With its gorgeous, rich, and textured animation it’s hard to notice the absence of discernible dialogue in The Illusionist—much like the real life films starring the fictionalized subject Jaques Tati. The film opens in Paris, and leads the viewer along to London, rural Scotland, and lands in Edinburgh where the bulk of the film takes place. From the bustling cities to the rural landscapes, the settings are captivating. 
The story is simple: an aging magician is falling out of trend in bustling Europe, to the wayside in place of the more exciting and energetic rock-n-roll acts. After playing a show in Scotland, the magician is whisked away by a drunk audience member to perform for the locals. A young woman is captivated by his performance and his kindness of gifting her a pair of red shoes, and she follows him back to Edinburgh. They share a shabby apartment while the magician spends the little money he has doting on the young women, to the point that he takes on menial jobs to continue this arrangement. The young woman eventually meets a young man who dotes on her, and after seeing the two together, he leaves her behind to return to reality. 
There’s an innocent playfulness echoing throughout the film—the rumor that the story, written by Tati for his estranged daughter, is reasonably plausible. It’s hard to believe such a quiet film could spark such controversy. Jacques Tati is said to have become estranged from his eldest daughter when she was a baby and that the film was written by Tati as a reflection on the lost relationship or an attempt to reconcile, though Tati’s family disputes this claim. They claim that the film was written about his younger daughter Sophie, who sold the rights of the film to the director, Sylvain Chomet, who stands by the family's recounting of events. 
The close intimate attention to sound design is part of what sets The Illusionist apart from other animated films. The layered sounds—from footsteps to chirping birds to the shallow breath from a puff on a cigar—add texture to the subtle soundscape. With a muted soundtrack to accompany a stunning image, it contrasts greatly from director Chomet’s previous film The Triplets of Belleville in story and substance but is utilized as a storytelling device in a similar way. 
It’s easy to see that the director considers Tati to be a lifelong inspiration. The title character is a tribute to the real life man—in a bit of fantasy, he even walks into a theater in Edinburgh while hiding from the young woman and her new love only to see the film Mon Oncle playing on the screen. In interviews, Chomet has spoken about the story relating to his own experience of having trouble engaging with his twelve year old daughter. 
Despite the sometimes goofy side characters, a sadness echos from the film—the magician sells his identity, his magic kit, in order to continue to fund the young women until she finds a young man to fill that void. It could very well be the story of a father trying to make up for lost time, or it could just be about an old, tired, lonely man, looking for something, someone, to care about.