Whilst animation in film has evolved immensely over the last 20 years, there’s something immediately charming about Phantom Boy‘s deliberately flat and simple palleted aesthetic. It may lack the emotional weight of the technically more refined Pixar offerings, but this film’s distinct look feels organically melded to its somber mentality.
Coming courtesy of French directing duo Jean-Leap Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, the duo behind the 2010 Oscar-nominated A Cat In Paris, Phantom Boy is a fantasy tale wrapped inside a noir mystery story that showcases its love for both New York City and the trusted origin fable of the superhero genre.
Our titular boy is young Leo (voiced in the English version by Marcus D’Angelo), a pre-teen currently being treated for cancer in a New York City hospital who learns that his own nearness to death enables him to float out of his body and fly wherever he chooses for stinted periods of time; the film forgoes any reasoning as to why this happens. His unique ability proves a valuable asset to fellow hospital patron Alex (Jared Padalecki), a brash cop who is on the hunt for newly surfaced super-villain The Face (Vincent D’Onofrio), a mysterious mobster-type who possesses the smarts to shut down and infect all of the city’s technological components.
It’s as far-fetched as any live-action superhero feature, and at 84 minutes it refuses to pander to any unnecessary exposition, which ultimately all play in the film’s favour as it feels like an entertaining chapter in a larger story, not unlike the ones Leo recites to his adoring younger sister at the tail-ends of the film.
More memorable due to its visuals than its generic story, Phantom Boy‘s greatest asset is perhaps its morbid undertones. Though it’s an animated film appearing to aim itself at a younger crowd, its themes of death and mortality, as well as the brutal demeanour of The Face, make it more suitable for a slightly older crowd who are likely to be more equipped to handle the surprisingly dark tones.
Oddly engaging, effortlessly weird, and evoking the same spirit as Richard Linklater‘s animated efforts, Phantom Boy feels perfectly content to exist as the weird, off-kilter cousin to the more traditional Pixar/Dreamworks family members, the types that seldom do anything wrong but most likely possess the desire to be as daring as said Phantom.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Phantom Boy screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival, where it was reviewed.