''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.''