“Phantom Boy” is a quiet, peaceful little animated film, arriving just in time as a salve for a noisy, angry world.
There is some danger and bad temper here, mind you — it’s a cop story on one level. But it’s told gently, drawing us in.
Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol’s follow-up to the duo’s 2010 Oscar-nominated movie “A Cat in Paris,” like the earlier film, eschews obvious computer graphics for more traditional-looking animation to tell a sweet, simple story. (Computers were used, in other words; it just doesn’t look like it.)
Leo (voice of Marcus D’Angelo) is a boy in New York (a New York viewed from a French perspective) who is seriously ill, sick enough that his parents cry in secret when he is out of earshot. He checks into the hospital for a lengthy stay when he discovers a surprising gift: He can leave his body, phantom-like, and fly around the city.
Then Alex (Jared Padalecki), an injured police officer, checks in. He alone believes in Leo’s power, and when his friend (“friend” — they’re obviously headed toward becoming a couple) Mary (Melissa Disney), a reporter, starts investigating a big crime, Alex enlists Leo’s help.
A crazed criminal mastermind called The Face (Vincent D’Onofrio) is threatening the city with a crippling computer virus. The Face’s face looks like Picasso gone bad, with its various colored, out-of-place features. (One of the running jokes in the film is his attempts to explain to anyone who will listen what happened to his face, and the repeated interruptions that prevent him from doing so.)
The case itself is pretty straightforward. Where the film really earns its keep is with the story, which works in tandem with the animation. And while it’s a gently told tale, it doesn’t sugarcoat some basic facts. One is that Leo really is sick, and there is no guarantee from doctors or anyone else what his fate will be. His flying around outside his body doesn’t help matters; if he stays out too long, he begins to fade — literally.
And what is the flying? It doesn’t seem to be imagination; outcomes are affected by his presence and observations. Perhaps for Leo, it is a means of escape from the body that is failing him.
The Face screams a lot, and it’s not quite all bluster. There is some violence in the film, though mostly threats of it. In some ways, “Phantom Boy” feels out of time, a throwback to a past that never really was. In other ways, it’s just what our time needs.
GKids presents a film directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol and written by Gagnol. Running time: 104 minutes. Rated PG (for thematic elements, violence and a suggestive situation). Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre.