Fantastic Planet

“Fantastic Planet,” by director René Laloux is a visually interesting sci-fi animation. The story leisures the idiosyncrasy and similarity in co-existing creatures. At times referred to by analysts as “The Wild Planet”, this film began it’s production in 1963 and finished ten years later in 1973. Written by Laloux and Roland Topor, the pair base their inspiration for this unique film on the 1957 novel "Oms en série," by French writer Stefan Wul. The film's score, a broach between strange and beautiful, was composed by Alain Goraguer. The film was released in 1973 to critical acclaim and was awarded the Grand Prix special jury prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. In 2016 this film was ranked by Rolling Stones Magazine as the 36th greatest animated movie of all time. For the profound allegorical themes cohesively explored in Laloux's “Fantastic Planet” one-hour runtime, this rating seems just right. In a distant future, gargantuan blue humanoid ‘Draags’ have brought human beings (who are called Oms as a play on the French word for "man", homme) from Earth to the planet Ygam, where Draags maintain a technologically and spiritually advanced society. The Draags consider Oms animals. Some Oms are domesticated, but most live in the wilderness and seasonally slaughtered by the Draags in order to control their population. Most of the Draags fail to see the adaptive potential in the Om who are regarded as nothing more than incompetent playthings. Master Sinh, the leader of a Draag city, warns the Draags that the Oms are much more dangerous than they seem. At first, Draag culture is superfluously unfamiliar and distinct. What familiarizes the experience for the Om and the viewer is a desire to learn more about the Draag. For the Draag, learning to meditate was an essential step on the road to knowledge. Their meditation ritual paralleled the Om’s ‘glow-stone’ ritual. The similarities between the two rituals are evident in the themes of achieving higher knowledge. The Draags meditation is abstract and their essence is absorbed into a physical ball that is sent to a distant planet. On this planet, the Draag's essence performs sexual acts with other Dragg souls. The Om 'glow-stone' ritual is very similar albeit more savage. Beginning with the consumption of a stone that causes it's host to glow, hence glow-stone, a large group of men chase down a smaller group of women in order to have sex. For the Draags and the Oms sexual vitality is essential for their pursuit of higher knowledge since without it they're cultures lose a critical pillar of order. The drive to learn is evident in Terr, the Om of a Draag, Tiwa. Unbeknownst to Tiwa, Terr is also learning when she partakes in online classes. “I liked the lessons and did my best to make the most of them,” Terr spends most of his time in captivity with Tiwa studying and learning about Draag history. When Terr is caught participating in a lesson without Tiwa by Master Sinh and his wife he quickly scrambles away. Master Sinh is asked by his wife, “Do you think he understands what he is saying?” Master Sinh responds “No, I do not think so.” An allegorical depiction of bigots is evident in how Draags obtusely look down on Om as incompetent even when evidence to state the opposite is clearly presented. Another instance of obtuse behavior from the Draag is when Master Sinh warns the Draag of Oms potential and adaptiveness, ”you are wrong to consider oms are merely wild animals.” The ramifications of the council’s decision to be ignorant towards Sing and his observations is swift in the subsequent death of a Draag at Oms's hands.

A scene that cross-pollinates the biblical theme of knowledge versus ignorance is seen when Terr recognizes his nakedness. Terr’s recognization is lifted from the story of man, Adam. In the case of Terr, he does not bite an apple but he chooses to use Draag technology. In choosing to use the forbidden technology, Terr grows in intelligence. This leads directly to his recognition of nakedness and his feeling of shame. The allegory behind the statement ignorance is bliss is tempered in every frame by Terr who fights (literally, he fights to the death against another Om in order to continue spreading Draag knowledge) a destiny of ignorance in order to save the Om. The sci-fi look of “Fantastic Planet” is mesmerizing. The weird flamboyant class of the Draags against the motivated barbarism of the Om is a classic example of surface contrast with underlying, layered, similarities. The animations of the world and it’s inhabitants are textured in ways that give them a gritty hand-drawn feeling. Every animation feels purposeful with the weight and sizes of the characters having an impact on the Darwinistic world they inhabit. It’s a large and dangerous world for the Om who are pushed to either adapt or die. The purposeful movements of the animations are supported by a mesmeric soundtrack. In a review for AllMusic, radio host and experimental music enthusiast François Couture noted: The main theme is very reminiscent of Pink Floyd's "Atom Heart Mother Suite" (same half-time tempo, mellotron, harpsichord, and wah-wah guitar), and the other two are a ballad and a circus-like waltz. The music is very '70s-clichéd and will appeal to fans of French and Italian '70s soundtrack stylings. Although repetitive, the album itself creates an interesting marijuana-induced sci-fi floating mood, blending psychedelia, jazz, and funk.”

A prevalent theme in this film is race discrimination. The Draags look down on the Om with who they share more similarities than differences. The only real difference that they share is in their appearances. This idea is alluded to when Tiwa draws eyelids on her face. She might have been oblivious to it at the time but the two were able to communicate and understand each other on a level much higher than owner and pet. “Fantastic Planet” is the closet thing a film can have to an epiphany. Apart from getting under your skin with its profound allegories, quirky characters, and psychic soundtrack, this film will give you an appreciation for education and ignorance in ways, you either know all about or have been selectively oblivious to.

Stream “Fantastic Planet," on Amazon Prime for $2.99.

© 2023 by Giorgio Citarella II