From time to time one has to reserve some room to catch up with European animation. Usually not as accomplished or creative as its Japanese counterpart, but definitely a few steps up from the generic American variety. And so I found myself bumping into Chasseurs de Dragons (Dragon Hunters), a French full CG animation that embraces all the genre cliches but serves them in a refreshing and captivating manner.
CG is little more than an animation technique, but it's sudden rise also turned it into somewhat of an art style. The crisp, clean and photo-realistic look of the graphics have become an industry standard, eclipsing the wide range of possibilities that could be explored with computer animation. And even though we're slowly starting to see other styles benefiting from computer power, Chasseurs de Dragons happily fits itself into the typical graphical CG mold.
Don't be expecting much spice from the story either. The film spends the first 20 minutes getting acquainted with two wannabe dragons hunters and the little niece of a fallen (but still rich) king. From there on both parties team up to start a trip to the end of the world, ready to take on the infamous World Gobbler. A dragon so ominous it eats entire countries for breakfast. It's a simply adventure film setup, clearing the way for several nice setups and sceneries to be explored.
So far nothing worth writing about, but the power of this film lies in its execution and how certain ideas and cliches are fleshed out. The world of Ivernel and Qwak is heavily influenced by Laputa and Mario Galaxy and it shows. Their universe is a collection of debris and small planets which happily float around on thin air, held together by wacky gravity laws. This really helps to ground the adventurous feeling of the film as new location actually present something wondrous and special, worth exploring.
Even though Chasseurs de Dragons keeps to a tested art style, the film itself looks a lot better than many other such outings. Technically definitely not the best there is on offer, but what it lacks in technique it more than makes up in creative detail. Very smart use of coloring and lighting and some cool visual effects make it very pleasing to look at. But it's the inventive camera work that really sets the film apart from its competitors. The camera work in these films is usually a little underwhelming so it's good to see the extra attention pays off.
The score is based on traditional Chinese music. Considering the dragon theme and the background of one of the main characters a pretty logical choice. It's nothing too special but the score is very atmospheric and it gives the film a rather warm feeling throughout. I watched the film with the French voice track (and so should you), the whole cast did a pretty good job even if it probably won't be all too memorable. One word of warning: I also checked the English dubbed trailer which pretty much trashed the whole atmosphere of the film, best to avoid that one.
Chasseurs de Dragons is a pretty short film that doesn't outstay its welcome. The directors are very aware their film doesn't hold enough substance to warrant two hours of the viewer's attention and so the film stops while it is still ahead. This might be a bit disappointing for those expecting a true epic tale of bravery and dragon slaying, but if you're happy with a very tasty snack instead then Chasseurs de Dragons is really all you need.
While there isn't to much originality floating around in this film, Ivernel and Qwak made up with creativity. It's been a while since I watched an adventure film that captured the wonders of adventuring this well. The world of our heroes is pretty awesome and mysterious, harboring many nice twists and lovely, tiny little details. This makes the film rise above all the other generic outings in this genre and transforms it from standard dribble into a worthy recommendation.
The film is visually pleasing (though not technically perfect), packs an enjoyable sense of humor, great creature and world design and doesn't give you the chance to become bored. It's the perfect little film for when you're short on time and want a relaxing, fun-filled roller coaster ride. A worthy addition to the French animation section.