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‘The Illusionist’ Captivates with Fatherly Magic

11 Apr, 2011 By: Ashley Ratcliff

The Illusionist

Perhaps one of the most time-honored relationships is the bond between father and daughter. Director Sylvain Chomet presents a touching take on the treasured connection in The Illusionist, an adaptation of the late Jacques Tati’s original script — a so-called love letter to his daughter.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment unveils the Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated animated film on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack ($38.96) May 10. In typical Chomet style, the visually driven, hand-drawn film features very little dialogue, which delivers a pointedly “more emotional film,” according to producer Bob Last.

At the center of The Illusionist, set in 1959, is the story of an aging French magician who has become estranged from his own family, for reasons the audience never finds out. At the same time, Tatischeff’s career is falling apart, as vaudevillian magicians gradually are becoming obsolete, causing him to travel further away to earn a living off his one-man act. But when the illusionist lands in Edinburgh, Scotland, he finds hope in an innocent orphan girl, Alice, who is convinced his magic is real.

“When this young girl believes in his magic, it’s very moving and, of course, it becomes difficult because she adopts him as a father figure," Last said.

Tatischeff takes Alice under his wing and buys her extravagant gifts, while she cares for him by cooking and cleaning the boarding house. However, it’s only a matter of time before the illusionist and Alice grow apart, as she matures into a young lady who strikes the fancy of a young gentleman.

“In the end, he realizes that his role as a father figure is to let her go out into the world, which is a difficult decision for the illusionist to make,” Last said. “That’s why at the end, it’s almost bittersweet.”

As the father of a grown son and daughter, Last said the concept of releasing the ones you love, as hard as it may be, is something to which he could relate.

“I understood about that emotional father and that kind of relationship,” he said. “One of the things about fatherhood is, you have to let your children go into the world. In fact, you have to encourage them to strike out.”

According to Last, one of the beauties of The Illusionist is that it leaves space for an audience to interpret the film however they decide.

“To me, I think the key thing is that the illusionist finds his dignity in letting others go into the world, and I think that gives him this kind of strength at the end,” he said. “Even though his own kind of magic may no longer exist, he gets that kind of dignity. That’s the important message, that you can survive change. At the end, he says, ‘Magic doesn’t exist.’ … But in an odd way, magic still exists. It’s important to believe and think magic.”

Although animated, The Illusionist crosses generational boundaries, Last said.

“In many ways, this is a story for grown ups, but it’s also a fable that young people can tap into,” he said. “We didn’t think this was first and foremost going to be a children’s movie, but we always thought it would be a movie where adults who wanted to introduce their children to a different kind of cinema could take even very young children.”

Of interest to viewers both young and old will be the bonus material, which includes a making-of featurette and glimpses into the line test and progression sequences of The Illusionist’s most memorable scenes.

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