“The Painting” imagines a world in which the inhabitants of artworks are alive, like the portrait subjects on the magical walls of Hogwarts, but with one critical difference. In this charming, if slightly twee, animated fable, the characters not only can come and go as they please, hopping from canvas to canvas, they also can enter the real world, in their search for greener pastures.
Some of them have reason for their wanderlust.
The protagonists of the slender French feature, which has been dubbed into English for a young American audience, are a group of fugitives from a painted world in which people are divided not by economics or skin color, but by aesthetic caste. At the top of the social order are the Alldunns, a class of, quite literally, beautiful people whom the painting’s unnamed Painter has fully rendered. Below them come the Halfies, a group of people left artistically unfinished, with bare patches on their clothing and, in some cases, skin. At the bottom are the Sketchies, a reviled race of crudely drafted figure studies.
The allegory of race and prejudice is pretty obvious, even for young audiences.
Most of the action occurs after three residents flee from this highly regimented society: Ramo, an Alldunn who is involved in a forbidden love affair with a Halfie girl, Claire; Claire’s Halfie best friend Lola; and Quill, a Sketchie. Together with Magenta, a young military drummer whom they encounter in a nearby canvas featuring a pitched battle scene, they go in search of the Painter, and some answers.
At this point, the film’s pat symbolism sort of starts to fall apart. Is the Painter supposed to be God? His studio, where Ramo and his friends eventually end up, is a somewhat creepy place, filled with slashed and mutilated canvases and only a few finished works. One features a sensuous, if chatty, female nude; another is a grouchy self-portrait. When the travellers go looking for the Painter inside a genre scene of Venice, they meet a skeletal representation of the Grim Reaper, complete with scythe. He seems a little too eager to mow our heroes down, especially poor Quill.
Exactly what is the message here?
Well, tolerance of those who look different, for one thing. But along with that theme, “The Painting” stirs in discussion of human mortality, the benefits of pacifism and the power of individuality and self-reliance. If there’s a moral to the story, it could be best summed up as this: Don’t wait for someone to finish you; go paint yourself.
That’s a nice sentiment. And the film is both visually lovely and original. But in the end, its palette is muddied by mixing in a few too many hues.
Unrated. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains brief cartoon-on-cartoon violence, artful nudity and mild painterly peril. 78 minutes.