Look at this strange animated movie about outer space and planets! Have you ever heard of it? I didn’t until recently, probably because it is a French animated movie from the 1970s. The original title is La Planète Sauvage, which translates to The Savage Planet or The Wild Planet and is a title that more properly represents the tone of the film, compared to the American title Fantastic Planet.
Generally speaking, it is about a planet populated by giant blue people who transported some humans from Earth to their own planet, to keep around as pets. Human beings, called Oms (after the French word for men, homme) are at the mercy of the of the giant blue Draags. Draag children play with their pet humans, and as you know when a human toddler plays with a hamster, that hamster is not going to be treated well.
And this is bloody savage right from the start. A human mother is fleeing with her baby, but then dies when Draag children start playing with her. The baby gets taken away by a young Draag girl Tiwa and her parents give the baby a collar and tell Tiwa to give it a name like Sparky or Trusty. Maybe the English title Fantastic Planet was meant to market the film to families, but this is not a children’s animation. This is about enslavement and genocide. This is full of casual horror and psychedelic alien landscapes. This is part of certain art histories, and the story an analogy about how we treat animals, produced for adults. It feels part of the surrealism movement that incorporated Salvador Dali and Alejandro Jodorowsky.
Think about all the ways we treat and use animals: put them in little cages or miniature environments, have them perform at a circus, have them carry stuff around and use them as slave labor, etc. We see all of these pass by with humans performing them on the Savage Planet. Especially the “de-omizations” are bad. Visually, the humans are always drawn as tiny. Meanwhile, the Draags have strange biological technology that is incomprehensible to us, like dogs and cats don’t understand our entertainments. These are great opportunities for the animators to go wild with bodily transformations and strange landscapes.
Although the grainy, stiff animation style didn’t appeal to me that much, every few seconds there would be another visualization of strange organic life, and I watched entranced as if in some psychedelic drugs trip. The story is not brought with great excitement but through bibliographical narration and many confronting frontal shots in the way that Wes Anderson would use decades later. The story isn’t all that special, but the sheer singularity of the visuals kept me interested. I just started laughing for the sheer strangeness of it. And that is in the end what the film is remembered for as well; not for the messages about animal rights but for the inventive visuals.
The background music is reminiscent of Pink Floyd and sounds very 1970s. Strange tones accentuate the alien landscapes. The animation style feels a bit stiff, a bit shocky and monty pythonesque. All of this would normally make a film feel dated, but in this case the sheer weirdness of the visuals and the cruelty of its messages ensures that there will always be a small, yet fascinated audience for this film. After decades, it is still original. If this sounds interesting to you, have a look yourself.