Reviews: Destino, Les Triplettes de Belleville (aka The Triplets of Belleville), and Ping Pong

Some thoughts on 3 movies I saw long ago but never finished. I salvaged my thoughts because Ping Pong is a gem worth seeking out...
Destino, an entrancing short that played before Les Triplettes de Belleville, is a collaboration of two mad geniuses, Walt Disney and Salvador Dali. This is Dali's version of Fantasia, complete with all the most iconic of his images: melting clocks, human forms assembled from stone and empty space, vast desert plains. It's about as much hallucinatory visual tickling as one can experience without the use of recreational drugs (or so I hear).
Les Triplettes de Belleville is refined caricature. A young boy, raised by his grandmother to be a professional cyclist, is kidnapped by American gangsters during a stage of the Tour de France and forced to perform in gladiatoral cycling competitions in a city that is an obvious spoof of Manhattan. His grandmother rushes overseas to rescue him. As a cycling fan, I loved the send-ups of the young boy's cycling training and physique. He is all leg--two massive quads supported by chiseled calves. The animators knew to draw the calf muscles with the cleft which only well-trained cyclists achieve. It's a level of attention to detail both accurate and delightful. The depiction of the suffering during climbing stages of the Tour de France is pitch perfect.
The movie is limited by the lack of dialogue and by its loyalty to exaggeration. The characters are all limited in personality, and the movie doesn't aspire to be more than an entertaining caricature. I felt as if I was watching a caricaturist at a carnival drawing a picture of an odd-looking couple. Laughter as each of the prominent features took shape, and eventually boredom as the artist filled in the final details. No one hangs such pieces in their homes. Or do they?
Ping Pong (2002) also departs from hyper-realism in the service of characterization. The ping pong played is not realistic, but the styles of each of the players reflects their personalities. This Japanese movie follows the intertwined fates of two high school boys, Peco and Smile, as they navigate the world of competitive ping pong. As is the norm with sports movies, the world of sport is a metaphor for the world at large, and it's no coincidence that the two leads have opposing personalities that are reflected in their playing styles. Peco is brash, outgoing, demonstrative, and thus he plays an attacking style. Smile (I can't vouch for the accuracy of the translation of his name; it reminds me of the Mickey Mouse and Dumbo debacle from The Killer) is sullen, silent, and stoic. He plays a chopping, defensive style, taking all the energy away from his opponent's shots, waiting for mistakes instead of looking for openings to hit winners.
The movie is an adaptation of a popular manga by Matsumoto Taiyo, and the action sequences reflect its dynamic framing. Players leap into the air, whipping their paddles across the screen in a slow-motion blur, their faces frozen in fearsome grimaces, droplets of sweat scattering in all directions.
The movie is curiously touching. Yôsuke Kubozuka (Peco) and Arata (Smile) not only resemble the manga characters they play but also stay faithfully within the margins of their characters. This is not an acting vehicle, and neither actor tries to make it so. Director Fumihiko Sori translates the manga's understanding of the zen of ping-pong with great empathy. That's not an easy feat, especially for a sport played at such superhuman speeds. Baseball, with its measured pace, has been captured well on screen (the pauses in the game allow for actors to fire expressions at the camera and do what comes naturally to them, and the natural source of action allows for one-on-one confrontations between pitcher and batter), but few others. Even golf, one of the most zen-like of sports, hasn't played well in movies.
Ping pong has the advantage of allowing for direct confrontations and varied physical playing styles, and Sori takes advantage of both. Now the sport finally has a worthy silver screen representation.