• Fantastic Planet

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: October 5, 2017
    Director: Rene Laloux
    Cast: Jennifer Drake, Eric Baugin, Jean Topart, Jean Valmont, Gerard Hernandez
    Year: 1973

    The Movie:

    Rene Laloux’s Fantastic Planet (La Planete Sauvage) is one of the greatest animated films ever made, and chances are, you’ve never heard of it until now. A true masterpiece of the form, visually inventive and thematically potent even to this day, Laloux’s hand-drawn labor of love will never lose its power to mesmerize and astound. It is a provocative work of art that took cinematic animation to heights unheard or unthought of, and it was an adventure just to get made and onto theater screens and video shelves all over the world.

    A long time from now, on a distant planet known as Ygam, a highly advanced society of gigantic blue beings called Draags have brought humans from Earth to be their pets because on their world humans are as small as mice. Renamed “Oms” (a play on “hommes” – the French word for men), the Draags’ helpless captives one day receive a golden opportunity to turn the tables on their oppressors in the form of Terr, an Om who was orphaned as a baby when his mother died at the hands of playful Draag children. He was found by Draag leader Master Sinh and given to his daughter Tiwa, the one who gave Terr his name. As Tiwa raised Terr to maturity, she allowed him to learn the ways and knowledge of the Draags, including being able to read their language, via headsets that transmit the information directly into their brains.

    Once Tiwa ages into her teens and begins to lose interest in Terr (as children often do with their pets), he seizes the chance to escape and manages to meet up with a tribe of Oms who have developed their own society and religion over the years and now want nothing more than to use his insight into Draag technology to build ships they can use to flee Ygam forever and live in peace on its moon (the titular Fantastic Planet). But the Draags have plans to completely eradicate the surviving Oms before they can carry out their escape plan, resulting in a violent confrontation between the two species.

    Adapted from Stefan Wul’s 1957 French science-fiction novel Oms en serie by director Laloux – who followed this feature with two more cult favorite animated efforts, Time Masters (1982) and Gandahar (1988), the latter of which was released in the States as Light Years with a voice cast that included Glenn Close, Christopher Plummer, and magicians Penn and Teller – and the surrealist French artist and writer Roland Topor, whose own novel The Tenant was brought to the big screen in 1976 by Roman Polanski, Fantastic Planet is a cinematic experience quite like no other. The animation and character design were inspired by Topor’s own artistic creations, but since it took five years for the project to be completed, he didn’t take part in the animation. Production was initially complicated by fears of possible interference from the Communist government of Czechoslovakia, where a predominantly Czech staff had been working on the film despite their vocal misgivings over Laloux’s vision. The director was facing being replaced by his character graphics designer Josef Kabrt, so he was forced to have the remainder of the animation completed in Paris.

    Fantastic Planet went on to premiere at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, where it was awarded the Grand Prix, and was picked up for theatrical release in the U.S. by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. After the studio commissioned an English language dub for the film (featuring future Rocky Horror Picture Show/Megaforce star Barry Bostwick as the voice of the adult Terr, and the voice of Judy Jetson herself – Janet Waldo), it debuted on American screens that December. Laloux’s feast for the imagination and intellect didn’t rock the box office, but its union of stunning animation and provocative socio-political commentary helped it build an appreciative cult following over the course of the next 44 years.

    Its impact on contemporary animation and science-fiction storytelling is modest, but it is there if you know where and when to look. Surely it is one of the finest uses of the genre to explore the evils of prejudice in all its insidious forms, as the Draags view the Oms as inferior beings and think nothing of committing full scale genocide against them until their pets are able to gain the knowledge of their oppressors and level the playing field. The film runs a lean 72 minutes and Laloux and Topor use that time wisely, loading up their adaptation of the Wul novel with intriguing visual and thematic concepts that are often prioritized over character development. The only person we end up empathizing with at all is Terr, but seeing as how he is the de facto hero of Fantastic Planet, that works in the film’s favor.

    Fantastic Planet is provided by its creative team with a galaxy of visual delights, but their most impressive creation are the Draags with their ocean blue skin and eyes as red as burning suns. The film is full of psychedelic imagery (it’s no wonder that Jennifer Lopez’s character in Tarsem Singh’s hallucinatory thriller The Cell liked to relax at the end of a hard work day by lighting up a joint and watching the Laloux film) when the animators are permitted to cut loose and visualize the Draag society and the spiritual ceremonies in which they participate as a way of training themselves to travel through time and space simply by using their minds. Laloux brilliantly fused these images with an acid jazz masterpiece of a soundtrack composed by French jazz pianist and arranger Alain Goraguer – the last of the key players behind this film’s greatness – that can also be enjoyed independent of the film for which it was created. It makes amazing chill out music. In fact, I’m listening to it as I write this review.


    Fantastic Planet is presented on Region 4 DVD by Umbrella Entertainment as part of their “World Classics” series in its original 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio with dual French and English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio tracks. English subtitles have also been provided.

    The transfer appears to the same one prepared for the Criterion Collection’s 2016 Region A Blu-ray release, a 2K resolution scan and restoration of the original 35mm camera negative. It’s a stunner of a picture, with colors both cool and vibrant, improved image stability, and a minimum and consistent amount of grain. The upgrade in clarity also doesn’t reveal the limitations of the animation and compositing work. Not bad at all for a standard-definition transfer. The French 2.0 track offers the greatest of the two audio options, a pitch-perfect integration of the dialogue, music, and sound effects that benefits from a spacious arrangement of the mix across both channels, while the English track features many of the same virtues but often sounds slightly muffled as is usually the case with dub tracks.

    No supplements have been provided for this release. Previous Blu-ray editions from Criterion and Eureka contained a documentary about Laloux and short films from the director, while the Eureka Blu – a Region B title – also featured the full soundtrack by Goraguer on a separate menu. Umbrella’s DVD doesn’t even have a start-up menu; the film begins playing after the company logo and the disc shuts off once it’s over.

    The Final Word:

    Though this new DVD from Umbrella Entertainment carries nothing in the way of bonus features, it is worth a purchase for Region 4 consumers on the strength of the film itself – a classic of thought-provoking animated science-fiction that still impresses to this day – and the gorgeous digitally remastered form in which it is presented here. For those of you who own a Blu-ray player, I’d recommend either the Criterion release from last year or Eureka’s Region B “Masters of Cinema” edition so you can enjoy this one of a kind achievement in cinema in high-definition with some tantalizing extras to go with it.

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      I first saw this in college, less than sober. I think it left a permanent scar on my brain.
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      I didn’t know this ever had an English dub. Every time I have seen it on Canadian TV it was French audio with subtitles.
    1. Newt Cox's Avatar
      Newt Cox -
      Never even heard of this until one Xmas in the late 90s watched it while pretty trashed off some old VHS.
    1. JoeS's Avatar
      JoeS -
      ANTASTIC PLANET (1973) Rene Laloux's remarkable parable about a faraway planet is a visionary example of animated sci-fi. Set on a faraway planet where the humanoids (Ohms) are struggling for freedom under the rule of their more alien-like Draags, the film is related to the cautionary fiction of George Orwell - particularly 1984 and Animal Farm. Based on a novel by Stefan Wul, Laloux and Roland Topor's script is low key and lets the visuals, sounds and eerie mood tell its tale.
      Topor was also the production designer and it's here where the film truly shines. The look is heavily influenced by European fantasy artwork and the combined Czech-French crew make it truly distinctive. The avant-garde jazzy score by Alain Goraguer gives it a unique flavor.
      Laloux's later 1987's LIGHT YEARS (aka Gandahar) is also worth seeking out.
      FANTASTIC PLANET is available to stream on HBO Max and The Roku Channel. It's also on Criterion Blu Ray.