The Triplets of Belleville Turns 15

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Dan Dakin

Look­ing back at the an­i­mated cy­clists suffering through le Tour

“When you’re born in France, the Tour is a re­ally big cul­tural thing,” said Syl­vain Chomet, an award­win­ning an­i­ma­tor and film di­rec­tor. It was this con­nec­tion with cy­cling that led him to write The trip lets of belleville, a quirky an­i­mated film re­leased 15 years ago that went on to win mul­ti­ple awards, in­clud­ing a Ge­nie award for best mo­tion pic­ture in Canada in 2005.

With very lit­tle di­a­logue, Triplets uses an­i­ma­tion and an in­cred­i­ble sound­track to tell the story of Cham­pion, a cy­clist who is kid­napped dur­ing the Tour de France by the mafia and brought across the At­lantic to Belleville (which bears a strik­ing re­sem­blance to New York). It’s up to his grand­mother, her dog and the sing­ing and danc­ing Belleville triplets to save him.

The an­i­ma­tion is a combination of hand-drawn cells with 3d com­puter-gen­er­ated im­ages that take view­ers through a car­i­ca­tured world of pro­fes­sional cy­cling, the mafia and North Amer­i­can ex­cess. The film is bizarre and bril­liant at the same time. Chomet said he wrote Triplets to prove what could be done with an­i­ma­tion. “I was very frus­trated with all the jobs I was be­ing of­fered at the time,” he said. “I tried to take my re­venge on this pile of shit an­i­ma­tion that was out there then and is still true to­day. I was a bit re­bel­lious when we made the sto­ry­board, but be­cause it was so full of these dif­fer­ent things, ev­ery­one jumped on board.”

One of the things that jumps out to view­ers is the bizarre shape of the cy­clist char­ac­ters in the film. “I’ve al­ways been very im­pressed by the the shape of cy­clists. Their legs are very strong and their tops are much thin­ner. It’s like they’re an ex­ten­sion of the bike. When I be­came an an­i­ma­tor and re­ally started look­ing at how to cap­ture how peo­ple move, I was look­ing at these guys and thought, they’re not even made to walk,” Chomet said.

Chomet was l iving i n Mon­treal when he pro­duced the film, which led to a largely Cana­dian pro­duc­tion team high­lighted by pro­ducer Paul Cadieux and mu­sic com­poser Benoît Charest, who re­ceived a 2004 Os­car nom­i­na­tion along with Chomet for the film’s theme song. The triplets of belle ville was also nom­i­nated for a best an­i­mated fea­ture at the Academy Awards that year, where it lost to Pixar’s Find­ingnemo. Triplets did, how­ever, go on to re­ceive crit­i­cal ac­claim, along with 40 award nom­i­na­tions and 19 wins around the world.

While Belleville is a made-up city name, Chomet laughed one day when he was driv­ing to Toronto from Mon­treal and re­al­ized there was a real Belleville in On­tario. Belleville (es­sen­tially a New York car­i­ca­ture) is an amal­ga­ma­tion of var­i­ous big cities around the world, but Chomet said the rooftops are mod­elled af­ter what can be found on the old build­ings of Mon­treal and Que­bec City.

Chomet loved liv­ing and work­ing in Mon­treal be­cause it was a “cheap place to l ive that felt like a big vil­lage with lots of things to do, but a small vil­lage be­cause ev­ery­one knew ev­ery­one.”

He set­tled on the early 1960s for the film’s set­ting, so the Tour de France scenes re­flect that era with Jac­ques An­quetil used as the pri­mary ref­er­ence point. “He was the big rider at the time,” Chomet said.

Chomet hasn’t ruled out a se­quel to the 2003 clas­sic. “I’ve got a project to do an­other story, but this one isn’t with cy­clists. It’s an­other story based on the triplets, and this time fo­cuses on their fa­ther. It’s very Cana­dian,” he said.

“When I be­came an an­i­ma­tor and re­ally started look­ing at how to cap­ture how peo­ple move, I was look­ing at these cy­clists and thought, they’re not even made to walk.”

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