We spend so much time complaining about the current state of mainstream grown-up cinema — all comic books, sequels, and comic book sequels — we sometimes forget how formulaic animation has also become, relying too heavily on rapidly outdated pop-culture gags and hoary "be true to yourself" storylines. For every Wreck-It Ralph or ParaNorman, there are a dozen variations of Madagascar 3: More Goofy Dance Numbers, and even Pixar, reliably eye-catching even when churning out product that feels like product (Cars, Cars 2), has resorted increasingly to cliché. All of which makes Jean-François Laguionie's The Painting (Le tableau) that much more of a joy. In the eponymous painting where our action begins, the "Alldunns" are fully painted figures who hold themselves superior to the unfinished "Halfies" and actually enslave the lowly "Sketchies." Naturally, a forbidden romance blooms between Alldunn Ramo and Halfie Claire. When Claire disappears, Ramo joins with her friend Lola and a Sketchie named Plume on a search that takes them to the edge of their own painting and beyond, as the trio discovers the studio of the painter himself and eventually enter his other works. A simple parable of class warfare and racism soon becomes a kind of existential quest, as Ramo and company seek out their missing creator to find some answers. With striking visuals reminiscent of Matisse and Chagall and a refreshingly (for domestic animation audiences) grown-up story line, The Painting is almost reminiscent of, well, a work of art.
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