Animators may use the same digital computer-assisted palette the world over, but the world is still diverse enough that distinct styles and sensibilities exist outside of the Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks/Sony orbit.
“Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart” is a Franco-Belgian production adapted from a novel and concept album by Mathias Malzieu. It’s a Tim Burtonesque fairy tale romance — dark — set to innocuous, forgettable Franco-pop. And it is entirely too weird to have ever been made in Hollywood.
The film sets itself apart within moments of the opening credits. In 19th century Edinburgh, on the “coldest day on Earth,” Jack is born to a mother who leaves him with the tinkerer/midwife Madeline (Barbara Scaff). The ice has frozen his heart on birth, but Madeline conjures up a cuckoo-clock heart that will keep him ticking.
When he’s old enough to go outside, Jack (Orlando Seale) is given three solemn rules.
“Never touch the hands of your (clock) heart.” “Keep your temper under control.” “Never fall in love.”
Madeline is particularly insistent on the last of those.
“One short kiss, a brush upon your lips, could be your last!”
Naturally, the ten-year-old Jack does all of these on his first day at school.
Jack is bullied by Joe (Harry Sadeghi) and takes a tumble for Joe’s girl, the enchanting Miss Acacia (Samantha Barks). That leads to a duet, and a confrontation that forces Jack to flee town with this mission. He will find this Acacia again, no matter how many years pass or borders he has to cross.
The animation is generally surreal, and by introducing the secret hero of “Hugo,” the famous French fantasy filmmaker Georges Melies (Stephane Cornicard) as a character, the animators have an excuse to toss black and white footage at us, visit an amusement park and show us fanciful trains and carriages and an entire sequence, set in Andalusia, animated in origami fashion.
But the inexpressive characters are like something out of a direct-to-video Barbie movie from the ’90s — plastic, immobile. And like another Belgian animated film released this month, “Thunder and the House of Magic,” there is no humor in the story or the telling of it.
The songs add nothing and the story, simple as it seems, wanders through a clutter of explanations, mis-directions and the like. So kids of a certain age, who will stare at anything that’s been animated, may be hard pressed to do much more than stare.
And adults, who will stay five pages ahead of the tale, start to finish, aren’t treated to anything as interesting as the film’s production design. There’s no humor and no pathos. “The Cuckoo-Clock Heart”, pretty as it is, lacks any heart at all.
MPAA Rating: PG for scary images, suggestive material, some language and smoking
Cast: The voices of Orlando Seale, Samantha Barks, Barbara Scaff, Stephane Cornicard
Credits: Written and directed by Mathias Malzieu and Stephane Bela. A Shout! Factory release.
Running time: 1:38
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