Review: The little Robbe – Le petit Spirou (2017)

The little Robbe – Le petit Spirou (2017)

Directed by: Nicolas Bary | 83 minutes | comedy, family | Actors: Sacha Pinault, Lila Poulet, Mahé Laridan, Timothée Moffen, Gwendal Malguid-Salvatore, Pierre Richard, Natacha Régnier, François Damiens, Gwendolyn Gourvenec, Philippe Katerine, Armelle, Aaron Denis, Pierre Gommé, Mahogany-Elfie Elis

Spirou and Fantasio; they are immensely popular with our southern neighbors. The French cartoonist Robert Velter created the character Spirou (‘Spirou in French) as early as 1938, to give his eponymous comic weekly magazine a face; colleague Jijé introduced Fantasio some five years later. Both Spirou and his sidekick are reporters who experience all kinds of adventures. The comic only really became popular when André Franquin (known for ‘Guust’) took over the direction in the late 1940s. Thanks to him, the Marsupilami, the Count of Rommelgem, IJzerlijm, Wiebeling and Zwendel are also part of the Spirou universe. After Franquin indicated in 1968 that he wanted to focus more on his own creation Guust Flater, various artists took over, with varying degrees of success. Only when authors Tome en Janry (pseudonyms for Phillipe Vandevelde and Jean-Richard Geurts) took over the helm in 1987, did the series breathe new life. This was mainly because they focused on the early years of Spirou; with the series ‘De kleine Robbe’ they made Robbedoes contemporary again. Ultimately, ‘De kleine Robbe’ became a greater (commercial) success than the original ‘Spirou and Fantasio’ series. Little Robbe is the young, mischievous version of Spirou, a ten-year-old boy with a rich imagination, who experiences the most exciting adventures with his friends Vermieljoen, Ponchbol and Cassius and his girlfriend Suzanne.

After a Walloon/French cartoon series about De kleine Robbe was released in 2012 (films of about seven minutes in which fairly well-behaved, short jokes are shown), director Nicolas Bary presents a live-action feature film, ‘De kleine Robbe’ (‘Le petit Spirou’). The leading role is played by the young Sacha Pinault. Robbe comes from a family of bellboys (in fact this is the only similarity between Robbe and Spirou). All his ancestors worked as elevator operators, so that’s how he will do it later, according to his mother (Natacha Régnier) and his grandfather (Pierre Richard). Robbe has doubts, especially when the day that he has to leave his trusted school and his friends to go to the School for Piccolo’s is fast approaching. He dreams of going on an adventure, preferably with his girlfriend Suzanne (Lila Poulet-Berenfeld). And so, together with Vermieljoen (Mahé Laridan), Ponchbol (Gwendal Malguid-Salvatore) and Cassius (Timothée Moffen), he devises a plan to make that adventure possible. Going against the will of his family turns out to be more difficult than expected, because mother and grandfather do not just let go of the idea of ​​Robbe as a bellhop. Robbe even gets a piccolo suit fitted. And although the school bullies laugh at him for his ‘monkey suit’, Robbe sees his red suit as a superhero costume himself.

‘De kleine Robbe’ is a lot more daring than ‘Spirou and Fantasio’; religious and sexual themes are not shunned. Many of the well-known characters from the comic series can be seen in the film: grandfather who, despite his advanced age, likes to look at female beauty and whose most valuable possession is a pile of ‘dirty books’; the beautiful, brash math teacher Miss Cijfer (Gwendolyn Gourvenec), who is coveted by both the pre-teens in Robbe’s class and the scruffy gymnastics teacher Mr. Peuk (François Damiens); pastor Angelusse (Philippe Katerine), who prefers to listen to some heavier work between the choral songs (he quotes musicians from bands such as Iron Maiden and AC/DC to his heart’s content) and about whom there is a strong rumor that the sad boy Jan-Jozef Zondervader (Aaron Denis) might be his son. These adult characters are larger than life and the jokes in which they are central are almost farcical and quite vulgar. Certainly in the dubbed (Flemish-Dutch) version, this has a high irritation factor. It is much more fun to watch the young actors; to how the inventive Robbe and his friends set to work to cobble together a fantasy vehicle, how the four of them surprise Suzanne with their very own view of a world trip. Those are definitely the highlights of this movie. The young actors, especially Sacha Pinault, have a pleasant appearance and are much more realistic and sympathetic than their caricatural adult counterparts.

It belongs in the series around ‘De kleine Robbe’; vulgar humor and magnified characters. In that respect, this film version does justice to the comic book series. But if we’re really honest, the movie would have worked a lot better if all those caricatures were thrown overboard and we could have seen a coming-of-age movie about an endearing little boy who goes against the will of his family and goes in search of who he is and what he wants to do when he grows up. Because that theme is absolutely rock-solid and universal. But the form in which it is cast here, as a kind of farce, can be shocking to a large group of viewers.

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