“These savage Oms, they’re dirty. They reproduce at an alarming rate.”
I was fortunate enough to catch a midnight screening of Fantastic Planet at my university, preceded by several other short films from director René Laloux. After said experience, I’d definitely recommend a late-night screening of Laloux’s work on the biggest screen you can find. The mesmerizing visual style and the thoughtful subject matter build a dreamlike sense of soft immersion that make for a unique cinematic experience unlike any other. Fantastic Planet is considered Laloux’s masterpiece, and it definitely stands out as one of the most refreshing films I’ve seen recently.
An allegorical tale set in the distant future, a giant blue race known as Draags have captured humans from Earth and brought them to their home planet. The Draags have attained many technological and spiritual advancements, and they treat humans (which they call Oms) as pets, mere companions to their way of living. When this hierarchy is threatened, the Draags must rethink their treatment of the Oms in an attempt to preserve their own species, which reproduces at a much slower rate that of humanity. A complex sci-fi tale with distinct parallels to the world today, Fantastic Planet is a vibrant, endlessly fascinating story.
What immediately captivated me about the film was its mood. It would be tempting to categorize Laloux’s work as “absurd” or “abstract,” and perhaps those labels more easily define his short films which are more open to interpretation, but Fantastic Planet boasts an air-tight narrative that would dispel this kind of categorization and place it confidently in the straight science fiction genre. What does persist throughout all of Laloux’s work, however, is the mood. There’s something deliberate about every moment in the film. It comes from the stop motion style, but it persists in the dialogue, the color palette, and really every piece of this beautiful creation.
When the Draags move, for example, they don’t seem guided by a strong sense of urgency. Their limbs almost float into place when they take an action. A character may show strong emotion in a scene, but this emotion is undermined, danced around by the slow, graceful presentation that builds a mood of cosmic indifference. Just as the Oms feel confined and are treated as play toys for the Draags, even the Draags themselves feel like a small part of a greater, more fantastic universe that cares little for their struggles.
The film’s themes are also well worth discussing. Somewhat reminiscent of Brecht’s “epic theatre,” Laloux makes no apologies for the allegorical nature of his film. The distorted landscapes and unsettling creatures help you distance yourself from the film, reminding you that it’s merely a work of cinema. This is what I mean by “soft immersion.” You can enjoy the atmosphere and the plot that the movie puts forward, but you never allow yourself to get too lost in it, or you might miss the point. It’s no secret that great science fiction is always about the present, and Fantastic Planet follows this tradition precisely. The Draags’ treatment of the Oms and the societal structure of their planet may seem familiar to the one in which we live, and Laloux asks us to question these facts of life that we’ve come to accept with a clever bit of role reversal that elevates the film from simply entertaining to profound and insightful.
While Fantastic Planet may be the only work of its kind on my formal watchlist, I’m already itching for more Laloux, and I plan to explore more of his filmography in the near future. Not only his incredible talent in worldbuilding, but his astute sense of storytelling and endlessly entertaining art direction have placed him on a high pedestal in my thoughts. Fantastic Planet may not be the most conventional film, but it’s undoubtedly worth your time.
Films Left to Watch: 888