If he was still around today, it's not hard to imagine John Lennon really digging the animated musical movie A Monster in Paris — and not just because the famous Beatle's son Sean Lennon voices a 7-foot singing flea in the film.
Some of the younger Lennon's oldest and most precious memories are from watching cartoons and classic Disney movies with his animation-adoring dad, so it's a highlight in his diverse career.
"It's certainly my first venture into the insect kingdom," Sean Lennon, 37, says with a laugh. "For me to finally be able to breathe some life into an animated flea was awesome."
In the film, out Tuesday on 3-D Blu-ray from director Bibo Bergeron (Shark Tale), Lennon stars as Francoeur, a flea who, thanks to a combination of chemicals, grows gigantic and develops a smooth crooning voice in Paris circa 1910.
He becomes the toast of the town's nightlife when he puts on a suit and mask and does showstopping duets with a talented French singer named Lucille (Vanessa Paradis). However, she has to enlist the aid of a shy projectionist (Jay Harrington) and a cocky inventor (Adam Goldberg) when Francoeur is deemed a monster by an obsessed police commissioner (Danny Huston).
Most probably wouldn't be able to connect with an insect that's the bane of pet owners everywhere — even if it could carry a tune — but Lennon found the story of A Monster in Paris universal in the fact that, like everybody, he felt a little bit like a freak when he was young.
"I stuck out like a sore thumb in the school I was in as a kid," says Lennon, the only child of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. "It was obvious that things were kind of different for me back home, and I always felt awkward among my school mates, at least in the beginning.
"As I grew up, I made a lot of good friends and I really fit in and had fun. But in the beginning, I felt very uncomfortable about being a celebrity child and being identified as that. In a way that made me feel awkward and I can relate to feeling like a monster in New York."
The beast has a beauty of sorts in Monster, and Lennon was able to sing alongside Paradis when recording for the film. They go way back and met through Lenny Kravitz, who produced Paradis' 1992 self-titled album and also worked with Lennon when he was 15.
"She's disarmingly kind and comfortable," Lennon says of Paradis, the ex-girlfriend of Johnny Depp. "She's surprisingly easy to hang out with. Sometimes you expect people like that to be intimidating but she's just really fun and we had a great time."
Lennon got the gig from another friend of his, Matthieu Chedid. A composer who goes by the moniker "-M-," he created the music for the film and was Francoeur's singing voice in the original French version. Chedid first reached out to Lennon to do French-to-English translations, and then signed him on as a voice actor.
Lennon admits he changed how he sung slightly so he could sound more like Chedid's Francoeur.
"It was awesome and I was able to sing in a way I would never have been able to sing if I was doing it for myself or some regular piece of music," Lennon says. "It allowed me to suspend my disbelief about who I was for a moment, which is nice."
He's long had an interest in French language and culture, going back to his early years. His parents gave Lennon a choice of languages to learn when he was very young, and he picked French partly due to the repeated viewings of his dad's VHS tape of Rene Laloux's animated 1973 sci-fi film La Planete sauvage.
The elder Lennon, who was killed in 1980, also kept a collection of Disney movies around to play on the family VCR years before they would be released publicly.
"I think we had some special relationship or something," Sean Lennon recalls, laughing. He and his school chums would often sit around John Lennon's TV and watch the movies together. "It was a real treat."
One of the favorites of both father and son was Disney's Fantasia. Sean Lennon doesn't know which parts his father liked "because I was so wrapped up in it myself," he says, but the chapter set to Modest Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain "was what blew my mind the most.
"It's an incredible piece of music. I think boys really like that kind of thing — giant mountains turning into bat-winged devil monsters."
Sean Lennon has fostered a love of cartoon culture, funny voices and Mel Blanc over his lifetime, but John Lennon was also a fan of the animation medium. He went to an art school in Liverpool, and his son says his father would often hang out and draw with animators working on the Beatles' 1968 film Yellow Submarine.And like his dad, Lennon has been active in various genres of music over his life, beginning when he was 5 years old. Currently, he's doing pre-production on a new solo record, running his own Chimera Music label, mixing his band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger's latest release this summer and finishing up production work on his mother's 80th-birthday album, which he sees as the continuation of his parents' avant-garde project The Plastic Ono Band.
"The members were always changing and it was almost a conceptual art piece. Sometimes the members were just a plastic box with a microphone on it," says Lennon, who's paired Ono with different musicians from different generations for the project, including the Beastie Boys.
"It's sort of a musical-chairs/revolving-doors supergroup."
As his animated flea finds a new lease on life through music, so too did it have everything to do with Lennon figuring out his place in the universe, according to the musician.
"Having lost my dad, there was a big emptiness in my life and every moment I played music felt like I was filling that emptiness a little bit. Especially because I associated him with music," he says.
"Quite literally my venture into music was a venture into searching for the musician father that I lost."