Mathias Malzieu’s Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart (playing at the MFA’s Boston International Children’s Film Festival May 21st and 25th before a planned theatrical release in the fall), based on his own novel and concept album, looks good. The character designs are decent, the backgrounds often beautiful, and the film creates some fun and evocative images. Whenever nobody’s talking, it sounds great, with a moody rock score that skillfully incorporates different sound effects.
And that’s about it as far as nice things to say about the movie.
The plot, well, there’s a concept that could be worked into something good if given a few more drafts of the script. It’s a steampunk-y fairy tale about a boy born on the world’s coldest day, leaving his heart frozen and needing to be replaced by a cuckoo clock. Jack’s cuckoo-clock heart is very sensitive and falling in love could potentially kill him. OK, there’s potential there, and throw in George Melies and a bunch of carnival freaks and it seems like you have something fun for the Hot Topic crowd, a sort of Big Fish-meets-Hugo– meets-Moulin Rouge!
But the script wastes its potential on scenes that don’t add up (why bring Jack the Ripper into the movie if he’s not going to do anything of any importance?), scenes that are rushed (everything with Jack’s adopted mother moves so quickly that no emotional connection is felt), scenes that don’t make sense (what’s the point of George Melies and Jack skateboarding on a train?), and conflicts both trite (everything with the useless bully villain) and stupid (the whole “I love you, but I’m actually in love with someone else who is actually you but I somehow haven’t gotten that!” thing).
Maybe in its original French, the movie could be taken in as pure phantasmagoria, its script problems overlooked by the joyous pleasure of the artistry. Unfortunately Shout Factory’s releasing this film in a very poorly done English dub. Dubs can work for animation, but there’s an art to a good dub, and the unemotional Speed Racer-esque speed reading of lines that barely fit into the characters’ mouths translated doesn’t cut it. The songs fare slightly better in translation, having to keep to a rhythm, but considering the two most successful numbers are the untranslated Spanish ones, I have to figure the original audio must be more enjoyable overall.