JACK AND THE CUCKOO-CLOCK HEART
(Jack et la Mechanique du Coeur)
The story is set in a fantasy version of 19th Century Europe where we get appearances from real-life historic figures, including at one point Jack the Ripper. Pioneering French filmmaker Georges Melies is a major character in the film, even if the Melies we have here is wildly divergent from the real-life character. Melies name and reputation has been reclaimed in recent years in particular with the Martin Scorsese film Hugo (2011) and other works like the documentary The Extraordinary Voyage (2011), both released to celebrate his 150th anniversary. Here we see Melies in the midst of directing his version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1907) and there is mention made of his plans to make his all-time classic A Trip to the Moon (1902). Brigitte Helm, the German actress best known for playing the robot in Metropolis (1927), is also for some reason written in as the autocratic owner of the ghost train.
The main problem with Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is that the CGI is limited. Part of the reason for this is that one has been ruined by exposure to Pixar, Blue Sky, Illumination and the modern animation studios. When you sit through the density of texture and detail that goes into these films, Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Hearts often corner cutting lesser-budgeted animation becomes frustrating. Nevertheless, the film is designed with an undeniable visual eccentricity that could be called quasi-Steampunk I liked the image of a steam train that comes with flapping bat wings and big accordion tubes between the carriages. There is an appealingly imaginative (and clearly Melies-inspired) image of the train being lifted up by a giant bird, which drops it on the other side of the track gap and then flies off into the mouth of a living sun. The film picks up when it gets to the circus and the menagerie of strange freaks in the background, including Siamese twins, fairy-like people, people with giant mouse ears, balloon-headed characters and someone with a body shaped like a personified sun caricature.
The other problem I have is the premise. The story seems to operate by entirely arbitrary rules. Okay, so we have to go with the absurd notion of a boy having his heart replaced by a cuckoo clock but there seems no reason at all why the particular rules he is given should be the case. Not touching the hands of the clock makes sense but why avoid anger and love? I can accept that strong emotions may well cause a heart to overload but you would have far more problems physically from say overexertion or over-eating. Similarly, I could not figure out why Jack simply doesnt tell Miss Acacia who he is from the outset and has to maintain a pretence although this at least gives momentum to the middle of the story where he has to prove who he is to her. The story also reaches a surprisingly downbeat ending quite a downer when you consider that it is being sold as a childrens film which has notedly been changed over the more positive and upbeat one that the book ends on.