The Triplets of Belleville Turns 15
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.”