If you're content with slick, cynically commercial computer-animated froth, stick with Ice Age: Collision Course.

But if you want moving and artful cartoon adventures, look to the French, whose delightful, hand-drawn features include Persepolis, The Illusionist, Tales of the Night, and - one of my favorites - the Oscar-nominated crime adventure A Cat in Paris from Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol.

The directing duo follows up that triumph with Phantom Boy, a less-successful new crime yarn about a boy who helps a New York cop stop a mad gangster.

That's right, the pic is set in the Big Apple, albeit a peculiarly quaint, almost Gallic one.

It tells the story of Leo (voiced by Gaspard Gagnol), an 11-year-old boy recently hospitalized with a potentially fatal disease. Leo has to undergo painful chemotherapy, losing his hair in the process, but his loneliness and anxiety are alleviated when he discovers that he's able to leave his body at will to fly undetected all over Manhattan.

Leo's aimless travels gain focus one day when he meets fellow patient Alex (Edouard Baer), an injured cop who has botched so many cases that his superiors ignore him when he discovers the location of Public Enemy No. 1, a creepy old-school gangster known as The Man With the Broken Face (Jean-Pierre Marielle).

A cross between Batman archvillain The Joker and a cubist painting, the bad guy is more comic than menacing as he holds the city hostage with a computer virus that threatens to bring down the entire infrastructure.

Phantom Boy will appeal to children who have the patience and imagination to immerse themselves in the film's wiggly animation. Adults who grooved on the sophisticated references that Felicioli and Gagnol littered throughout A Cat in Paris may be less entertained.

I'd still take this 2D adventure over Hollywood excess any day.



U.S. theaters are screening the film in the original French with subtitles and in a dubbed English version (with Vincent D'Onofrio as The Man with the Broken Face). The Ritz at the Bourse screens the English version for matinees and the subtitled French in the evenings.



Phantom Boy

3 (Out of four stars)

Directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol. With Edouard Baer, Jean-Pierre Marielle. In French with subtitles or English- dubbed. Distributed by Gkids.

Running time: 1 hour, 24 mins.

Parent's guide: PG (thematic elements, violence, and a suggestive situation).

Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse.