I'd imagine that most American critics will be tripping over themselves to sing the praises of this visually stunning French animated film. Hey, it's got a great premise AND it's subtitled, so what's not to like?
Quite a few things, unfortunately. But first, the good: this film's terrific and unusual style literally feels like a painting come to life. A handful of scenes also blend more realistic CGI and live action footage with the colorful CGI characters in a convincing, surreal manner. The story itself features a number of interesting allegories, especially the representation of class division based on appearance (sketches, half-finished drawings and finished characters), which could be substitued with the race/culture/relgion of your choice. At the end of the day, it has a good message that, thankfully, isn't just aimed directly at kids. Most American audiences equate all animation with children's movies, and I'm glad films like "The Painting" exist to prove otherwise.
So why didn't I like it more? The allegories are, at times, heavy-handed and a bit too obvious. Two of the central characters are of different "class" but fall in love (talk about predictable), and the film feels padded even at less than 80 minutes. The ending also falls flat, closing on a half-note that would feel more appropriate in a short 7-8 minute production, not a feature-length film like this.
Two other complaints, sadly, stem directly from this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The dialogue at times is a bit corny, but mainly because the English subtitles are simply a port of the optional English dub track. They're not a more literal translation of the original French audio (also included), which is unfotunate. I almost feel like I can't give "The Painting" a fair and objective review because of this...but since I don't speak fluent French, I can only make do with what we get.
As for the A/V quality and extras, they're fairly good. The 1.78:1 transfer looks crisp and colorful with minimal problems; there's some moderate banding during at least one sequence, but it's not overly distracting. Non-music surround effects sound flat at times, but there are moments when they create a convincing atmosphere. Extras consist of a 34-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, a self-playing art gallery and the film's trailer. Not bad for a lesser-known French import.
So "The Painting" is still enjoyable from a visual standpoint...but like many modern animated films, the story doesn't consistently reach the same level. It's still worth a look for animation fans 13 and up, as I doubt younger kids will really get much out of it. There's also brief artistic nudity, mild language and one or two violent (not gory) scenes, if that makes a difference to you.