Time Masters (René Laloux, 1982)
French Title: Les maîtres du temps
Time Masters is the second Stefan Wul novel ("L'Orphelin de Perdide") director René Laloux adapted. The first one being "Oms En Serie" which Laloux turned into the now classic The Fantastic Planet (1973). It certainly feels like Laloux's cinematic style is compatible with Wul's tales of otherworldly lifeforms, civilizations, and struggles. Laloux breezes through the planet of Perdide with its interesting landscapes and living curiosities, while accommodating a storyline that invokes a gripping twist in the end; a twist that all of a sudden turns the tale into an involving temporal puzzle.
The plot follows a troupe of space mercenaries in a race against time trying to rescue a little boy who is left alone in the wilderness of Perdide. The boy, who is merely kept alive by an intergalactic radio (from which he receives information and company from the space mercenaries) he, by his youth and innocence, thinks of as a friend called "Mike."
Time Masters feels a less serious effort compared to The Fantastic Planet. Unlike the latter film wherein adult themes surface from the planetary rebellion by the little aliens against their blue-skinned humanoid masters, Time Masters is pretty much a straightforward rescue film wherein the heroes jump in and out of problematic scenarios and try to arrive in Perdide before the boy gets devoured by locust-like creatures. There are scenarios wherein Laloux seems to be pushing a certain theme --- the troupe lands in a deserted planet inhabited by faceless angel-like creatures. These creatures would kidnap visitors and through a ceremony turn them into "puppets" just like them. The scenario feels like a commentary against organized religion (especially with the utilized imagery of angels, the ceremonial baptism to a common ideology). The scenario being a mere point within the entire film betrays the depth of the commentaries for narrative ease and straightforwardness. It feels like Laloux is kept from truly exploring these alien environs by his adherence to storytelling; something i never felt while watching The Fantastic Planet.
Time Masters marks the first collaboration between Laloux and comic book artist Jean Giraud. Giraud is most famous for co-creating The Silver Surfer, and would later on work on as concept artist for films like Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979), Willow (Ron Howard, 1988), and The Fifth Element (Luc Besson, 1997). This is perhaps the reason why there is such a huge difference between the designs of The Fantastic Planet and Time Masters. The Fantastic Planet's art is grotesque, surreal, and at times, downright disturbing. Time Masters feels much more cartoon-y and friendly. Giraud is responsible for the sketches, and there is indeed a comic book feel to the film. There is very minimal movement, and more often than not, Laloux bathes the film in sedentary moments; giving us the opportunity to examine and enjoy his and Giraud's collaborative art.
The animation is not smooth, which shouldn't pose a problem, especially when one is already used to Laloux's cinema. Time Masters seems to be confused of its classification; whether or not it is a children's film or an adult-centered animated film. Most of the alien designs are clumsily conceived (especially if compared to the dangerous flora and fauna of The Fantastic Planet), on the verge of being silly in the level of those Hanna-Barbara cartoons. Yet at times, it's quite fantastic and the level Laloux infuses these made-up alien landscapes with real ecosystems and cycles is just compelling.