Fantastic Planet (La planète sauvage)

France (1973) Dir. René Laloux

On a distant planet named Ygam the giant blue inhabitants called Draags treat human like people called Oms as either pets or wildlife. A Draag named Tiwa finds a baby Om recently orphaned by a group of kids and takes it home, naming it Terr. Tiwa dotes on Terr but like all pets make him wear a collar through a fault in which he is able to absorb the same educational information that Tiwa does through special headsets. When Tiwa starts to neglect Terr in her teenage years, Terr escapes with the headsets where he encounters a group of wild Oms with whom he shares the information he has learned in order to begin an uprising against the Draags.

Based on the novel Oms en série by French writer Stefan Wul this French/Czech co-production won the special jury prize at the 1973 Cannes film festival. The original French title translates to “The Savage Planet” which is the name given for the satellite which orbits Ygam in the story and is the target of salvation for the Oms when the Draags retaliate against their rebellion.

This is a straightforward story of master and slave told in a sci-fi setting through the medium of animation, which recalls some of the esoteric and surreal works of Terry Gilliam in places. Some of the creature designs with their hybrid appearance of two different animals could easily have come from Gilliam’s adventurous mind while the opening scene of Terr’s mother being flicked about by a giant blue hand would not have been out of place in one of the animated spots on Monty Python. The animation too is very minimalist with the reliance on stills shots throughout yet it suits the austere tone of the film, even adding a tangible charm to it.

The Draags are a stoic and organised race who show little compassion for Oms even when they are taken in as pets, which contradicts their intelligence and technologically genius. In true pet lover fashion Oms are dressed up in fancy costumes kept controlled by the collars on their necks. They also take pleasure in tormenting them and wild Oms are routinely exterminated in De-Oming programmes. When Tiwa sees that Terr is reflective to the “Infos” she receives through her headset, she shares much of that knowledge with Terr who soaks it up and uses it to his advantage. The Draags also mediate a lot which involves them spiritually transferring into a globe then floating off somewhere. The Oms meanwhile have a certain advantage over the Draags in that one Draag week is the equivalent of human year so Terr is able to absorb the information and process it much more quickly so when the Oms start to fight back their own technological advancements allow them to get ahead of their tormentors.

Despite being dialogue free and seemingly laidback pace this film crams a lot into its 71 minute running time. There are some interesting ideas for the layout of the planet Ygam and the technology aspect that may seem dated to modern audiences but it again suits the tone and mood of the film. The only thing that truly dates it is the funky pseudo- 70’s porno soundtrack otherwise this could easily be a thoughtful piece of sci-fi based social commentary from any era.

Fantastic Planet won’t resonate with an audience weaned on CGI and 3D but cineastes and hardcore sci-fi buffs with a fondness for the classics should get a kick out of this gentle curiosity.