Had it been made 30 or 40 years ago, if not earlier, Belle & Sebastian, the Adventure Continues may have been the kind of kids flick that everyone in France would have remembered seeing.
But in 2015, this serviceable if mostly forgettable boy-and-his-dog story feels as outdated as berets, suspenders and sentimental mush — all of which can be found in abundance in this follow-up to the 2012 box-office hit. Like its predecessor, which raked in close to 3 million admissions, Gaumont’s pricey sequel (budgeted at €14 million) should play well with local tykes, while exporting easily to territories throughout Western Europe.
A slick, old-fashioned kids movie.
To his credit, director Christian Duguay (Jappeloup) avoids some of the more embarrassing plot points from the first film, whose story featured the big and fluffy Belle battling the Nazis in the French Alps. This time the action is set two years later, with Belle and his tweenage companion, Sebastian (Felix Bossuet), taking on such foes as a plane crash, a forest fire and an enormous grizzly bear, which, thankfully, our canine hero scares away before it can get all Revenant on the rest of the cast.
Adapted from the popular 1960s TV series, the script (by returning screenwriters Juliette Sales and Fabrien Suarez) picks up after the end of WWII, where we find Sebastian up to his usual hijinks as Belle sticks faithfully by his side. Hoping to finally reconnect with his surrogate, freedom-fighting mom, Angelina (Margaux Chatelier), who’s on her way back from the battlefield, Sebastian has his hopes suddenly dashed when Angelina’s plane goes down in a forest on the Franco-Italian border.
Convinced that she’s still alive, the young boy, his frontiersman grandfather (Tcheky Karyo) and their favorite Pyrenean Mountain Dog set out to find her, enlisting a local pilot (Thierry Neuvic), who also happens to be Sebastian’s long-lost father. When their plane is forced to make an emergency landing, the survivors must trek across the rugged landscape and face countless obstacles before the family can hopefully (but surely) be reunited.
With broadly sketched characters and a narrative that feels closer to an afterschool special (especially all the father-son fluff), this second Belle & Sebastian offers the kind of unsophisticated children’s entertainment you don’t necessarily see being made anymore, at least in the developed world. Yet while the film deserves some points for its bold sense of naivete — as well as for citing one of the greatest kids films ever: Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter (1955) — it remains so buried in the past that it has little to do with the world we’re living in now.
Other recent French movies — including the two War of the Buttons from 2011 and 2004 smash The Chorus — have trafficked in a similar kind of old-school vibe, depicting an idyllic Gallic countryside where all the little boys and girls are dressed in pretty postwar garb with smiles that belong on vintage soup cans.
This one is certainly part of the pack, even if the story treads into darker territory during the opening reels. But once Belle takes over to save the day, and the sappy score by Armand Amar (24 Days) hits all the expected notes, there’s not much left to salvage beyond the crafty animal wrangling and the eye-popping locations. As long as French audiences keep lapping up this kind of nostalgia, the adventure will continue.
Production companies: Radar Films, Epithete Films, Gaumont, M6 Films, Rhone-Alpes Cinema
Cast: Felix Bossuet, Tcheky Karyo, Thierry Neuvic, Margaux Chatelier, Thylane Blondeau
Director: Christian Duguay
Screenwriters: Juliette Sales, Fabien Suarez, based on the TV series written and directed by Cecile Aubry
Producers: Clement Miserez, Matthieu Warter, Frederic Brillion, Gilles Legrand, Sidonie Dumas
Director of photography: Christophe Graillot
Production designer: Sebastien Birchler
Costume designer: Adelaide Gosselin
Editor: Olivier Gajan
Composer: Armand Amar
Sales agent: Gaumont International
In French, Italian
Not rated, 98 minutes