Animation is a broad term. Literally the word animation comes from the Latin anima meaning living being, thus animation can be seen and has been seen as a way to give life to the lifeless. There are many different techniques to animate for film, using many different tools and technology; drawing, using clay models or even cut outs, have been used to tell a variety of different stories. Animation, because it is less restricted by the rules of physical space like live action films, gives animators and story tellers more freedom to create wholly original and weird worlds in which their stories take place. And there is none as weird as the 1973 French/Czech co-production La Planete Sauvage or to in English Fantastic Planet.
Set on the alien planet of Ygam, the immense blue humanoid inhabitants of the planet called the Draag have abducted human beings from Earth and treat them like animals. Calling them the Oms, the Draag keep humans as pets or if they are wild occasionally cull them in parks. The film follows one such ‘Om’ called Terr who was adopted by the daughter of a Draag leader after his mother is killed. Through his time with the Draag he learns their ways and escapes to the Wild. However the population of Wild ‘Om’ is growing and the leaders decide to cull the humans more regularly. It is revealed in the film that it is the distant future and humanity have destroyed themselves reducing their existence to a meagre one amid the post-apocalyptic wasteland of earth. After a series of escalating conflicts between the wild Om’s and the Draag it is finally decided that the two species should live on separate planets, in order to keep the peace and to prevent mutually assured destruction.
The film is animated through a similar process to the one that Terry Gilliam used in Monty Python, where cut outs are animated in stop motion. The pictures will not do the film justice, and it is very hard to explain the shear amount of fantastic (do you see what I did there) creatures, plants and technology that inhabit Ygam. What I will say though is that the film is gorgeous, a true feast for the eyes. In between the plot of the film there are extended sequences of Terr and the other ‘Om’s’ exploring the world. Each section deals with unimaginable beasts, alien tradition and custom and mind bending science fiction. Production designer Roland Topor and director Rene Lalouz, whose other work is very similar in style to Fantastic Planet, pull out all the stops bringing a surreal edge to the film’s design that is heightened by the comical yet unsettling sound design, full of impossible animal calls and strange pops and fizzes that transport you fully to Ygam. Indeed that is what the film is marketed on, the strange and wonderful animation, the bizarre setting and the fantastic creatures. It is defiantly the films main draw.
The story of the film written by Lalouz and Topor, based on the Novel Oms en serie by Stefan Wul, clearly has some deeper meaning. The relationship that the Draags and Oms have to each other, could be reflective of how different ethnic groups interact, or how humans treat animals. The latter being the most obvious as the ‘Oms’ in the film are either kept as pets or thought of as pests in the Draags’ parks. The relationship between the two species though can be seen as a metaphor for the racism and speciesism that is still a problem in our society to this day. Both sides do not view each other as sentient beings, rather they are just a savage enemy that must be destroyed. It is not until Terr uses the knowledge he acquires from Draags to help the Oms that they are considered equal and allowed to live on another planet, in peace.
However while some have argued that the ending of the film is a positive one, I seemed to get the opposite, as while both species were able to come to some sort of understanding, they were not able to cohabitate, rather they placed themselves, literally, worlds apart from each other. Similarly the fact that Terr has to use the Draags’ knowledge to make the Oms equal maintains problematic hierarchies of culture within the film, placing Draags above the Om and thus could be seen as a pro-assimilation film, rather than a film accepting of different cultures. Finally I find that the implementation of the film’s themes to be very obvious, and most of the deep meaningful messages are played out in cliché. While this may be because the film was written before the cliché but because I am reviewing the film 43 years after its release and have existed in a culture that has used the same message influenced by Fantastic Planet, I still feel that subtlety is key when conveying key messages such as these.
The message of the film is heavy handed, some of the sequences are unintelligible, finally the film itself can be a bit of a slog, but I promise you that you will be glad. The wonderful animation makes up for the film’s shortfalls and makes it a worth while experience.