As fantastic as Les Triplettes de Belleville is — both in story and in illustration — there are times when the absurdity of it will disappear from your mind. And times when the goopy frog eating by the haggard sisters will cause cringes, when weary bike pedalling will make the backs of your calves ache with sympathy Charlie horses, when 100 guns pointed from 100 look-alike mob bosses will slightly lighten the colour of your knuckles. Growing up, Champion lived alone with his grandmother in a rickety tower house in the French countryside. He was lonely and dispirited, and showed little interest in anything. Determined to find a way to make him happy, his grandmother discovered a deep love he quietly held for cycling. Purchasing him a bike, she set off an obsession that would continue in Champion's life until the countryside had grown up into a city literally around them, and Champion was ready for the Tour de France. But part way through the race, Champion is abducted by mysterious mobsters, and his tenacious grandmother and his dog Bruno must track him down by van, pedal boat and foot to the amazing metropolis of Belleville. In the sprawling city, his grandmother finds unlikely help in the form of dried-up '30s music hall stars the Belleville triplets. First, Sylvain Chomet dehumanises his characters by portraying them in such exaggeration that they are nearly at the point of grotesqueness. Then he brings them back to earth by adding the detailed touches of life. Touches like the clinking of grandma's earrings when she moves her head, the way the dog stretches out his leg and the abrasive sound of teeth being brushed. His film is ingenious in its use of sounds, its bizarre and surprising humour and its mimicry of camera angles. But perhaps his most ingenious trick of all is managing to make his eccentric characters sympathetic. (Alliance Atlantis)