Belleville Rendez-vous starts with a crackly black and white TV showing an animated dance number by the charatcers the Belleville Triplets: an homage to all those Merry Melodies and Silly Symphonies which cluttered up the cartoon times of my youth. It is a pretty good pastiche too, everything in the joint is jumping, with the sight gags being plenty better than some of the po-faced whimsy that Disney mistook for humour. Interestingly though, much like the Merry Melodies, this musical number also has guest stars, namely a Josephine Baker skit and Fred Astaire getting eaten by his shoes.

Those cartoons of old were packed full of contemporary references like this which we just do not get now. Unless they were made in wartime and hitler rocks up (I’m not sure I would even recognise a Mussolini pastiche, considering it would probably be on the bonce of a horse). Is the moral that referential humour dates; tell us something we don’t know. Perhaps the moral is never ever rely on just one kind of humour. I hated Silly Symphonies because the humour was almost entirely based on twee nonsense. There is something a bit funny about storks pulling their beaks off and using them as trumpets, but we are not talking belly laughs here. The relentless bounce and lack of narrative of most of these cartoons allied them more to music videos than anything else – and the music was often either rubbish or supposedly instructive (Merry Melodies in particular were early on keen on using patriotic songs as the basis to their enforced mirth).

The Belleville Rendezvous pastiche is a fair bit shorter than the standard Merry Melody, and importantly has a much, much better tune. So much so that when the film kicks in for good it takes a while for its somewhat slower drollery to take charge. The film is a lot better when the musical bits kick in (though note this is no Disney musical), and the chase at the end is a kinetic joy. Bottom line, as we are seeing more and more of late, animation is not just about fairy tales. There is also room for a film with 101 different ways of eating frogs.