Fantastic Planet was made by French animator René Laloux and released back in 1973. Even by today’s standards, the film feels like some surrealistic nightmare – the animation (utilizing pencil-sketched cutouts, and animating them to have movement) is still some of the eeriest you can come across in World Cinema; added with the sci-fi narrative, which is less fantastical and more mundane in examining a world in which the film’s title wants to refer to as “fantastic”. It’s dreary and washed-out – a world akin to the Death Valley as a sole planet, with only the amphibian-like aliens inhabiting it and supplying the only ounce of vibrancy to an environment that otherwise appears to be under a sepia filter.
This world, so dusty, isn’t diminished by Laloux’s choice of soundtrack; a repetitive score ripe with psychedelic guitar wahs and riffs of orchestral sounds that give off the impression of a world imagined under a post-60s LSD trip by way of classical film score composition. It’s atypical to what we’re familiar with, and what was familiar in the 70s film landscape, but it’s fitting, perhaps ill so, in depicting a dystopic otherworld with which we’re trapped in the bored normality of another world.
Laloux, a known political artist, went on to direct two more animated films with the same mixture of distinctive stylization and sociopolitical algorithms. If Ralph Bakshi was an animator of the time, in America, doing intensive reconstruction and deconstruction of a post-Vietnam climate of the country – then Laloux’s films can be attributed to a similar pattern in a European mindset; possibly attributed to a Frenchman’s responses to that very climate. With Fantastic Planet’s genre narrative, it remains aloof and ambiguous enough – as well as politically universal enough – to apply a number of readings under such an umbrella.
Its story is patched together by an almost staple framework of “oppressed-starting-revolt” story. In Laloux’s world, this planet (called Ygam) is dominated by the aforementioned alien species that refer to themselves as Draags. On this planet, they are the dominate animal – and they have enslaved humans from planet earth to be their pets. In terms of size, the humans (which the Draags refer to as Oms) are the equivalent of an insect to a human, and they utilize them as feral beasts that can be domesticated and appreciated for their forced commitment to their owner. The human’s ability to process information, as well as to be intelligent on the basis of being given such information, has led Draags into educating their species by way of headsets, which delivers that education to the Draags, while the human is given none of it, and are bred to be pet-friendly equivalents to the little boy in Francois Truffaut’s The Wild Child.
There’s a sequence in the film where a bunch of the young Draags stand around a small “arena” to watch their little Oms fight. They see them as “Oms”, but we, as an audience, see them still as humans stripped of their utmost capabilities. Due to the way they are raised and treated, they are stripped of any and all moral ethics, existential thinking, and sense of being; thus being untamed animals. This is where Laloux’s science fiction gets across its futuristic terror – by facing his audience with questions otherwise unexplored outside of science fiction: what if there was an animal species bigger and more powerful than us, and what’s to say we can’t be seen as both pest or tamable like we do an ant or a dog? A scenario that fits into canon with the genre, but also molds into core human ideals.
The Draags and the Oms can easily be applied to many sociopolitical theories; the least being a full scholarly essay I read on the film playing as allegory to the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, as well as any metaphor of the possibility of dictatorship on any society. The oppression in Fantastic Planet is of utmost control, but it’s physical and mental on equal levels. They Oms are robbed of the complete plausibility of becoming educated. How can you revolt if you don’t have the means to actually process such a thing? This is, in a nutshell, the thoughts to be stirred here – and Laloux’s film is still applicable within that political realm.
Fantastic Planet is about many things, and one of them is the United States’ 2016 election. In fact, Laloux’s film warns about this kind of creation of the individual who will revolt. But it also doesn’t condone it. The main plot point of his film is that one of the Oms, our hero and narrator, manages to gain knowledge from one of the Draag’s headsets. He therefore gains knowledge, and then becomes a Christlike deliverer of what he learns to the other oppressed humans. With that, they rally up a revolt, and then they aim to take down the Draags, not to destroy them, but to live peacefully alongside them. Where Laloux is much optimistic is that, after the revolt, the Draags – with their supreme intelligence – decide that is the moral thing to do. They don’t fight back on the Oms, they realize and understand, and thus everything wraps up in a post-hell happily-ever-after.
Laloux’s film is strange and surreal; often making lists of “weird” and “obscure” cult films. But what strikes more than anything watching it in 2017 is how there seems to be some sort of cycle of allegorical subtext tattooed on its spine. The way in which things can be applied, taken from it, in a way that always fits – because it’s a story borrowed from history, and history seems to, more and more, incapable of not repeating itself. This isn’t to say the film - and the results of the election, with Donald Trump now the 45th president of the United States – are completely invested in some kind of rebellious reaction, but that the film makes complete note of the negative connotations of ignorance (both forced and aspired), and the cruel, animalistic nature of those who oppress. In Fantastic Planet, the Draags swallow their pride, critically think, and accept their bloody foundation; moving onto an elevated platform of acceptance, guilt, and progressed unity. They make progress, and it’s as beautifully mundane as can be.
Laloux is questioning the concept of intelligence (already a difficult attribute to scientifically measure), and applying it to the human’s developed probity. What exactly does that say about the state of a society? What does it say about one after sociological trauma? What can we take from that when applying it to the current American democracy?