The Spring of Sci-Fi #15
Fantastic Planet, directed by Renė Laloux and released in 1973, is an experimental and surreal animated science fiction film. The film’s visuals are unique and trippy; they are reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python animation and the surreal artwork of Salvador Dali. The film is set on the psychedelic planet of Ygam and is inhabited by bizarre landscapes and creatures. The film primarily focuses on the relationship between the Draags, a giant blue dominant species of Ygam, and the Oms. The Om’s are much smaller and appear more humanlike than the gigantic and blue Draag’s. The film explores multiple themes of free will, fascism, environmentalism, genocide, and animal rights.
I feel like when people think of animation they mostly think of children’s cartoons, Disney films, and anime. One thing that Fantastic Planet shows audiences is how far you could take the medium of animation. Renė Laloux and his animation team create a wondrous and sometimes horrifying world. They stretch the lengths of science fiction and world-building to astoundingly surreal heights. This film could only work as animation. Animation allows their imaginations to roam free, and they are only limited by what they can create and draw. The story is unique, exploring multiple philosophical and existential themes in much more mature ways than audiences typically see in traditional animation. The movie begins with a female Om being teased and harassed by a giant Draag. After the woman is killed a Draag named Tiwa takes in the woman’s infant and names it Terr. Terr is treated well by Tiwa, and we see through Tiwa and Terr’s interactions that the Om’s age much slower than the gigantic Draag’s. Tiwa is instructed in the Draag’s culture and language through a metal band that wraps around her head and sends her lessons through electronic signals. Terr picks up on the signal that Tiwa receives and slowly begins to learn about the Draag’s language and culture. Terr escapes and brings the device with him to a colony of Oms. They begin learning and eventually decide they want to rebel against the Draag’s who seek to either enslave them as pets or exterminate them with toxic gas. The Draag’s also spend most of their time meditating–although I don’t want to spoil what their meditation is accomplishing.
The movie starts slow, but it is important to introduce the audience to the strange world slowly and methodically. By slowly introducing us to the species, politics, and philosophies we can connect much more with what is happening. People typically think of arthouse films as being devoid of emotion but Fantastic Planet balances the sometimes cold tone that is present in some arthouse films with a world that is enchanting and inviting. What appears to be a basic story about rebellion and oppression is much deeper than it originally appears, and that is aided by Laloux’s methodical approach to the story. Many sci-fi stories deal with oppressive governments and rebellion, but Fantastic Planet explores complex themes through a unique lens using surreal animation to help guide and mask its themes. The movie looks like a stoner-friendly movie and is even accompanied by an acid jazz soundtrack–and it kicks ass–but I think that viewing it as only a psychedelic piece of art undermines the existential story that is hidden underneath.
Fantastic Planet is a wonderfully unique animated film that seeks to use its animation to explore elaborate philosophical ideas about humanity and oppression. The film is accompanied by an amazing acid jazz soundtrack that enhances the incredible visuals and would be interesting to listen to on its own. The film has plenty of bizarre and strange creatures that inhabit the background of the world, and I think that trying to notice all the details helps merit multiple viewings. Check this out if you like trippy animation, elaborate world-building, and complex themes.