Steve Daly
December 05, 2003 AT 05:00 AM EST

”They’ve recently decided 2-D animation is dead,” says French-born writer-director Sylvain Chomet of America’s faltering cartoon factories. ”I think they are very wrong.”

Audiences beguiled by ”The Triplets of Belleville,” an $8 million Canadian-French-Belgian coproduction, might agree. A largely hand-drawn affair (with CG bicycles, ships, trains, and water), it seems never to have suffered the homogenizing effects of a focus group or merchandise meeting. ”It’s not a product, it’s a film,” avers Chomet, whose characters amble through teeming cityscapes designed by Evgeni Tomov and groove to insidiously catchy music by Benoit Charest. Sony Pictures Classics is giving ”Triplets” a limited U.S. release, confident it can win a slot beside Finding Nemo in Oscar’s Best Animated Feature race.

Chomet might find the cachet welcome as he develops a follow-up ‘toon fable about animals, set in 1870s Paris. ”It’s very bizarre, difficult to explain in advance,” he says. ”So was Triplets. I believe in the film, but so far I am one of the only ones.” He says his producers would prefer a ”Belleville” sequel, but that seems as likely as him developing a love for hamburgers (a foodstuff he gleefully savages in the film). Says Chomet, ”I wouldn’t be very motivated by that.”

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