If you've ever seen Fantastic Planet, the early 1970s French-Czech animated sci-fi film, then you know that the movie is a trip. There's Alain Goraguer funky jazz score, the vinyl copy of which went on to become DJ gold. Then there's the animation, gorgeous character design mixed with earthy colors.
These are the things that stand out when you watch Fantastic Planet. On January 4, at Jerry Beck's Animation Tuesdays series at Cinefamily, the elements that make the movie so unusual were more pronounced. For this encore presentation of the film, Jesus Makes the Shotgun Sound recreated Goraguer's score live. A series of voice actors set up in a corner of the theater followed the script for the English-language dub. And on the big screen, Fantastic Planet looked stranger and more ethereal than it ever had on my TV and computer screens. It was sensory overload in the best way possible.
But, does this kind of intensely unusual beauty detract from the story? Often, when I talk to people about Fantastic Planet, we speak of it in terms like “cool” and “weird.” We might mention the animation and we'll definitely talk about the music, but the story seems to get lost.
The basic story is that you have two groups living on a planet, the Draags and the Oms, with the latter being humans. The Draags overpower the Oms in both size and technology. Amongst the Oms, there are two subsets. The “domesticated” ones are cherished by Draags, often considered cute and fun, and are cared for in a manner similar to pets. Meanwhile, the “savage” Oms live in the wild, almost like strays, and are frequently called “pests.”
Fantastic Planet is a movie I love and have watched many times. The more I rewatch, the more I start to wonder if the film is a commentary on the treatment of animals. Below are some indications from the film.
The Child Draags Love to Play with Oms, but Aren't Necessarily Loving When They Play
The kids think they're having fun by tapping Oms so that they roll down the hill. Perhaps they don't notice the terror in the face of the Om like the audience does. Perhaps they don't realize their own strength. One thing is certain, though, this can lead to death.
What Do You Name Your Om?
Tiva is a young, female Draag who discovers a baby Om while walking with her father. The baby's mother has just been killed by some other young Draags. Tiva's father allows her to bring the Om home and care for it. Now they must think of a name. While Tiva wants to name him after herself, her father disagrees.
“You must call him Fido or Trusty,” he says.
Since American dog names of the mid-20th century didn't appeal to her, Tiva settles on Terr, after her father refers to the baby Om as a “terror.”
The Curse of the Silly Pet Costume and Om Fights
In the film, Oms develop faster than Draags, with Terr explaining that one Draag week is the equivalent to one Om year.
When the Oms are young, they're adorable playthings, Terr speaks of himself as a “toy” in the mind of his caretaker. Tiva seems to love dressing him up in silly costumes and play games that seem to be fun for her, but irritating for Terr.
Though Fantastic Planet predates the trend for pet ensembles by a few decades, Terr has that same adorable-yet-uncomfortable look that you'll often see in cute-animals-in-costumes photos.
In only a matter of weeks, though, Oms grow up. They get less cute, and maybe a little more aggressive. Draag children can still have fun with their Oms, though. They can make them fight.
But then the Draags Get Older and Oms Are Less Important
Right after Tiva has her first meditation, a rite of passage for the Draags, Terr mentioned that the young girl has, with maturity, come to “abandon her toys.” With Tiva paying less and less attention to him, Terr takes the opportunity to run away and join a community of strays. There's more to the incident than this, but, even though the film has been out for decades, I feel like I might be spoiling something.
Every now and again, the Draags feel the need to “De-Omize” their land. They have their ways of rationalizing this– Oms just breed too quickly and the “savage” ones are an annoyance. It almost sounds like they're talking about bugs or rodents and, in much the same way, the de-omization process mimics pest extermination. They can get all high tech with poison, or they can just stomp on them.
This, of course, will lead to monumental problems with the Oms, but for those who have never seen Fantastic Planet, you'll have to watch it to find out what happens next.
There are, admittedly, a lot of ways you can read the film, but the idea of placing humans in roles of pets and pests is interesting. What are your thoughts?