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REVIEWS


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The Prodigies REVIEWED BY LISA NESSELSON


Hell hath no fury like a young genius scorned in The Prodigies, a fetchingly animated 3D adapta- tion of a bestselling French novel from 1981 which did for misunderstood Gallic youth what The Catcher In The Rye has done for generations of young Americans. The visceral tale, alive with physical and


emotional violence, is deeply European in its approach, though all the characters are American and the action is set essentially in a beautifully rendered Manhattan. The film opens in France on June 8 after an official Cannes showing for high- school students. A brilliant young man who was abused as a


child brings together five young geniuses from across the US for what he hopes will be mutual support and a nurturing exploration of their exceptional talents. But things go terribly wrong and five angry children suddenly and secretly have the upper hand in realms usually run by adults. As the book has sold million of copies and even


carried the seal of France’s National Board of Edu- cation, there is a built-in audience for this $38.4m (¤27m) venture in France. Producer Marc Missonnier, who read the novel


at age 12, concluded with his Fidélité producing partner Olivier Delbosc, that the book’s incredibly dark vision — its adolescent protagonists are raped and beaten in New York’s Central Park — would be nearly impossible to render in live-action. Even in animated form — motion capture-


based with impressive, deeply evocative back- grounds — the characters have been bumped up


n 22 Screen International at the Cannes Film Festival May 14, 2011 SPECIAL SCREENING


Fr-Lux-Bel. 2011. 96mins Director Antoine Charreyron Production companies Fidélité, Onyx Films, Studio 37/TP, Scope Pictures International sales Kinology Producers Marc Missonnier, Olivier Delbosc, Aton Soumache, Alexis Vonarb, Jim Burton Executive producers Jean-Bernard Marinot, Olivier Rakoto Screenplay Matthieu Delaporte, Alexandre de la Patelliere, loosely inspired by Bernard Lenteric’s novel La Nuit Des Enfants Rois Main cast (French release voice) Mathieu Kassovitz (US release voice) Jeffrey Evan Thomas, Moon Dailly Monira, Dominic Gould, Jacob Rosenbaum, Ben Schilling


from ages 11-14 to 13-15. A few aspects of the source novel that would have raised US eyebrows have been eliminated or toned down. What remains still has the level of violence of a


kill-’em-all video game redeemed by a potently emotional backstory. Material considered appro- priate for ages 12 and up in France will almost certainly be branded with an R stateside. And that’s a shame, since this is a big-screen produc- tion that youngsters can profitably dig their eye- balls and teeth into. In a visually gripping prelude, 13-year-old


Jimbo is playing with his electronic gear when his parents bring an argument into their son’s room- cum-workshop. Without provocation, Jimbo’s dad stomps on the boy’s treasured computing device and gives him a vicious beating. When the scene is over, Jimbo’s mother is dead on the floor and his father has hung himself. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Jimbo,


who spent a week with the dead bodies, is locked in an asylum when one Charles Killian, a distin- guished press baron, comes to interview him. Kindly Killian understands that Jimbo is incredi- bly gifted and may possess a secret power he is struggling to control. Cut to Jimbo as an adult (voiced by Mathieu


Kassovitz in the original French version and by Jeffrey Evan Thomas in the English-language version) teaching higher maths and science at the Killian Foundation, living in a fab Manhattan loft and wed to understanding Ann, a TV anchor- woman. Jimbo’s drive home reveals a city where most of the billboards advertise Killian’s TV holdings or other media ventures.


That night, the test Jimbo and Killian hid in one


of their popular computer games reveals five youngsters with stratospheric scores. Jimbo sets off to convince the two girls and three boys — scattered across the nation and representing a range of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds and body types — to come to New York, where their hyper-intelligence can be nurtured at the Kil- lian Foundation. After his death, Killian leaves his empire to his


brittle daughter, Melanie, who wants to shut down the loss-making foundation. Seeing a way to make the little geniuses pay for themselves, Jimbo sug- gests an American Idol-style elimination TV show. Melanie loves the concept and dubs it “American Genius”. But when the five kids sneak off one night to meet by the statue of Killian in Central Park, they are savagely attacked. What really happened is hushed up and the anger this unleashes is both deadly and unstoppable. Visually, the tale is very sophisticated, though


there is always a residual creepiness to motion capture. The human characters have a deliberately stiff, sculptural quality while their surroundings are both pared down and rich to behold. The look is CGI plus oil paint — a European patina on iconic US settings. Reflections are particularly well rendered. The whole thing plays out like a lovingly crafted video game, which is almost certainly a plus for young viewers, however disturbing their parents may find the material. On an allegorical level, it is a story of that youth-


ful moment when kids feel both misunderstood and invincible and, in a nutshell, want to rule the world. The door is left open for a sequel.


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