Phantom Boy (3 stars)

Phantom Boy

Unusual animation from Oscar-nominated French directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol

Following up their Oscar-nominated animated feature A Cat in Paris, directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol offer up their unique take on the superhero genre in Phantom Boy. Certain story elements, notably the focus on a young boy suffering from a potentially fatal illness, may severely limit the appeal to family audiences, but adventurous parents and mature children might find this a refreshingly dark change of pace.

Redubbed from the original version, Phantom Boy is Leo (Marcus D'Angelo), a lover of adventure stories who finds himself confined to a Manhattan hospital bed. His illness, never named, has an unusual side effect: Leo can leave his body and traverse the skies of the city. It's a skill that comes in useful when cop Alex (Jared Padalecki) tangles with a criminal mastermind known as The Face (Vincent D'Onofrio) and finds himself stuck on the floor below, recovering from a broken leg. With the help of Alex's girlfriend Mary (Melissa Disney), Leo and Alex form an unusual crime-fighting team to thwart The Face's plan to cripple the city through an internet virus.

From the opening credits, done in a Saul Bass style, Phantom Boy offers a different kind of children's movie, borrowing from classic French serials like Fantômas, but fusing them with the feel of a Batman comic. Although the villain and his henchmen are played for laughs, particularly in The Face's failure to artfully describe his own backstory, the nature of Leo's plight is handled in a sensitive way that dodges any accusations of exploitation or sentimentality.

Phantom Boy has the same kind of ingenuously two-dimensional animated style that featured in A Cat in Paris; while not for everyone, this old-fashioned adventure with a fresh twist may gain a cult following of those interested in how two French directors challenge the cookie-cutter narrative of most animations.

Selected release from Fri 21 Oct.

Phantom Boy

  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • France
  • 1h 24min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol
  • Cast: Marcus D'Angelo, Jared Padalecki, Vincent D'Onofrio
  • UK release: 21 October 2016

Leo (D'Angelo) is a seriously ill young boy whose illness has the side-effect that he can leave his body and fly over the city; he uses this to help an injured cop (Padalecki) tangling with a crime boss (D'Onofrio). Refreshingly dark tale from the directors of A Cat in Paris, sensitive but unsentimental.