Animation’s Great Leap Forward this past decade rivaled those of a hundred world leaders in turnabout innovation. From the beautiful dungeons of ink and paint, 3D computer graphics and rotoscoping ran free to eclipse their ancestors. Yet, the wonder of traditional cartoons didn’t spring so much from the graphics themselves as from the back-of-the-head awareness of the years of pens and paper sacrificed to them. Having lost that human connection, today’s animation faces two new challenges: dazzle ‘em with images and tell a good story. So far, it’s concentrated more on awesome pictures than awesome tales.
Looking like a woodcut come to life, this stark, black-and-white French cartoon exemplifies this divide—it has top-notch graphics, but a story as stale as last week’s donuts. Karas (voiced in English by Daniel Craig) is your standard noir cop. He’s the force’s maverick—protocol be damned!—and he always gets his man. He’s never off duty, not mentally at least, which explains why his grand total of hobbies and friends equals zero. Karas’ latest riddle is a kidnapped scientist named Ilona (Romola Garei). Twenty-two and blonde, she’s a real looker, yet never hits the clubs like her foxy older sister Bislane (Catherine McCormack). Ilona prefers Dr. Muller’s (Ian Holms) laboratory, and was there working on something special for Avalon cosmetics when she got carted away. Several corpses and lines of DOA dialogue later, Karas finds himself on the run in a city that wants him dead, going through the predictable sleuthing handbook of cautious secrecy and knockdown brawls.
Noir gumshoes tend to hunt for one of four secrets: the sour love affair, the political dirt, the mysterious unknown treasure, or the brain that everyone wants. By falling into the same old rut, Renaissance can’t offer anything new, but it does take the same old grime and make it gorgeous. We don’t just see Ilona get captured, we see Ilona get captured through the reflection in a dead dog’s pupils. Set in a claustrophobic 2054 Paris, the animators smartly use their skills on clutter rather than technics, except for an invisi-suit that spies and thugs slip into when they vant to be alone, giving off the faint shimmer of a heat mirage. The city is a jumble of stacked-on angles and disparate architecture, with an emphasis on railings and glass—the better to break skulls with after pushing them over a ledge. According to the backstory, Paris has insulated itself from the world, which might explain why the techno bumping in their nightclubs is the same old bassy skittering and the cameras pointed at the populace look sci-fi five years ahead, not 50.
While this world has no space to breathe, there’s plenty of room for gaps in logic—which, when compared with the stunning imagery are doubly irritating. It’s like there’s a bank account of creativity: draw too much out for pretty pictures and you can’t afford a writer to polish up the hammy clichés. Of course, that bank account really exists—it’s called play-it-safe producers—and until we start demanding more from our eye candy, 90 minutes later, we’ll always feel unsatisfied.