Given there are so, so many film adaptations of Jules Verne’s infinitely malleable 19th-century adventure story, you might wonder why the French-Belgium production team behind this latest iteration felt the need to add yet another one to the pile. Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? There’s never been an animated version where the lead characters are played by a frog and a monkey, and live on an island community mostly made up of land-dwelling shrimp!
To be fair, it’s hard to hate on this gentle, goofy interpretation, populated by simply designed animal characters with exaggerated features. For example, the froggy version of Phileas Fogg has legs that go on for miles, but that doesn’t stop him from being an ace surfer. When Phileas (voiced in the dubbed English version by Rob Tinkler) washes up on a beach, grade-school macaque-ish kid Passepartout (Cory Doran) is entranced. Longing to escape his overprotective mother (a wonderfully designed creation that looks half like a haute-bourgeois grande dame and half like a marmoset with a streak of white hair), Passepartout runs off with Phileas when the latter accepts the challenge to circumnavigate their “world” (revealed at the end to be really just an island) in 80 days.
Inevitably, their visits to an assortment of different places rely on a lot of cultural stereotyping, but none of it is toxic or mean-spirited. The colour palette is surprisingly subtle for this sort of kid-skewed cartoon, starting off with a hazy range of muted naturals and getting brighter as the story goes along – but not so lurid as to damage young viewers’ developing corneas. It’s a shame that in the seafaring scenes the water, tricky stuff to animate at the best of times, looks like nearly set jelly. But the air of on-the-cheap ineptitude is what gives the film its modest charm.