AKA: La Planete Sauvage, Divoka Planeta, Sur la Planete Ygam, On the Planet Ygam, Savage Planet
Year Released: 1973
Distributor: The Criterion Collection
Origin: France/Czech Republic
Running Time: 71 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 15+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Fantastic Planet is a truly unique movie, and I have trouble thinking of other films like this one from an aesthetic standpoint. I will say that fans of Rene Laloux’s other films should be fine here.
-The French language track was used for this review.
-The DVD used was the Accent Cinema version which was released in 2007. In 2016, The Criterion Collection rescued the license and put it on a new DVD, and gave it the Blu-Ray treatment. Also, Accent Cinema’s DVD has some subtitle errors.
-The aliens in this film are officially known as Draags instead of Traags in the Accent DVD and the name change will be reflected in this review.
-Fantastic Planet is based on the 1957 sci-fi novel Oms en Serie (Oms Linked Together) by French author Stefan Wul.
-Language Bonus: Oms, the name given to humans by the Draags is a wordplay of the word “hommes” which is literally the French word for humans. Also, Terr’s name is a reference to Terre which means Earth similar to the term Terra Firma, for example.
-Hilarious in Hindsight: Wouldn’t it be crazy if someone else decades later made a movie with humans meeting blue aliens? Oh wait, that movie exists. It’s called Avatar. To be fair to James Cameron, the alien/human dynamics, plot, and especially the world-building is completely different from that huge movie.
-As of 2016, Fantastic Planet is considered to be the 36th greatest animated film according to Rolling Stone.
-Jean Topart, who played Master Sinh has done French dubbing work in movies such as the Elephant Man, Treasure Planet, DuckTales the Movie, and Amadeus.
I’ve reviewed many animated films here on Iridium Eye, and I had a realization that France is second only to Japan in terms of animated stuff I’ve reviewed. I’ve checked out French animated films such as Eleanor’s Secret, The Rabbi’s Cat, and Ernest and Celestine for example, and that’s not even getting into works where France has done co-production. I had heard of this particular film from my friend Justin Yates (check out his music) where he mentioned this weird movie in passing after he showed me a trailer.
Let’s see how this 70s animated sci-fi flick holds up as I’ve been known to say.
Fantastic Planet takes place in the very distant future where humans AKA Oms are living on the planet Ygam where the ruling aliens are the gigantic blue-skinned Draags. Oms are about the size of bugs to the Draags and are subjugated to being either pets or vermin in their eyes. One day, some Draag kids kill an Om mother who held onto her baby boy by just playing with her. By playing with her, I mean pushing her around before throwing her to the ground violently and flicking her with their fingers like some insect. This makes the baby an orphan and he’s adopted by this Draag girl named Tiwa who gives the baby the name Terr. For most of his life, Terr is treated as a mix between a pet and a doll by being dressed up, played with, and even gets a magnetic collar that controls his movements should he get too far. When he grows up, he accidentally gets Draag knowledge after his collar malfunctions while Tiwa is getting her lesson (context: Draags have lessons beamed up to their heads with hi-tech headsets). He escapes and eventually meets other Oms in the wild who live in an abandoned park and risk being “De-Omed” which translates into being exterminated by the Draags.
I’ve seen and reviewed some weird stuff, but I will say that Fantastic Planet is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in my life and this is coming from a guy who has enjoyed several Yoshitoshi ABe series. The scenery looks so surreal with creatures that I couldn’t have dreamed up like some bat-winged log-faced anteaters or coral-nosed lungfish things in a plant cage. Those explanations of some of the fauna don’t do it justice. The animation was very uniquely weird on its own like it’s some hand-drawn storybook come to life after the author dropped a ton of acid. The level of strangeness could turn off some people and that’s saying nothing about some of the disturbing imagery and actions that happen. The music was just as bizarre, but I actually liked it for some weird reason. I can handle experimental music and some avant-garde stuff, but this was something else. Composer Alain Goraguer makes Yuki Kajiura look like Top 40 fluff by comparison. It’s this quirky mix of prog rock, jazz, funk, and avant-garde compositions. If I could try to describe what Fantastic Planet’s soundtrack reminded me of, I’d say it’s like some weird combination of Magma, George Clinton, and Pink Floyd at their most experimental. This is some crazy stuff, but I really dig the score of this film.
The world-building was some of the most original I’ve seen. Sure, you’ve seen me compliment things like Strings, Haibane Renmei, and even Ernest and Celestine of all things in terms of how the cultures and worlds are portrayed, but Fantastic Planet makes all of those animated works look like your average Midwestern town in America. The level of detail for the cities and the environment is all too unique. The Draags have meetings in this futuristic auditorium where there’s a giant cube in the middle with projectors on all four sides that show the Masters of the town talking who are all inside the cube. The Draags frequently have meditations where they close their eyes while they have some kind of astral projections inside floating red bubbles that go to another part of the planet (spoilers avoided to what they do). The Draags even use the Oms for fights where they tie each fighter’s hair together as they are forced to beat each other up like some kind of space-aged psychedelic cockfighting. Even the machines the Draags use to “De-Om” are surreal in their destruction as there are these silver Roomba-like things that fire out gas-emitting discs to Om areas to suffocate them.
While Fantastic Planet’s atmosphere is truly weird and one could guess if the creators were engaging in illegal substances, the story and themes are more straightforward than one can expect. It’s quite allegorical of classism, racism, or even animal rights. When I rented this DVD from Netflix, the description referred to the plot being a metaphor for the Soviet Union’s occupation of Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia). I can see that argument, but the themes can be more universal than that specific event. There’s the animal rights argument with the humans being treated like cute animals or dangerous beasts that deserve to be subjugated or slaughtered. I can see parallels to the Civil Rights movement like how African-Americans were (and still are albeit more subtly) treated as subhumans with how they can be killed without any consequences. The plans of “De-Omming” the parks with the gas discs easily invokes Holocaust imagery with the gas chambers used in the different concentration camps. It really isn’t as heavy-handed, but the motifs are quite simple for adults and older teens to understand with these forms of prejudice displayed. I liked how it wasn’t preachy with using these themes which is a huge plus. One thing I noticed was in the initial “De-Om” scene, the Draags used Oms with gas masks to try and find the wild ones of their kind. I’m not sure how intentional it was, but I interpret this as minority groups being forced to go against their compatriots to serve whoever is in the majority. It’s like a form of dividing and conquering similar to how the Europeans used askaris (hired African soldiers) to do their bidding during the Scramble for Africa or to a lesser extent how some really bigoted people refer to some people of various ethnic groups as “the good ones” in a very patronizing way to say that they are better (and more obedient) to their preconceived notions of what they believe everyone in one race is. If that’s the case, then good on the creators for using that theme in a very subtle way in that brief scene. I’m a bit of a sucker for media that parallels social issues in a non-preachy way and this was a nice touch.
Fantastic Planet isn’t fantastic all the time though. As I said before, the whole movie just oozes with surreal stuff and not everyone’s going to appreciate that. Even I was weirded out by some of the scenes. I thought some parts of the movie were crueler than what was intended and it started with Tiwa having Terr as a pet. She puts the collar on him even when he’s still a baby and watching her control the collar as it telekinetically yanks the baby Terr by the neck by dragging him back was something I found to be really disturbing or how she playfully dunks him in a pool of water that would be enough to drown him. With the exception of Terr, none of the other Oms are named. Since more of them show up as he ventures out to find wild Oms. I would like to know more about the other humans that he meets. I also thought the ending while being hopeful was too rushed. There was a bit of foreshadowing with one thing that one of the Masters said in regards to the Oms being able to live on Ygam, but I thought the reactions of initial fear after the Oms reach the satellite known as the Fantastic Planet itself to their emotions afterward went from zero to one hundred. The conclusion was satisfying with the end result, but I wanted some more detail.
This French/Czech film was certainly off the beaten path even compared to the stuff I typically review on Iridium Eye, but I enjoyed it more than I expected. The animation is old, but there’s so much creativity and originality going on. The music is top-notch and I urge you to check out the soundtrack if you want some really experimental tunes. The world of Fantastic Planet is quite surreal yet dangerous as the animator portrayed this planet in such a fascinating way. I do wish there was a better-paced ending and more development with the characters besides Terr though. The themes of prejudice and oppression are handled in a brilliant way that isn’t heavy-handed and the story is easy to follow despite the psychedelic imagery without coming across as pretentious. Fantastic Planet is an underrated gem in animation and it’s good to watch it with an open mind.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like psychedelic music.
Subtract 2-5 points if you like your movies to look and be more “normal”.
-Uniquely creative animation
-Out of this world soundtrack
-Ingenious usage of adult and harsh themes
-Pacing issues in the final act
-Lack of character development for the background Oms
-Can be too weird for many viewers
Final Score: 9/10 points
Content Warning: I would have to say older teens and up. The violence used can be bloody and there is a noticeable body count with humans as they get gassed, cut up, sucked in these huge vacuums (it makes sense in context), or eaten by the wildlife around them. There is some frontal female nudity with both the humans and the Draags. There are very disturbing themes and images such as the Draags plotting genocide against the Oms. Seriously, replace the word “Oms” with “Jews”, “Blacks”, or “Indians” for example when any of the Draags talk about De-Omming the park and let the horror sink in. The scenes with the Draags playing with their Om pets/toys are quite unnerving and the victims are as young as infants such as Terr’s earlier scenes. Even the brief part where a newly hatched animal getting eaten by a bigger predator, not even seconds after breaking through its egg can be disturbing in its own right.
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