The Illusionist

Can old traditions survive the modern world?

TITLE L'Illusionniste
DIRECTOR Sylvain Chomet
COMPANY  Pathé / Django Film
YEAR 2010

REVIEW by Natalie Belton
RATING ★★★★★ 

The Illusionist centers around an aging magician who constantly travels in order to find new work. He struggles to find employment in the ever changing world around him. In 1950s Europe there is no longer room for professions like the old man’s. TV, rock bands, and mass media have rendered old fashioned entertainers useless. This intrusion of new technology on old European traditions makes the viewer question our own lives and dependence on large scale entertainment at the expense of the common man. Other venders (such as an alcoholic ventriloquist and a clown with suicidal tendencies) aren’t as lucky as the illusionist. They fall into obscurity foreshadowing the illusionist’s own fate. 

'The Britoons' not to be confused with another more famous band.

Yet the film is not completely bleak or pessimistic. It contains several moments of humor and lightheartedness. The magician’s finger-biting rabbit surely seems to be a descendent of the white rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Other cast members such as a pompous Elvis impersonator, crazy acrobats, and drunken Scotsman also add to the amusement. The magician frequently stumbles around in his old age, unable to keep pace with the modern world. He often finds himself in hilarious and ridiculous situations such as selling ladies’ undergarments in a department store or vainly trying to remove an oil splotch on a car. 

Luckily, the illusionist finds comfort in an unusual friendship with a poor orphaned girl, Alice. She manages to befriend the man and the illusionist soon adopts her into his life and they travel together. The relationship between them is an interesting one. Alice sees the magician as a way out of her isolated lifestyle and he becomes somewhat of a father figure towards her. The magician even begins to work late night shifts to pay for all of the clothing and gifts he buys for her. He also seems to develop love towards Alice and is sad when he realizes that she will grow up and leave. 

Beware the rabbit.

The Illusionist stands out among other movies in its genre for three obvious reasons: its aimed at more adult audiences, contains virtually no dialogue, and it is traditionally animated. Hand drawn animation is novelty nowadays where CGI rules supreme. Few studios dare to rely on the medium except those overseas. The details in the film are amazing. Paris and England are drawn in a style resembling Impressionalist paintings. Accurately drawn subways, bus cars, city lights, and cracks in city pavement appear in each scene. The animated characters themselves are simply rendered and resemble a cross between Herge’s Tintin comics and the works of Studio Ghibli. 

Hand drawn backgrounds at their finest.

The Illusionist is a wonderful and one of a kind film. I would not recommend it to the ‘typical’ Hollywood crowd expecting action thrillers or animated films about cartoon animals and fart jokes. (Yes, I’m looking at you Dreamworks.) However, I do highly recommend the film to those interested in watching something a bit more different and bold in its approach. Whoever believes that cartoons are just for kids is sadly misinformed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR   Natalie Belton is currently a college student majoring in Anthropology and Geography with a passionate interest in culture, film, and art. Outside of writing for CDR, she also maintain her own animation and movie blog, The Animatorium.  For any questions, Natalie may be reached at