Directed by Stéphane Berla and Mathias Malzieu
November 17, 2013 (Arras Film Festival) / December 20, 2013 (United States) / January 15, 2014 (Mexico) / February 5, 2014 (France)
A young man whose heart was frozen by the coldest day on Earth and replaced with a clock as a child must avoid strong emotions or face death.
While doing a little reading before writing this I learned that this film was based not only on a concept album by a French rock band called Dionysos (their name pops up at least once in the background of the film) and as well as an illustrated book called “La Mécanique du cœur” which translates to “The Mechanics of the Heart” by the band’s lead singer Mathias Malzieu who also in part directs this film. There is a little confusion on my part concerning the music. From what I can see the music is by the band Dionysos, at least in France, but I also found a credit for a Henry Jackman in the United States, so I am a little fuzzy.
Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is not too bad, but it suffers in large part because the story moves quickly. Like they leap over a whole sections of time in the narrative. Jack starts out as a baby and then is a young boy and then apparently he is an adult with a weird traveling circus. The passage of time is not made really clear with onscreen text or dialogue. The character designs do not really change either yet you do get the impression time has passed but how much is vague.
Jack’s taken care of for the first 10 years of his life by Madeleine, a midwife who is viewed as a bit of a witch by the locals. She cannot have children for some reason (it is implied to be biological) so she is more than happy to take Jack in. Jack’s birth mother believes Madeleine can give a good life to her kid and walks away. It is just an abrupt decision lacking context. You could have cut out the whole scene with the mom and started with Jack as a little boy because all the information you need about why Jack is being cared for by Madeleine and what is going on with his heart is given on Jack’s birthday when he first goes into town.
While in town Jack stumbles upon a near sighted girl named Miss Acacia and quickly falls in love. The song they sing nicely sets up the dynamic between the two but does not really establish why Jack would fall so madly for her other than Miss Acacia being the first girl his age he has ever met. Meeting her was enough for Jack to begin rebelling and try to establish a life and start sneaking off to school where he encounters a nemesis. Then again in the song between Jack and Miss Acacia, Jack was singing about ripping her clothing off with his teeth.
And what is a film without a villain though the villain here is not much of a villain. Our “villain” Joe is a boy at school that is also in love with Miss Acacia for, well, reasons. I am guessing that the pickings in this town are few. Anyway, Joe is just the local jerk who gets poked in his eye by the cuckoo clock in Jack’s chest and Jack runs away and coincidentally Jack meet up with Joe later on in the circus that Jack went to.
Being a French film set in the 19th century, Jack meets up with real life historical figure Georges Méliès who is a magician operating an early film camera. He is just there and it is implied Méliès cares for Jack for some time but we really do not get any relationship built between them. This is another thing that just is.
There is also no buildup of the competition between Jack and Joe for the affections of Miss Acacia. Joe’s desire for her puts them in direct conflict and a poke in the eye causes Jack to flee. And that is the major problem in this movie. Things simply are and we get little to no explanation of why they are. We have little to no reason to invest in the characters and the situations feel “Meh.” Slow things up and world build!
Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is more song than spoken word and I must concede the music is pretty good. They are on the darker side and that helps the film gain a Tim Burton vibe. The environment looks good and there is nice use of the camera to create something dark and almost surreal if not just fanciful.
I cannot skip talking about the animation. CGI animation does not necessarily age well. Some has held up better than others but in my opinion if it has not gone bad already it soon well. This is on the verge of going bad. It looks well enough, almost like stop motion animation, but the limitation is in the faces. They lack expression. Even the earlier Toy Story films contain better expressions for the characters.
There is a great deal of potential in this film, but it never quite gets there. This does not appear to be because they cannot. It feels like they will not. For some reason they start with a good foundation and go no further.
Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is an OK film. It is not great. It could be better than it is. It is definitely different, but I think you can skip it.