Animation became big business again in the late '80s, and ever since, it's become less and less likely that there'll be another full-length animated feature quite as weird as René Laloux's underground 1973 French classic La Planete Sauvage (Fantastic Planet). Drawn with sharp details in warm pastel colors, the movie is just the kind of hippie allegory—and trippy visual experience—that the '60s often produced. Fantastic Planet, adapted from a novel by Stefan Wul, was inspired by the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Russians in the late '60s. On the planet Ygam lives a race of giant, alien beings called Traags. These Traags, who are prone to hallucinatory bouts of group meditation, keep the oddly human-like Oms as pets, often treating them with the sadism and perverse maternalism humans frequently inflict upon their own pets. Never underestimate the ingenuity of an Om, though: When one absconds with one of the Traags' knowledge devices, he uses the tool to foment a wild Om uprising against his captors. Available for the first time in years and now presented in widescreen, Laloux's film, which won the 1973 Cannes Grand Prix Prize, is a welcome respite from slick Disney product and countless shoddy imitators. Started in Prague but completed, due to political pressure, in Paris, Fantastic Planet uses an accessible medium to show the evils of propaganda and express the need for individuality. Laloux's vision of a Dali-meets-Krazy Kat alien landscape populated by twisted creatures is quite striking, even if the film's psychedelic elements haven't exactly aged well. As an added bonus, the DVD edition comes with three earlier Laloux shorts—1960's Les Dents Du Singe (Monkey's Teeth), 1964's Les Temps Morts (Dead Times), and 1965's Les Escargots (The Snails)—that are respectively thoughtful, haunting, and funny.
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