Correct me if I’m wrong, but I like to think Fantastic Planet marks an important turning point for animated films. Aside from the consistent two or three releases Disney’s animation department would churn out yearly, there was little variety for independent or even just other studios to get a foot in the door. You had a Yellow Submarine here and a How the Grinch Stole Christmas there, but they either lacked real storytelling chops like the former or were shorter than most animated spectacles at the time like the latter. Fantastic Planet, then, marks a rare breakaway, removed from the Disney powerhouse of the time and, alongside Belladonna of Sadness, inspired a new wave of stylish, artistically rewarding animation.
Where Belladonna of Sadness may have leaned into its colourful schemes and pangs of vivid imagery, Fantastic Planet hopes to carve a stunningly strong story of the Draags and Oms. Systematically slaughtering the rat-like Oms, these Draags use the human entity as a pet or pest. Either way, they are achingly low on the food chain compared to those blue, alien-like Draags. Director René Laloux can realise the strength of the world he creates here through his strong direction and unique style of animation. It is shatteringly important for the time, and even now, forty years after its conception, it looks tremendous. Nicely coloured, entertaining moments that see the creativity really beginning to spin. The relationship between the Draags and their pet Oms draws the nice, essential comparison between those submitting to tamed living, and those living on the fringe, attempting to rebel against the giant, blue beasts.
Conflict within Fantastic Planet is a crucial tool, and it is utilised well. Much of the key and crucial moments are narrated, with Jean Valmont a staple necessity of how this story unfurls. For how beautifully entertaining the animation is, it is easy to forget, at times, that Fantastic Planet hides within it rich themes of war and conflict. There are the obvious tones of animal rights, flipping the side of the debate and seeing how we would feel if we were to be treated like this. But that doesn’t particularly bother me. It is not a theme I see much interest in. For me, Fantastic Planet represents the conflict of two people, the underdog heroes who are perhaps good and just, for we are not shown if they are savages out of response or because of manner. They are fighting back against a force far bigger than they are, and have no hopes of overthrowing. We are shown that the Draags are evil creatures, without context they are toying with a race of surviving souls. There’s a sense of imperialism within, but smarter heads will surely prevail when discussing the themes of Fantastic Planet.
Even without those themes, and there is no point in picking them apart too much, Fantastic Planet is a thoroughly enjoyable film. It is engaging not just because of its animated strength but for its articulation of story. The early 1970s were a place of protest, conflict and divide, so too is Fantastic Planet. The Draags and Oms never able to reconcile their differences, there’s a good deal of self-symbolism to attach to Fantastic Planet. Whether it was the intention of Laloux to do so is beside the point, it does so, therefore we can natter on about the highs and lows of society, all while reflecting and comparing it to a film where blue aliens put electric shock collars on tiny humans.