December 20, 2007
Tous À L’Ouest, the new Lucky Luke animated feature, is an extraordinarily refreshing film; a masterpiece in slapstick and screwball animation filmmaking. It is a feature Chuck Jones or Tex Avery could have made, had they been animating on the other side of the Atlantic. This film is somewhat of a rarity: it’s hand drawn 2D, it’s European (produced by French studio Xilam), and based on classic comic book characters that many would consider outdated by now. I did not see the live-action flick Les Daltons from 2005, so I cannot get into any comparisons with it, but Tous À L’Ouest firmly stands next to the Belvision and Dargaud Films animated Lucky Luke movies: an updated, more eccentric version of them.
In this outing, director Olivier Jean-Marie selects all the right elements of the Lucky Luke saga to spend time on, to update, and to take into a zany, Terry Gilliam and Buster Keaton direction: that means plenty of Dalton Brothers action, cinematic showdowns, bar fights, furniture destruction, bank robberies, chases, and cabaret dancers. All of this, delivered in muscular, over-the-top 2D animation (you won’t get enough of Joe Dalton going bonkers) and through a layered plotline.
The film is based on the Morris/Goscinny Lucky Luke comic book La Caravane, in which the lonesome cowboy shepherds a caravan from eastern United States to the West. In Jean-Marie’s version, the cowboy meets the caravan folk (immigrants traveling to California to claim their newly bought lands) in New York City, where he has just put the Daltons in jail. The two story points inevitably intertwine, as Lucky Luke accepts to help the caravan cross safely the country and drag along with him the Daltons, who, fresh from their Big Apple jailbreak, are quickly recaptured by the cowboy. Why he doesn’t simply find another slammer for them in New York did not cross my mind, as I was simply too engrossed in the film’s action.
The NYC setting is wholly entertaining and does not feel tacked on at all, despite the fact that none of Lucky Luke’s adventures have taken place in industrialized New York. After the Daltons escape prison, they are treated to a Wall Street full of banks on each side of a gold bricked road, and a Times Square with a five story “Gun and Rifle Store”. Much of the cityscape, including the wagons on the streets and those of the caravan that the cowboy escorts, are rendered in cel-shaded 3D that blends beautifully with the drawn characters. It’s not just the quality of the cel-shading that makes the blending seamless: all of the 3D elements are modeled in the Morris’s graphic style. During the chase sequences, as much stretch and squash is applied to the wagons as to the 2D characters.
The boldest and strongest aspect of Tous À L’Ouest is evidently the powerful cartoon animation seen on the Joe Dalton character and Crook, a new villain created for the film. This slimy estate broker is designed to be deliciously evil: tall and thin with a hunch, sporting a mustache and a hat (it might remind you of another recent villain: Bowler Hat Guy from Meet The Robinsons.) This design makes for serpentine poses and takes, which often occur in that order: Crook attempts to sabotage the caravan from reaching its destination; he goes into elastic takes when his plans fail.
The way Joe Dalton’s character is handled in this film is a call to other mediums of cinema (live-action, CG animation) to accept the challenge in portraying extreme comedic anger. Joe is like Kricfulasi’s Ren but more agitated. He’s a walking time-bomb, ready to explode at any moment. His animated anatomy is comprised of two basic shapes: his large head and his tiny body. They behave as though they are propelled by a trampoline whenever he jumps in the air and screams how much he detests Lucky Luke. This recurring Morris/Goscinny scenario is pushed to the next level on the big screen because the animation of two people that bother Joe the most- his slow-witted brother Averel, and the cool-tempered cowboy- is much more restrained.
Tous À L’Ouest is a celebration of the cartoony, the burlesque and of repetitive shticks. The Daltons have two things on their mind: to get their loot and kill Lucky Luke. You will witness them act on these goals throughout the film; each time displaying more of their sheer stupidity and ineptitude of actions. This film is a must must-see for all cartoon fans, not just Lucky Luke ones. It’s as close as its going to get to a proper Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck feature. We will probably not see this style of traditional animation on the big screen for a while, so see it before it’s out of the theatres.