The Triblets of Belleville

dir. Sylvain Chomet

Opens Fri Dec 26.
The opening scene of The Triplets of Belleville is done in the bouncy style of the old Max Fleischer cartoons, where not just the characters are in constant motion, but many of the inanimate objects are, too. The scene is a hugely enjoyable nightclub performance by the titular triplets, which is eventually revealed to be playing on TV as though it's vintage footage that's been unearthed by a public television station. Watching the show in a drab apartment is an old woman with one leg shorter than the other, and her bored, slightly chubby grandson.

Writer-director-animator Sylvain Chomet invokes the same absurdly entertaining and overwhelmingly brown nostalgia that Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro tapped into for Delicatessen and City of Lost Children (all three filmmakers are indebted to Terry Gilliam's Brazil). The world Chomet has created contains the same deadpan sadness that lies at the base of those films, not to mention Buster Keaton's comedy--the world may be a cold and lonely place, but with a little inventiveness you can not only survive, but prosper.

The old lady in the apartment desperately wants to please her grandson, but no matter whether she buys him puppies or toy trains, nothing makes him happy. It's only when she discovers his secret love of bicycles (hinged upon a snapshot of his absent parents lovingly sitting atop a bicycle) that she's able to find something to inspire him. This all may sound straightforward, but I assure you it is not. Actually, the film does make sense in retrospect, much more so than it does while you watch it, and it is the movie's seeming leaps in logic that keep you fascinated and constantly wanting more.

Of course the boy's obsession with bicycles has led him to train for the Tour de France, and when we flash forward we see him skinny, with hugely muscular legs, and the same large, very French nose. But who are those men in dark suits kidnapping fallen riders? Do they work for the evil wine baron? And why would an evil wine baron want to kidnap riders on the Tour de France? These are questions you are better off not asking. Instead, you need to go with the very strange flow of this oddball delight. You will not be disappointed. ANDY SPLETZER

The Barbarian Invasions

dir. Denys Arcand

Opens Fri Dec 26.
The Barbarian Invasions is a sequel of sorts to the 1986 film The Decline of the American Empire, Denys Arcand's Canadian gloss on The Big Chill. Never having seen the original, I was left wondering if the characters were as awful and unlikable in the original as they became in the sequel. Not that I want to find out.

Rémy Girard plays Rémy, an asshole of a college professor who used to sleep with his students but now sleeps in an overcrowded Canadian hospital thanks to a fatal disease. His bitter ex-wife Louise (Dorothée Berryman) calls on their estranged son Sébastien (Stéphane Rousseau) to fly from London and visit Rémy's deathbed. Sébastien has little affection for his father, but he does have an endless supply of money, and he uses that money in place of affection. It's only a matter of time before Sébastien has bribed hospital officials to set up a private room, brought his dad to the best and most expensive specialists, bribed former students to pretend to remember him fondly, and invited old friends and mistresses (from the first movie, presumably) to visit.

That's when everything really starts feeling like a play committed to film. Yuck. The most interesting turn in the movie is when Sébastien decides to get his father hooked on heroin to deal with the pain of his disease. A cute junkie becomes the most engaging character in the movie--or maybe I thought that because she was just as disengaged from the awful family as I was--but by the end of the film even she hasn't been spared a terrible bit of "character growth." Really, I can't understand how this film has gotten any good reviews at all. ANDY SPLETZER

Peter Pan

dir. P. J. Hogan

Opens Fri Dec 26.
P. J. Hogan's Peter Pan is big and colorful and only occasionally scary. It is also aimed directly at the tykes; sugary and sappy, it is a triumph of special effects and completely harmless as entertainment. Which may be its biggest problem. Unlike Pixar's work, or the Harry Potter films, Peter Pan offers very little for adults--or at least adults sans children--to appreciate. Children, though, are sure to enjoy it over and over, so good luck to all those people who have decided to breed. You're going to need it. BRADLEY STEINBACHER

Young Black Stallion

dir. Simon Wincer

Opens Thurs Dec 25.
Are you an 11-year-old girl who loves horses? No? Then, I'm afraid to say, this might not be the movie for you. Sorry.

Young Black Stallion is Disney's first live- action foray onto the jumbo IMAX screen, which--you'd think--would at least mean that this feel-good tale of a girl who finds, trains, and races a wild stallion (to restore her grandfather's honor, of course) would be fun to watch. After all, it's on the gigantic IMAX screen, which turns almost any film into a roller-coaster ride. But unfortunately, sand blowing across a desert is pretty dull, even on a several-stories-tall screen. Plus, the story was barely Disneyfied--it's dullsville, bigtime. Which is why you should skip this movie, unless you're a young girl with a thing for horses. And if you're reading this, I doubt you are. AMY JENNIGES