Jean-Francois Laguionie's The Painting (2011) is an animated oddity. Essentially, this fable aims to remind its audience that appearance shouldn't matter, especially since we have no choice of lives before we're created. Three different social classes are featured in this world, which initially takes place inside a painting but quickly breaks out of frame: the selfish "Allduns" (finished characters that live in wealth and luxury), "Halfies" (incomplete drawings that are generally ignored by the Allduns) and "Sketchies" (crude scribbles that basically live in exile). The Allduns believe that they're the superior race, but all three groups have different ideas about the other two. One thing they have in common is that they've all been created by The Painter, so a small group eventually sets out to ask him why they've been abandoned.
Visually, The Painting has a lot going for it. Laguionie's smooth, expressive character designs have little problem conveying a fine sense of fluidity and movement. Their abstract faces are deceptively simple but well-rendered, with subtle brush-stroke textures giving them a heightened sense of surrealism. The "lower class" Sketchies are particularly well done, especially during a surprisingly horrific scene where one is manhandled by the disgusted Allduns. The journey outside their home painting is even better, from the quasi-realistic CG studio backgrounds to the live-action outdoor conclusion. For obvious reasons, the juxtaposition of such cartoonish, abstract figures in "real-world" settings should feel out of place, but excellent lighting and color timing make almost every character feel like parts of the same world.
Unfortunately, it struggles in the story department. Though blessed with an interesting premise that occasionally hits the right notes, almost every other story element feels lukewarm and predictable. I quite liked the substitution of "finished vs. incomplete paintings" as a stand-in for race, class or cultural conflicts, and in some respects it's done in a subtle and unobtrusive manner. Yet other portions of The Painting are extremely heavy-handed, paired with overdone plot elements like "forbidden romance" and, well, "the artist as God". "Brief trips into other paintings" also sounds good on paper (canvas?) and creates interesting visual touches, but also gives our journey more of an episodic feel. The ending also doesn't sit right, especially since it closes on a half-note that wouldn't feel out of place in a 6-7 minute short. Within the context of a full-length production, this ambiguous ending feels more like a cop-out.
Still, The Paintings aims so much higher than Shrek Whatever or Cars III: The Search for More Money that it shouldn't be ignored. It's not a family film (less for the PG content and more for the existential subject matter), and this often works to its advantage: there simply isn't enough non-kiddie animated fare these days, so any such genre entry is cause for celebration. However, due to its fundamental flaws, The Painting is only worth revisiting from a visual standpoint: there's less actual "meat" here than you'd think, and the film's vaguely pretentious atmosphere can leave a bad aftertaste in the mouth.
This Blu-ray/DVD combo pack seems like a decent effort, though not without a few flaws of its own. While there's little room for improvement visually and the bonus features aren't bad at all, the audio is slightly less impressive and hampered by subtitles based on the optional English dub. I don't understand nearly enough French to speak with any authority, but it just feels like a misguided translation.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 format, The Painting looks almost as good as expected. The film's crisp, artistic style translates well to HD with strong lines, a bold palette and solid black levels. Deliberate textures like canvas and brush strokes are especially noticeable, especially during the "semi-real world" sequences. Very few digital problems could be detected along the way, including some mild edge enhancement and moderate banding. Overall, it's obvious that The Painting's fundamental strengths are largely visual, so it's good to know that this Blu-ray does a good job in carrying most of the weight.
DISCLAIMER: These promotional images are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
As mentioned above, the audio is available in your choice of the original DTS-HD 5.1 French track or a DTS-HD 5.1 English dub, with both mixes having similar volume levels and dynamic ranges. With that said, the rear channel effects often felt a little flat compared to the front soundstage, though the occasional music cues don't always suffer the same fate. LFE is limited but dialogue is usually crisp and bright, almost overpowering the sound effects on occasion. Overall, it's a passable effort but nothing more. Optional English subtitles are included, though unfortunately they seem to be based on the English dub.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, the static menu interface isn't creative but at least it's fast and functional. This two-disc release is housed in a dual-hubbed keepcase with attractive cover artwork, a matching slipcover and one promotional insert. Both the Blu-ray and DVD appear to be locked for Region A/1 playback only.
Not too much, but what's here is of good quality. First up is a Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
(34 minutes) with key members of the production team, who go into moderate detail about the film's visual development from sketch to screen. Audio dubbing, CGI/live-action blending and other elements are also covered, as well as the film's story and themes. A self-playing Sketchbook
(10 minutes) provides a closer look at many drawings seen during the featurette, and we also get the film's U.S. Trailer
and six Previews
for related animated titles. Optional English subtitles are provided for translation purposes only.
The Painting aims high and certainly has a few worthwhile moments, though it never manages to be more than a visual feast with an interesting but shallow premise. Several of the more predictable plot elements don't pair well with even the most clever social allegories, creating a world that looks more original than it actually is. Still, those interested in creatively rendered animation will enjoy the sights and sounds, especially during the film's existential second half. This Blu-ray/DVD combo pack is a mixed bag, serving up a slightly uneven A/V presentation, "dubtitles" and only a few worthwhile extras. Perhaps it'll age better with time...but for now, The Painting just feels like eye candy for a niche audience. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.