Paris, 1910 and the River Seine has flooded the city, necessitating the use of boats to get around areas closer to its banks, and no sign of the waters receding soon. One resident is Emile (voiced by Jay Harrington in English, Sébastien Desjours in French), a projectionist who dreams of making movies like his idol Georges Méliès, but for now is stuck in this small dark room of the cinema he works in. He also has ambitions to ask out Maud (Madeline Zima or Ludivine Sagnier), the ticket booth operator, but his best friend Raoul (Adam Goldberg or Gad Elmaleh), a high spirited delivery van driver, may cause more problems than he anticipated...
Not that Raoul was the monster of the title, as we had a lot of setting up to do before we reached that character's introduction, much of it in a simple, modest yet undeniably winning style. This wasn't going to set the entertainment world aflame, but for director and co-writer Bibo Bergeron it represented the best project he had helmed so far in his career, though seeing that his previous work had been co-directing Shark Tale maybe that wasn't saying much. But do not damn him with faint praise, as this French production had a lot going for it, not least a graceful style of computer animation which may have been familiar, but did please the eye.
This had actually been "filmed" in English, which explains why the characters' mouths match the English dialogue rather than the French, but either way of watching it should not have provided too many problems whichever you opted for. Vanessa Paradis voiced both versions of her character, a chanteuse named Lucille who finds exactly what she needs for her act in the most unlikely of places, and that was part of the reason why the reaction to the film was muted, perfectly respectful, but when the title of your film highlights the monster audiences might have been led to expect some huge creature rampaging through the capital instead of the sweet natured musical they got.
What happens is that Raoul and Emile visit a botanic gardens where a scientist has left his potions around, and his pet baboon which has cue cards to direct any visitors to where the scientist wishes them to go. Not that Raoul goes through with that, as he accidentally smashes two bottles of mystery liquid together: an explosion occurs, and the result is a hundred foot high sunflower and that monster, which was actually a flea from the monkey caught in the crossfire. He has now moved up the evolutionary ladder, and a few steps sideways as well, to become a manflea which is able to sing very sweetly (in the English version with the voice of Sean Lennon), but is hunted down by the ignorant.
Among those ignorant is the opportunist Préfet Maynott (Danny Huston or François Cluzet) who sees his chance to win the post of mayor if he rids the city of a supposed menace, but Lucille has met it and after the initial shock wears off she finds he is ideal for her stage show: just put a mask and some clothes on it and you're laughing. Well, maybe not laughing too much as though this was a comedy it wasn't too ripsnorting in the humour stakes, preferring a more gentle line of amusement, with a lesson lightly delivered about not judging books - or manfleas - by their cover. As Maynott ignores all the evidence that the target of his hatred is actually no harm to anyone after all, the heroic characters do their best to save their new friend - Raoul is responsible for him - and the story begins to take shape after a long stretch of haphazard setpieces in place of strong plotlines. But it does work itself out, and if it's a minor effort in the scheme of animated features, it charms for all that. Music by Mathieu Chedid (the French flea voice).