting trailer for A Turtle's Tale 2: Sammy's Escape from Paradise. Like Monster's preview, it is presented in HD on the Blu-ray.

The menu barely animates some sparkles around a wide rendering of the cover art. The Blu-ray does not support bookmarks, but gladly does manage to resume interrupted playback of the film.

Holding a disc on either side above reverse side artwork, the standard-sized keepcase is topped by a glossy slipcover reproducing the artwork below. A single-sided insert gives you directions and a unique code for downloading a digital copy of the film. It's not yet live, but the language suggests an MP4 file you can sync to other devices.

Francoeur, the harmless "monster" in Paris, takes Lucille hostage in a clever deception that goes awry.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Over the past three months, I've gotten to look at new-ish computer-animated features from Iceland, South Africa, and, now, France. Of those, it's France with A Monster in Paris that stands the strongest, but even it falls a little short of the high standards we've come to expect from the many American CG family films. Directed, conceived, and co-written by Bibo Bergeron, a DreamWorks veteran unflatteringly advertised as "the director of Shark Tale", Monster will not hold every viewer's attention with its thin story, stagnant songs, and somewhat unremarkable visuals. Still, its color, characters, and belief in its universe help keep it appealing and investable.

Shout! Factory's combo pack offers the English language version of the film with the highest quality technology allows. While it's unfortunate we don't get the original French as an option, that's a creative decision that we'll have to accept and at least the Americanization is tasteful and seamless. Some extras on this film's creation would have been nice, but at least this two-disc set offers versatility (four viewing options) at a very reasonable price.

Buy A Monster in Paris from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D/2D + DVD + Digital Copy • DVD

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Reviewed April 5, 2013.



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