Sylvain Chomet's THE ILLUSIONIST tells the story of an aging magician, being pushed out of the spotlight and into the margins by rock and roll, television, and all the other shiny things that kids were into those days. Forced to find work wherever he can, the magician eventually encounters a young Scottish girl, who believes in his magic. Their relationship, based on this misunderstanding, is both beneficial and detrimental to both of them, in subtle ways.
THE ILLUSIONIST is, essentially, as good as it gets. It's sentimental without being sappy, it's funny without being broad or crude, and it's intelligent without being pedantic. But mostly it's just graceful, and that's probably a word I've never used before.
Chomet, who created the wonderful film THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE, here adapts Jacques Tati's final screenplay into a truly unique animated vision, one about the indignities of growing old in an accelerated culture. Think of it as UP without the talking dogs.
While I'm making comparisons, one thing Chomet's animation shares with Miyazaki's, is its attention to detail. There's something remarkable about seeing an animation move and act in truly human ways. In SPIRITED AWAY, Miyazaki took pains to make sure that Sen put on her shoes the same way a little girl would, twisting her heel and grinding her foot into place. In THE ILLUSIONIST, the film's protagonist--an aging vaudeville-era magician--moves with all the characteristic ticks and motions of Tati himself. This coming-together of the purely artistic and the casually human results in something new, something wonderful. I can't explain what, though, or why.
THE ILLUSIONIST is such a successful film, because it's so incredibly stayed in its execution. It doesn't go for broad strokes. There are no enormous epiphanies, or even climaxes; one event follows the other, with utter simplicity. Magic leaving the world is both a good thing--one cannot live a life of illusions--and a sad one, since it leaves us with nothing but the dreary world we live in.