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Review: 'A Monster in Paris' lumbers along

The best thing about “A Monster in Paris” is the jaunty number “La Seine,” an exuberant tribute to the river that flows through the city (and over its banks in this movie).

MonsterinParisboxI really wanted to love the whole movie, which gets a stateside English release today from Shout! Factory. Trailers I’d seen looked so promising. But the movie, unfortunately, is only a choppy, moderately entertaining affair.

The English dub cast mostly does a great job, I’ll give them that. But the script and humor fall flat, the characters fail to gel and even the giant flea comes off rather uninteresting.

Raoul (Adam Goldberg) is an amateur inventor and delivery man in 1910 Paris. Emile (Jay Harrington) is his friend and runs a movie theater. They make a delivery to an out-of-town botanist and wind up messing with some chemicals and creating a giant, singing flea.

Said flea winds up meeting a lovely cabaret star, Lucille (Vanessa Paradis, reprising her role from the French version). After he sings a mournful tune about being a monster in Paris, she comes to recognize his musical heart and names him Francoeur. He’s voiced (mostly clicks and coos, but this flea can sing) Sean Lennon, son of John and Yoko.

She, along with Raoul and Emile, must protect Francoeur from the ambitious Commissioner Maynott (Danny Huston), who wants to kill the beast as a way to show he’s protecting the city so he’ll be elected mayor.

There’s lots of other stuff (including a monkey), but that’s the main thrust. The fact that there is so much other stuff is part of the problem. The film lacks focus as it wanders about. A side unrequited love story between Emile and his ticket seller, Maud (Madeline Zima), is shoehorned in. The characters could have been eliminated entirely and worked into Raoul and Lucille to better flesh them out.

They’re not helped by the English script, which includes too many verbal anachronisms to give it a firm sense of time. Unfortunately, Shout! Factory doesn’t include a French language track with direct translations. I’d have been interested to see how it differs. Maybe it’s just as lifeless.

The chase scene is boring, though the blimp adds a little life. The final confrontation is anticlimactic and kind of drags. The whole thing is just listless.

The animation is OK, nothing special. It’s about what I’d expect from a TV show, which makes the script even more important. It’s directed by Bibo Bergeron, who did “Shark Tale,” so I guess I shouldn’t have expected too much.

But, like I said, the voice work is mostly great. Harrington is just as amiable as he was on “Better Off Ted” (man, I miss that show). Paradis does what she can with the underwritten Lucille.

But her duet with Lennon on “La Seine” (don’t judge it by the solo version earlier in the film) is delightful. If only the whole movie could have had that energy. We can think Matthieu Chedid (aka M) for that bit.

Eric Henrickson is a Detroit News copy editor who has also been writing about comic books, video games and anime for The News for more than 10 years. His favorite bit of geek cred so far: appearing in an online "Star Trek" fan series.