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Mortadelo & Filemon: Mission Implausible
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by Jay Seaver

"Spanish slapstick."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Two films at this year's festival had directors returning to projects they had done in live action a decade earlier with animated films. For "The Case of Hana and Alice", it was a matter of creating a prequel using the same talent; "Mortadelo & Filemon: Mission Implausible" seems to be aimed at creating something as close to the style of the original comics as possible. It certainly appears that Javier Fesser managed that, including a great deal of anarchic slapstick.

A new safe has just been installed in TIA headquarters, with the Superintendent placing one piece of top-secret information inside. That makes it target enough for Jimmy the Joker, who has been burgling this agency for years with the help of his conjoined-twin henchmen Billy & Bob. Fortunately, top agent Filemon, cheerfully assisted by his loyal valet Mortadelo, is ready to fly in with his jetpack and assortment of high-tech gadgets that James Bond and Ethan Hunt together can't match. Piece of cake.

Despite never having read Francisco Ibáñez's comic (first published in 1968), I'm guessing that longtime fans might be raising an eyebrow or two at that description, but I'd suggest they not worry. Things will soon be back in wacky screw-up territory, and it's actually pretty clever how Fesser makes that fake-out work whether one knows what's going on or not. He and his co-writers also do what seems like a fairly impressive job of fitting a dozen or two characters, presumably all from the original comics based upon how familiar the core people seem to be with them, and both find them something to do and introduce them casually. There are a lot of potential pitfalls here - aside from pleasing new and old fans, they're also juggling what feels like three or four shorter stories instead of one main plot - but the film sidesteps them adroitly.

Despite the script's relative elegance, the filmmakers aren't going for complex plotting - they are making an unabashed cartoon with wall-to-wall slapstick. Characters are gleefully treated as if they are made of rubber, often smooshed flat or running into some minor mayhem, with Filemon taking a good chunk of the abuse. It's the sort of carefully staged thing that looks like utter madness - the right rhythm of someone getting hit repeatedly in the face is important - with gleeful escalation in the absurdity of what's going on both over the course of the movie and within scenes. Some of the jokes are pushed a bit further than old Looney Tunes, and there are also plenty of moments when people are getting worse than they "deserve", but for the most part Fesser combines a fast pace with a lack of lasting damage for good laughs.

For someone working in animation for the first time, he takes to it naturally; the movie never feels like he did performance capture or blocked out scenes with live action's limitations in mind rather than that of CGI. Unlike a lot of projects in this medium from outside Hollywood's big budgets, it looks great, capturing the look of European humor comics and keeping both everything on screen and the camera in motion in a way that feels natural; the use of 3D is pretty decent when seen that way. The screening was an English dub rather than subtitled Spanish, so I can't describe the intended voice acting - the English cast was capable but anonymous, with the man voicing Filemon a standout - but even that feels snappy, especially the banter between the two title characters.

As with a lot of European comics, I don't know how well "Mortadelo & Filemon" would translate to a large American audience; the cartoonish style and the humor that is pitched in large part to adults has seldom been a recipe for success here. It's a fun and slick animated comedy-adventure, though, one which I greatly enjoyed on those terms.

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originally posted: 07/26/15 23:49:27
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Javier Fesser

Written by
  Javier Fesser
  Cristóbal Ruiz

  Karra Elejalde
  Janfri Topera
  Gabriel Chame

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