Director: Rene Laloux
In the vast world of animation, there is a small corner reserved for what is commonly referred to as ‘adult animation’. This term refers to animation films that aren’t about talking animals having to learn to believe in themselves or follow their dreams - nobel themes, but let’s face it, they’ve been done to death in children’s films. Nope, adult animation films are films that play with complex and adult themes, noted for experimental and sophisticated storytelling techniques. Certainly more complex and adult than anything you’d find in your regular Disney/Pixar films. In the case of ‘Les Maitres Du Temps’ (French for Time Masters) the film plays with themes of religion, despotism and the importance of what we choose to teach our children. Definitely not the kind of themes you’d find in animated films made in the United States. Hollywood can’t seem to disassociate animation from children’s films. They seem to think animation is only good for making films like Ice Age or Toy Story. I’m not bashing the validity and entertainment value of these children’s films, I’m just saying, animation films could be so much more! Animation films can go so much further in terms of the themes they can explore especially when you take in consideration that animated films don’t have to spend as much as a live film does. Imagination is truly the limit with these films. Only a few animators have taken a stab at producing animated films for adults in the United States, and I'll get into those later. The validity of adult animation is something that the rest of the world has known for a long time, for example, Japanese animation films have broken these boundaries by producing animation films for both children and adults equally. As you’ll see on my review for Time Masters, the French have also explored the world of adult animated films as well. Americans need to wake up to the amazing possibilities of animation films and take them further! A fine example of what adult animation films are like is Rene Laloux Time Masters.
Piel and his father, stranded on Planet Perdide
Planet Perdide presents little Piel with many dangers!
This is what I love about adult animation: they are rich in themes and unafraid to explore challenging subject manner. Sadly, these type of adult oriented animated films are a rare commodity in the world we live in because they are not easy to market. The problem is that 95% of adults out there instantly associate any animated film with a children’s films. So whenever these films were released in theaters, they’d have a hard time finding their target audience. Thankfully, animators from around the world have always been making efforts to destroy these stigmas associated with animation films. One of the very first to do this in the United States was Ralph Bakshi; an artist and animator who has always tried to demonstrate that animation doesn’t exist solely for children. One look at Fritz the Cat (1972) and it’s clear. This was a film that was accused of being pornographic! It was the first animated film to receive an X rating! Yet it was the highest grossing independent animated film of its time. In Bakshi’s animated films characters had sex, did drugs and listened to rock and roll. He continued this all through out his career with films like Heavy Traffic (1973), Coonskin (1975) a film that heavily criticized racism and racist stereotypes (yet was accused of being racist!) and Hey Good Lookin (1982). To avoid further controversy, Bakshi would take things in a different direction by diving into the world of fantasy with films like Wizards (1977), his own adaptation of Lord of the Rings (1978) and an awesome homage to Robert E. Howard’s Conan novels called Fire and Ice (1983). Point is there’s always been animators out there trying to break this barrier, trying to destroy this stigma that has always existed with animation films. Another filmmaker that we can add to this roster was Rene Laloux.
The film was conceptualized by 'Moebius'
First film I ever saw by Rene Laloux was Le Planet Sauvage (1973) a.k.a. Fantastic Planet, I was amazed by it. This film immediately got masterpiece status from this reviewer. If you ever want to know just how bizarre, different, otherworldly and profound animation can be, watch Fantastic Planet. It’s a story about a society divided between the working class and the powerful. It deals with philosophical themes pertaining society, and why it’s often times divided into factions. The working class is represented by a race of little midget creatures, while the powerful are giants that see them as pets, as a distraction. But what happens when the working class begins to develop a brain? When they begin to desire education, and something more out of life? Deep themes are explored on this film to be sure, but Fantastic Planet succeeds on a whole other level as well: its visuals! The different races look so completely bizarre, so outlandish…it’s a delight simply to look at this film, highly recommend it to those who have never experienced it. In many ways, it’s a very subversive film that shows the importance of education as a means to freedom. After watching Fantastic Planet and Time Masters it became obvious to me that Rene Laloux always aimed his guns at themes that trouble society. Even Gandahar (1987) a.k.a. Light Years, the last film he directed before his death in 2004, deals with themes of oppression against society and the need we all have to be free. So Laloux was a very socially conscious filmmaker who had chosen animation as his weapon of choice.
Everyone gets a chance to guide Piel
In Time Masters, everyone on Jaffar’s ship manages to talk to Piel at some point, and everybody gives him different kinds of advice. This to me was a key premise in the film and its themes; it shows how adults are the ones responsible for how a child’s life is going to go during those formative years. And it’s the adult’s responsibility to guide the child, and send him off on the best course of life that they can. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen because not all parents or adults are reliable. Some will have downright evil plans for a child, some are totally uncaring towards their children’s course in life and will send a child down a dark and dangerous path. This happens to Piel in the film, when he gets some bad advice from someone who wants him dead. So the film comments on the responsibility adults have with children, on how our teachings, our words, can send a child on the proper path, or not. Ultimately, we all end up alone in this world, and then it’s up to ourselves to choose our path in life, but until then, parents are like God to a child. I found it so interesting how the film got me to care about Piel, the little kid on the alien planet. I mean, he comes off as so innocent, so vulnerable and the planet so dangerous and hungry. So the film deserves Kudos for managing that alone in my book!
Speaking of God, the film also addresses religion. On his way towards the Planet Perdide, Jafaar and crew encounter a planet called Gamma 10 on which a race of faceless angels worship a tentacled creature. The creatures intent is to make everyone a faceless angel, each one the same as the other. No one is unique, or special, or different. All have to be transformed or turned into the same faceless drones. Aside from commenting on religion, this part of the film also speaks about how some governments have an obsession with eliminating art, culture and individuality from society. This is a theme that is addressed in many films about Totalitarian Futures, so Time Masters also comments on the evils of an oppressive government. In fact, at one point the adventurers actually encounter government soldiers who search their ship and steal their treasure. Demonstrating once again what governments really care about: making their money.
The film was designed in part by Jean Giraud (a.k.a. Moebius) one of my own personal heroes. Moebius is such an amazing illustrator that it’s hard not to fall in love with the work he has done, and continues to do to this day. He’s worked on a huge number of films and for the best filmmakers, who all recognize the greatness in Moebius’s work. He has worked on the designs for films such as Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and The Fifth Element (1997) to mention but a few. That plus, he has published many graphic novels and comic books across the years, all with some truly exquisite art. On Time Masters he designed the creatures and spaceships, which as you can see on some of the pics I’ve posted, are all amazing. The animation in Time Masters is good for its time, similar to the animation we can find in films like Heavy Metal (1981) by the way, Heavy Metal is another fine example of Adult Animation done right. These animators pushed animation as far as they could both technically and thematically. I would have loved to see what kind of visuals Laloux would have conjured up with today’s technology and animation techniques. When compared to today’s animation, the animation on Time Masters feels crude, yet the creativity and uniqueness of the ideas overshadow any technical shortcomings the film might have. I mean, on this film we even encounter these cute little creatures that can read thoughts! They are called Yula and Jad, they become observers of human behavior through out the whole film. I love how they refer to evil thoughts as “foul smelling”. So in terms of design, ideas and creativity Time Masters gets high marks from me.
These little creatures can read your thoughts!
Time Masters isn’t a perfect film. The animation on Fantastic Planet is far superior, I am guessing that this has to do with the fact that Time Masters was initially being developed as a television show, and Laloux, realizing he had enough material for a feature film transformed the project into a feature film. This is probably the reason why the animation isnt as perfect as it was in Fantastic Planet. It could also be the reason why there is little nudity or violence in it. The ending is too abrupt; it felt rushed, as if they didn’t finish the story properly. But overall, the creativity and the themes on Time Masters makes it well worth the watch.
Rating: 4 out of 5