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Feature


Edinburgh, 1874. On the coldest day in the history of the world, little Jack (Mathias Malzieu in French/Orlando Seale in English) is born with his heart frozen solid. Wasting no time, midwife Madeleine (Marie Vincent in English/Barbara Scaff in English) takes action and saves his life by inserting a cuckoo-clock in place of his icy heart. And, now, Jack will live…as long as he observes three golden rules: he must never touch the hands of the clock, he must master his anger, and he must never, ever fall in love. But fall in love he does, to a bespectacled young street performer, Miss Acacia (Olivia Ruiz in French/Samantha Barks in English), with a soul-stirring voice. Now begins a journey of escape and pursuit, from Edinburgh to Paris to Miss Acacia’s home in Andalusia. (From Shout Factory’s original synopsis)

 Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart
Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, aka: Jack et la Mécanique du Cœur ( Jack and the Mechanics of the Heart – a better title) is another beautiful example of the stylistically and conceptually unique choices being made by modern French animators. Despite the advertising materials alluding to the heavy involvement of producers Luc Besson and Gilles Waterkeyn, who also had a hand in the Shout Factory-released A Monster in Paris, director Stéphane Berla and co-director/writer/star/songwriter Malzieu are first-time feature filmmakers. Malzieu’s script is based on his own concept album with his band Dionysos, meaning that his musical themes usually take precedence over typical storytelling and drama. This, along with the film’s skewed sense of reality, randomized scene-by-scene narrative, and fairytale logic (many of the stranger elements are left unexplained and meant to be taken for granted), makes for a tonally and rhythmic unusual story experience. There are also a number scary images, sexual subtexts, and darkly comedic moments that might make some adult viewers uncomfortable sharing the film with their younger children.

Ultimately, these eccentricities are a rewarding part of a bigger tapestry. Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a more consistently enjoyable experience than other 3D CG French animated films, like the patchy (but enjoyable) A Monster in Paris, the boring Kaena: The Prophecy, or Besson’s crummy Aurthur trilogy. The considerable visual pleasures aren’t quite as unique as the musical storytelling -– characters are typically large-noggin’d, big-eyed sprites that would probably be interchangeable, if not for their clothing and hairstyles – but the clockwork imagery and anachronistic, fantasy setting give the designers and animators carte blanche in terms of decorative environments and creative camera angles. Some sequences score extra style points for purposefully mimicking the jittery qualities of stop-motion animation and hand-cranked film photography.

 Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart

Video


It’s so boring to write about the image quality of CG-animated movies on Blu-ray that I’m even finding it boring to write about how boring it is. This 1080p, 1.78:1 (some scenes are 2.40:1 for emphasis) transfer meets all the usual expectations, including clean lines, sharp details (the busier backgrounds are breathtaking), complex textures (the characters’ costumes are practically touchable), and incredibly vivid colours. The animation shows its budgetary limitations in terms of the incidental movements of stuff, like hair and clothing, and in the slightly blocky qualities of some of its background textures, which are sometimes zoomed beyond their intended resolution (similar to what happens when you look too closely at the wall textures in a videogame). These jaggy moments are not the fault of Blu-ray compression, though there are some minor issues with banding effects throughout the softer background transitions.

 Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart

Audio


Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart includes original French and English dub audio options and both presented in either DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and PCM stereo (totally four audio options). There are no discernable differences between the 5.1 tracks in terms of music and sound effects. Because Dionysos’ music plays such a vital role, the sound design isn’t particularly aggressive, but is consistently teaming with activity, including environmental ambience and the more precise sounds of Jack’s heart and his adopted mother’s other clients. The eclectic musical cues are big, rich, and brimming with intricate instrumentations. The hip-hop influences also offer excuses for LFE-punching drum beats. The English language voice cast does very well with the spoken sequences, but can’t really compete with the original French actors when it comes to singing, in part because the English lyrics don’t quite have the same flow and rhyme. Note that the English subtitles don’t include lyrics to the traditional Spanish language song, ‘Malagueña Salerosa’ (the same song that plays over the end credits of Kill Bill 2).

 Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart

Extras


Extras include:
  • Character bios, complete with interviews with the cast & crew and footage of Dionysos in concert:
    • Jack (2:00, HD)
    • Acacia (2:10, HD)
    • Joe (2:00, HD)
    • Méliès (2:20, HD)
    • Arthur (2:40, HD)
    • The Aunts (2:30, HD)
  • From Book to Screen (6:20, HD) – A general behind-the-scenes featurette


 Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart

Overall


Without knowing anything about its history as a concept album or the co-director/writer/star/songwriter Mathias Malzieu, I had assumed I was in for a more standard animated musical experience, but Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a pleasant surprise. The music is unique, the storyline and characters are charmingly odd, and the animation overcomes its budgetary limits (compared to its Hollywood counterparts). Shout Factory’s Blu-ray package includes a typically sharp HD transfer and two strong DTS-HD MA soundtracks – one in English, one in the original French. The extras are a little too EPK to answer all the questions I have about the production, but they do fill us in on the basics.

 Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart
Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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