Of all the films Tati made, The Illusionist has to be his most personal film. The fact he didn’t make the film make the film brings an irony to this. Wanting to reconcile with one of his daughters, Tati wrote a screenplay about a magician who forms a friendship with a teenage girl. Due to unknown reasons, the film didn’t come into fruition. That is until Tati’s daughter Sophie hands the script over to Sylvain Chomet. There was no more perfect person to adapt a Tati script. With his Oscar-nominated film The Triplets of Belleville, he demonstrated a similar knack of minimal dialogue, surreal environments and minimalist humour. In his second feature length film, Chomet proves he’s more than able to capture the magic of a Tati film.
Magician Tatischeff magician routine has trouble finding relevance in 1959s Paris. What chance does he have against rock n’ roll bands. He already has enough problems trying to control his aggressive, meat eating rabbit. When he does get work, he has trouble getting anyone to pay attention to him. That is until one wedding gig when a drunken Scotsman invites him to perform for an island Scottish village. Through this gig, he attracts the eye of naïve teen Alice, who believes he’s a real magician. When she follows him to Edinburgh, Tatischeff takes on the position of reluctant father figure for Alice.
This film follows a more conventional story structure compared to most Tati films. First of all, this film actually has plot. Usually, Tati relies on routine and events to give his films focus. While this film’s still loose on the plot, it still has a clear storyline. While most films rarely focus on the protagonist, this film places most of its focus on Tatischeff and Alice. Once in a while, the film will cut to a supporting character but the film keeps its eyes on the two leads. Unlike other Tati films, characters go through development. Alice starts off as plain, innocent teenage girl who still believes in magic. Once in Edinburgh, Alice blossoms into a pretty and confident young woman. We also see the tragic struggles of a clown and a ventriloquist to make a decent living. It’s hard to say whose is the most heartbreaking.
But beyond this, Chomet matches Tati’s style. Like other Tati films, there’s very little dialogue throughout the film. There’s more emphasis on body language to reveal character. There’s also a bit of Tati’s satirical touch. In one job, Tati’s forced to perform after a Beatles-esque rock band, whose front man is portrayed as an effeminate glory hound that howls and drags himself across the floor. It leads to an amusing scene of Tatischeff waiting close by while the front man takes forever to end.
There are more amusing jokes Tati’s is known for. Like Tati, Chomet prefers mild amusements over belly laughs. Some of the mild amusements come from the little moments, like a Scottish pub cheering over a light switch. In other moments, there are visual gags you’re too so much laughing as admiring the creativity of it. In one scene, a pile of pillow fluff flies through past a window, which Alice mistakes for snow. While most films would play this moment for a big laugh, this film prefers to smile at life’s serendipity.
The animation is a perfect fit for Tati’s style. Tatischeff not only bears an uncanny resemblance to Tati, but also captures his mannerisms, right down to the way he holds his back. The over the top character designs of The Triplettes of Belleville are toned down to give the characters a more grounded reality. There’s a hint of caricature in the designs, but they’re drawn with just enough realism to fit animation. The animation also shares Tati’s love of European cultural settings. The city of Edinburgh is drawn with as much beauty as the French village from Mon Oncle.
Which brings up a question; would Tati have found more success in animation. On one hand, he probably has been more able to fulfill his vision of his universe. Considering how he’d often coach his costars on their movement, he would have complete control over every character. He also probably would have realized his vision for Playtime in less time and with less money. The Illusionist certainly shows his potential as an animation filmmaker. It proves his style could fit perfectly in the world of animation.
 There’s controversy over which daughter Tati was trying to reconcile with. Some argue it’s Helga Marie-Jeanne Schiel, whom Tati abandoned as a baby. Others say it’s Sophie Tatischeff, who Tati felt had been overlooked in the pursuit of his art.
 This brings us to another Tati trademark; character’s fascination with the little things in life. In this case, it’s the locals of a Scottish pub. They find pure joy in Tatischeff’s magic routine. We also get a scene of them setting up a jukebox. Tati films longs for us to share the same joy these folks do.