The film begins with a sequence of the “coldest day ever” where we see the town go from snowy to frozen over in stunning fashion. The gothic spires, twisty streets, and angular architecture evoke just the type of macabre visual style that I love. The style becomes ever more realized as the movie goes on introducing things like an accordion stream train (seriously, this was so cool) and a sideshow filled to the brim with odd characters.
Additionally, a couple of scenes which melt into one another and back again are a dizzying delight. And the dream sequences of Jack and Acacia have a lot of charm.
The combination of imagination and technical detail was incredible in Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart.
However, the magic of the film is almost instantly broken when the characters open their mouths to sing. What was once French singing was replaced by a hastily (I can only hope it hasty) created dub bereft of nuance or feeling. Joe’s parts are particularly jarring, I think he was supposed to be rapping but it just comes out as a string of deadpan words. Now, I admit, I have only seen the trailer of Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart in French so perhaps the music is generally less fulfilling than the visuals. But there are two sequences that went un-dubbed, they were in Spanish, were pretty great so I feel the English version was really doing a disservice.
Jack’s story begins during that fateful storm I mentioned above. A woman about to give birth lands on the doorstep of Madeline, the town witch, who deftly delivers Jack, a boy whose heart is completely frozen. Madeline replaces Jack’s heart with a cuckoo clock before his mother abandons him there in the night. Once Jack is a little older, he begins to become desperate to leave the confines of the house. Madeline relents after reiterating the 3 rules for his survival: never touch the hands of his clock, never lose his temper, and above all never fall in love.
As one might imagine, Jack beings to break these rules almost instantly. Jack meets Acacia a girl with poor eyesight singing on the street who he falls for; he gains the ire of the school bully Joe; both of which lead him to running away. He begins a journey across Europe searching for his lost love eventually making his way to Valencia.
That all sounds well and good, but there is an off-kilter pace to the movie. Though considering the visual-style, and Jack’s stuttering movements at times, this may have been intentional. Still, once I was thrown out of the film by the music, it was hard not to scratch my head at story and pacing decisions throughout. Jack falling in love felt rushed in a way that made it hard to accept. Joe’s role is thin at best throughout. There was a missed opportunity to tie Acacia’s backstory in with Jack. Also, why in heaven’s name was Jack the Ripper on the train at one point? Honestly, I could probably have accepted all of this in the name of dramatic license if it wasn’t for the sound.
I wanted, really wanted, to love this movie but I couldn’t. Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart is staggering visual achievement which is marred by poor music and voice dubs.