By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart (Jack et la mécanique du cœur) is finally getting a limited American theatrical presentation come September 24th, with a DVD and Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory quickly following. Fans of French CGI/animated cinema can finally see what’s next after such hits like A Monster In Paris (2011) and The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (2010).
With this tale, the emphasis is with a musical drama that’s stylized in the same vein as Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! It’s mythic quality comes from the surreal magic invoked by the fact that a life can be saved by inserting mechanical parts into a dying human body. But unless the survivor abides by certain rules, life cannot last forever. Endless love, for that matter, also is not without some caveats.
Here, Jack (Orlando Seale in the English dub) is a young idealist who is just discovering the world in a tale about the dangers of falling in love. Although he gets a warning by his god-mother Madeleine (Barbara Scaff) prior to going out to experience life in the city of Edinburgh, his heart is sent a-fluttering upon meeting the near-sighted Acacia. She is not without a mysterious past either. Whenever threatened, she sprouts thorns. When Jack attends a concert that Acacia is in, he quickly discovers that true love is calling. But time and her not recognizing him right away, along with a rival, does not make his quest to win her affection easy. Many years are going to pass until they find each other again.
The tale and music penned by Mathias Malzieu (who also crafted the soundtrack and book to which the movie is inspired from) has a haunting quality which ranks right up there with Brothers Grimm and Aesop. The world is rich with plenty of eccentric characters and the music needs to be heard in its native language, French. Fortunately, the Blu-ray release offers both the original and English dub whereas the DVD offers glimpses of the original track in its video extras. They were originally produced by EuropaCorp and provided to Shout! Factory, who are acting as distributors for the North American region one release.
The English dubbing of the film excellently captures the depth expressed from the original dialogue, but not all the songs hit the same tempo. There is a tonal quality lost in the musical translation and it’s especially noticeable in “Flamme A Lunettes.” A few English numbers are spliced in, like “King of the Ghost Train” that viewers can delight to. There’s even a few rap style numbers like “The Return of Joe,” which carries an ominous tone to bring this film to its haunting climax. Thankfully, Acacia’s Spanish numbers are preserved in both video releases. With this diversity in the two products, the leaning is still with the Blu-ray edition to experience the European flavour proper.
No matter what fans of international cinema wish to buy, the extras offered in both are the same. The making of featurette nicely explains this movie’s origins from concept album to book to film. And the computer artists certainly understand that even with CGI, if the eyes do not provide a window to the soul then the emotional depth this film wants to convey will not be pulled off. The remaining extras provides a quick character study so viewers can appreciate this world’s diverse characters more.
With such a beautifully rendered film and vividly created world, the CGI medium is perfect to render this Victorian age fairy tale romance on-screen. And to understand the nuances contained in the songs certainly requires viewing the film multiple times. Shout! Factory’s decision to release it sooner than later is right on the money, and just maybe animated French cinema will besiege America. PIXAR and DreamWorks better watch out!