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Western Animation / The Triplets of Belleville

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Other films by Sylvain Chomet:

Les Triplettes de Belleville, a.k.a. The Triplets of Belleville or Belleville Rendez-vous, is a 2003 French animated film by animator and writer Sylvain Chomet. For all its quirky twists and turns, it ultimately becomes an introspective character study rather than simply a piece of popular entertainment. It's also tied together by some truly fantastic jazz and period-inspired music by Benoît Charest and features almost no dialogue.

Madame Souza lives with her recently orphaned grandson Champion, who appears understandably depressed. In an effort to cheer him up, she buys him a dog, Bruno, and (after discovering his love of cycling) a tricycle.

Twenty years later, Champion has become a ferocious cyclist under his grandmother's stern training regimen. Bruno has gotten enormously fat (except for his legs) and lives to eat and bark at the trains that pass perilously close to their ramshackle house.


Champion enters the Tour de France, but is kidnapped partway through by mysterious mob thugs. Madame Souza, with Bruno's help, follows them by truck, on foot, and by boat, winding up in the fanciful city of Belleville.

Here, she encounters the eponymous triplets, aged former Vaudeville stars now living out their days fishing for frogs with hand grenades and playing trios on the newspaper, refrigerator, and vacuum cleaner.

Together, the motley crew must use their quick wits and bizarre skills to outfox the mob and rescue Champion.


The Triplets of Belleville provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The Alleged Car: The French version: the mobsters drive stretch versions of Citroën 2CVs, which are ridiculously underpowered cars to which a Volkswagen Beetle compares favourably. Fittingly enough, they're shown to be as underpowered and easily disabled as a stretch version of an actual 2CV would be, although they probably wouldn't be destroyed by a collision into a baby carriage or be able to be flipped over by a Miniature Senior Citizen with a club foot.
  • Ambiguously Gay: The guy that rents the paddleboats. If you see the inside of his shack, there are photos of shirtless and/or half-naked men all over the walls.
  • Animal Motifs: A few of the characters, like the bikers, mechanic, and the Triplets of Belleville, have striking similarities to particular animals:
    • The bikers become overworked horses, snorting and whinnying. When one gets too tired, he gets put down exactly like a lame race horse.
    • The mechanic most of all. He's short, fat, has large ears, normally appears in a kneeling position when operating the bicycle simulator from the inside (like in a hole) and emits something resembling a squeak every few seconds. And he's got a moustache.
  • Art Shift: After the opening 1930s-style TV broadcast, the art style changes to what we see in the above image
  • Aspect Ratio Switch: Happens at the beginning, as the "Belleville Rendezvous" sequence was on a TV .
  • Baby Carriage: A car full of Mooks hits a baby carriage. The baby carriage is fine; the car is totaled. Well, why not?
  • Black Comedy: The film thrives on surreal images and scenes that gleefully tap-dance across the lines separating humor and horror. Exhibit A: The entirety of the 1930s-style TV broadcast opening.note 
  • Bland-Name Product: One of the products sponsoring the Tour de France among others is called "La Valkyrie Fromage", which the winner takes a photo with its mascots/models. And its logo is very reminiscent of the Laughing Cow Cheese (called "La Vache Qui Rit" in France), as it is the picture of a red-skinned Valkyrie, smiling.
  • Brick Joke: After discovering Champion's kidnapping, Madame Souza rents a pedal boat for twenty minutes. We don't see the owner again until the end credits, when he's still standing there, looking out at the beach and checking his watch. (This may be a Shout-Out to Airplane!.)
  • Bring It: When Madame Souza sees the mafia boss still chasing them, who had just undergone an Under the Truck Instant Convertible, she steps off the bike simulator and stands in front of them. She simply used her clubbed heel to kick them off the bridge.
  • Butt Sticker:
    • Two of the women in the opening scene each has her husband stuck on her butt and he is revealed to be flattened and the other one has her husband stuck between her butt cheeks, the latter of which may be dead from asphyxiation.
    • The one with her husband between her buttcheeks is wearing a widow's veil. Make of that what you will.
  • Chase Scene: The film's climax — a classic car chase, complete with pursuers gradually being killed off, cars exploding at the slightest provocation, an Under the Truck Instant Convertible, an imperiled baby carriage, the Railroad Tracks of Doom and a Train Escape... truly Troperiffic. The fact that several of these are played with and subverted (and the fact it's ended by a tiny old lady kicking over a speeding car) saves it from Cliché Storm. It's also incredibly slow — the heroes' escape vehicle is the bike simulator that moves at a visibly slow clip. The cars that give chase do catch up, but because the bike simulator is wide enough to take up most of the road, it is impossible to overtake it or even pull up next to it; the Mafia goons' options are limited to "pull up right behind it and shoot at the drivers".
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Madame Souza's shoe's extended heel. Actually, just about every element introduced in the first half of the movie is one. Including, of course, the eponymous triplets.
    • The Triplets are incredibly protective of their vacuum cleaner, icebox, and newspapers. Exactly why eventually becomes clear.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Madame Souza and her grandson Champion are Portuguese; as such, they are mostly wearing their flag's red and green.
  • Conspicuous CG: Though the movie embodies the classic cell animation style, there are moments where one notices... well, conspicuous CG.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Madame Souza just happens to run into the Triplets, who just happen to work in the club patronized by the mob boss holding Champion hostage, who wiped Champion's forehead with his handkerchief, allowing Bruno to pick up the scent.
  • Crapsack World: Madame Souza's countryside home quickly gets swallowed up by the dreary urban sprawl of Paris, and Belleville has either disgusting amounts of opulence or poverty — everyone is either obese or just skin and bones. And the less said about the food, the better.
  • Determinator: Repeat: Madame Souza crossed the Atlantic on a pedal boat to rescue her grandson.
  • Distant Epilogue: The film ends with an elderly Champion watching the film's events on TV, while hearing his grandmother's words from the beginning of the movie.
  • Distressed Dude: Champion, who gets kidnapped by the Mafia and has to be rescued by his grandmother.
  • Dreadful Musician: Subverted. Madame Souza has a very good ear in music, and can make do with a bicycle wheel's spokes as a tuned percussive instrument with just a bit of adjusting, yet when you hear her play the piano...
  • Eagleland: Belleville is a satire of both America and Canada, but it's hard to miss the obese Statue of Liberty clutching a hamburger and the equally plump citizens. A tad hilarious; consider who gave Americans the Statue of Liberty, and the fact the French keep a smaller twin of her in Paris.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: The Triplets use common household items as the "instruments" in their act.
  • Eyes Always Shut: The mafia Dons and the triplets, whose eyes are shown squinted and hidden behind their wrinkles. The maître d tries to do this, but fails at it.
  • The Family for the Whole Family: Zigzags throughout the movie. The Mafia are pretty incompetent but are genuinely menacing at times, such as when the bookie shoots the cyclist.
  • Fantastic Fragility: The French mobster's cars and towering cronies; it doesn't take much to knock them out. The cars can't even make turns without toppling over.
  • Fast-Food Nation: The titular city is a caricature of New York City, where the citizens are almost exclusively grossly overweight people eating hamburgers and other junk food.
  • Flash Forward: The end where we see an elderly Champion watching a television and reflecting on the events as told to him by an absent Madame Souza.
  • Formerly Fat: Champion starts off as a chubby kid, sitting around the house with nothing to do, until Madame Souza discovers his love for bikes and gets him a tricycle. Years later, as he's been cycling for half of his life, he's now rail thin with massive, overly developed legs.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: No matter how many times you've watched this movie, there are things you might've missed because of the crazy details:
    • Special mention must be the newspaper Madame Souza read about the conspiracy about the French Mafia kidnapping cyclists from the Tour de France, using them for their own benefit. There's even a picture of someone's skull with a hole on its head, apparently dug up from wherever it was buried. And when you consider the fate of that one cyclist that fell off of his bike, it's assumed that they've been doing this for a long time and have been getting away with it!
    • The waitress that serves hamburgers has a circular pin on her chest, and something that seems to be her name (could be her name tag?) written on it: Fanny Roberts.
  • Gainax Ending: The film ends with a Distant Epilogue where a much older Champion watches the film's events on TV, hearing her grandmother asking the same question as she did in the beginning of the movie. The most likely explanation is that the film's events were a Flash Back.
    Madame Souza: Is that it, then? Is it over, do you think? What have you got to say to Grandma?
    Champion: (now an old man) Yes, I think that's probably it. It's over, Grandma.
  • Gratuitous English: Briefly, when a Belleville waitress finds out that Madam Souza has no money, she says, "No money, no hamburgers!"
  • Handicapped Badass: The guitar player in the intro number is missing three of his left hand's fingers; this does not hinder him from playing harmoniously. When you think that it doesn't get better, he starts playing a solo with his left foot's toes replacing his hand, which is free now to remove the cigarette from his mouth. note 
  • Homemade Inventions: All of Champion's training equipment, presumably bodged together by himself and his grandmother. He sits on a contraption that measures his weight to let him know when he's eaten enough; the phonograph is pedal-powered; and she massages his aching muscles with various repurposed household items (including an eggbeater and a push mower).
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The French one-hundred-plus mobsters are prompted to aim and shoot at the Triplets and Madame Souza; between them and later the car mooks, they don't land a single hit.
  • I Want My Mommy!: Never actually said aloud, but the mafia dons mewl like babies just before they're all blown up.
  • Leitmotif: The Bach song played on television that inspires Madame Souza to cheer up a despondent Champion by teaching him to play the piano accompanies his misfortune again when the French Mafia starts kidnapping cyclists, and later, Madame Souza switches from playing "Belleville Rendez-vous" for the Triplets to the same song, likely implying that she explains her situation and troubles to them offscreen. A jazzy rendition of the same piece can be heard in the background at the French restaurant where the Triplets perform.
  • Made of Iron: Bruno doubles for a car wheel and can still gallop with Souza on his back.
  • Mailman vs. Dog: Bruno barks at the train each time it passes his house — he even knows when it's about to come. Then comes an Inverted Trope when Bruno dreams he is on the train and the passengers are barking at him. Then in Belleville the trope is taken to its Logical Extreme, with an elevated train passing every two minutes and driving Bruno to distraction.
  • Meaningful Name: Champion, who is trained to win the Tour de France and was winning in the Mafia's betting circuit, but, also, he's one of the few to not be killed by the Mafia.
  • Mime and Music-Only Cartoon: Except for the songs and a few snatches of dialogue, most notably the recurring line that bookends the film.
  • Miniature Senior Citizens: Madame Souza for the most part (she's small enough to ride Bruno), while the Triplets seem to be of the same height as they were decades ago.
  • Mister Big: All mafia bosses in Belleville are tiny people accompanied by Giant Mook bodyguards.
  • National Stereotypes:
    • The film pokes fun at various aspects of the French, such as frog-eating (the Triplets dine on tadpole-seasoned frogs), their obsession with the Tour de France (or the Circuit de France as it's called in-world) and the French's infamous poor-quality cars. Wine is also very prominent with all French characters.
    • It also shows that the entire population of America is morbidly obese.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Madame Souza is a tiny, club-footed old woman who is persistent enough to follow an ocean liner across the entire Atlantic in a foot-pedalled boat, at night, during a huge storm at sea, to the accompaniment of Mozart's "Mass in C Minor — Kyrie". She kicks over a car too. The eponymous Triplets are no slouches either; for elderly vaudeville performers, they have surprising proficiency with explosives.
    • The Triplet in red also knocks the bookie out cold with a headbutt
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • The opening sequence, "Belleville Rendez-vous", is a film from The Roaring '20s, and features caricatures of classic stars such as Django Reinhardt and a topless Josephine Baker. The tap dancer who is eaten by his shoes is Fred Astaire. The joyful conductor is a caricature of French singer Charles Trenet.
    • When the film breaks, RTF switches over to a tape of a performance of Bach on solo piano. The pianist is immediately identifiable as Glenn Gould.
    • Charles de Gaulle is seen speaking on television later in the film.
    • The accordion player getting gnats stuck in her teeth at the Tour de France is a caricature of Yvette Horner (and according to an interview with Yvette, that scene from the movie was pretty much Truth in Television).
    • The big-toothed winner of the Tour is a caricature of Jacques Anquetil, the first man to win the Tour de France five times.
    • Even the audio track gets in on this:
      • The radio commentator on the Tour is based on the voice of a real person, in this case racer-turned-sportswriter Robert Chapatte.
      • The songs overheard in the film include style parodies of Edith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg.
  • Non-Indicative Name: "Belleville" isn't actually such a beautiful city.
  • Nonhumans Lack Attributes: Averted, Bruno has very visible testicles as well as nipples.
  • The Only One: Souza (and Bruno) set off to save Champion herself. No mention is made if Police are Useless — they aren't even brought up.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Souza's disguising herself as the mechanic, with oven mitts for ears, a false mustache and buck teeth the triplets paste onto Madame Souza's upper lip.
  • Parental Abandonment: The first act of the film is Madame Souza trying to cheer up her grandson whose parents have recently died prior to the real story.
  • Pedestrian Crushes Car: One of the gangster cars flips after hitting a Baby Carriage; either the baby was just big enough (and he is big), or the mob's cars are just that flimsy.
  • Police are Useless: Police? What police? If it weren't for that one short newspaper article released by the police of Belleville, one might believe that police does not exist in that city, or even that universe.
  • Positive Discrimination: The female protagonists are resourceful, creative and generous. All male characters are either villains or weak and passive people — or turn into horny monkeys.
  • Pretentious Latin Motto: All the French Mafia's license plates say In vino veritas: "In wine, [there is] truth."
  • Retraux: The opening sequence was animated in a similar way to the classic Max Fleischer cartoons.
  • Roaring Rampage of Rescue: The main plot is Madame Souza's epic quest to rescue her grandson.
  • Running Gag: Bruno's hatred of trains, after Champion's model train ran over his tail.
  • Same-Sex Triplets: The titular Triplets, who are all female.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: When separated from their bodyguards, the Mafia dons have actual baby cries dubbed in.
  • Secondary Character Title: The Triplets are not the main protagonists of the film — they eventually feature largely, but Souza and Bruno are the main characters the story follows. The Triplets appear during the opening musical number, but don't show up again until the second half of the movie.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The mafia goons know to clear out of the way when a grenade gets close, even if it means abandoning their bosses to their fate. Subverted, in that they all come back for the finale, however.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Triplets watch Jour de fête by Jacques Tati on TV. Director Sylvain Chomet would later direct The Illusionist, based on an unfinished script by Tati.
    • A poster for Gertie the Dinosaur can be seen hanging in the Triplets' apartment.
    • The guitar player in the opening number is clearly Django Reinhardt, the tap dancer Fred Astaire, the woman in the banana skirt Josephine Baker, and the conductor looks like a cross between Charles Trenet and Harpo Marx.
    • And the poster is a shout out to this artwork from the classic French Sci-Fi about a team of racing cyclists: [1]
    • A subtle shoutout would be the song Atilla Marcel, which is titled after a comic by Chomet.
  • Show Within a Show: The opening short, "Belleville Rendez-vous," is an old-fashioned black-and-white scat song number and, at the end, apparently the entire movie was a movie being watched by a much older Champion.
  • The Stinger: That guy that rents paddleboats is seen at the end of the movie, after the credits, still waiting for his paddle boat to be returned.
  • Take That!: The scene which shows the run-down apartment house where the Triplettes have to live also shows for a few seconds a toilet clearly not flushed; the feces form the famous Mickey Mouse head.
  • There Is Only One Bed: The Triplets all sleep in one bed, while, when she comes to stay with them for the time being, Mme. Souza sleeps on their sofa.
  • Time Skip: From Champion getting the bike to training for the tour. Then one in the middle of the movie as blink-and-you'll-miss-it winter passes in Belleville. Then from plot resolution to the end.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: In the opening sequence, the audience consists entirely of tiny men and their enormous wives. One poor fellow was apparently killed when his wife sat on him — and she has yet to notice (or care?) that there's a corpse stuck to her backside.
  • Training from Hell: Souza is a quite tough trainer when giving Champion biking lessons, making him bike even in the rain. This comes in handy later, when Mme Souza, the Triplets, Bruno, and the bikers escape from the mafia, as he goes faster when he hears her whistle.
  • Unconventional Vehicle Chase: The climax features Madame Souza, Champion, the Triplets, and Bruno trying to flee from an armada of cars... with only a bicycle simulator as their escape vehicle.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • What happened to that mechanic? He was knocked unconscious and stuffed into a chest. He was never seen again.
    • Also the driver from the Tour de France disappears after arriving at the docks.
  • White Dwarf Starlets: The Triplets, but in a subversion, they don't care — in fact, they're just as happy as when they were rich and famous.
  • Wunza Plot: One is an old Portuguese-French woman with a obese dog searching for her grandson. The other are a group of old former vaudeville artists. Together, they will destroy the French mafia.


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