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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Blu-ray Review
Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart  (2014)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman

The Film
3.5 Stars
(Release Date: October 7, 2014) – The brainchild of writer-musician-director Mathias Malzieu, "Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart" began life as both a 2007 novel called "The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart" and a concept album from Malzieu's French rock band Dionysos. This computer-animated feature film adaptation, co-directed by Stephané Berla, is unusual and sublime, a fairy tale of exquisite beauty and gentle, poignant poeticism. If some of its themes involving love, sacrifice and mortality may go over the heads of younger viewers, they still likely won't be able to turn away from its intoxicating spell. As for everyone else in search of those rare animated releases that break new ground, play by their own rules, and stand apart from the pack, they will find exactly what they've been looking for with "Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart."

On the coldest day of 1874, Jack (voiced by Mathias Malzieu in the French-language version and Orlando Seale in the English) is born with a frozen heart at the cliffside home of childless midwife Madeleine (Marie Vincent and Emily Loizeau, Barbara Scaff). A crafty inventor, she makes him a cuckoo clock to replace his failing heart. His new lease on life and delicate condition come with three stipulations, the most crucial being that he should never, under any circumstances, fall in love. Abandoned as a newborn by his birth mother, Jack grows up under the loving, cautious care of Madeleine. Sheltered from the outside world all his life, Jack is finally given permission to explore the town of Edinburgh on his fourteenth birthday and meets the bewitching, nearsighted, equally lonely Miss Acacia (Olivia Ruiz, Samantha Barks).

When a terrible accident occurs—Jack's cuckoo pokes out the eye of school bully Joe (Grand Corps Malade, Harry Sadeghi)—the young boy must leave home. His travels lead him to a friendship in Paris with future filmmaking pioneer Georges Méliés (Jean Rochefort, Stephané Cornicard), a scary run-in with a scalpel-wielding Jack the Ripper (Alain Bashung, Howard Samuels), and finally to a carnival/sideshow park called Extraordinarium where he discovers Miss Acacia is working as a flamenco singer and dancer. With his very life in danger if he allows his artificial heart to feel love, Jack faces the toughest decision he's ever had to make.

"Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart" is idiosyncratic bliss, obviously more unconventional than an American-made studio animated release, but also far more curious and compelling. Directors Mathias Malzieu and Stephané Berla have mounted a film that does not pull any punches—a child is nonchalantly chloroformed early on, and there are passing lyrics sung about ripping another's clothes off "like confetti"—but within its off-kilter sensibilities is a playful, quirky sense of humor that keeps it from ever appearing untoward. The passion and care they bring to every frame is in immediate evidence, from the snowy vistas of Edinburgh to the dusty, proudly anachronistic snapshots of a pre-20th-century midway. A trip on dark ride/rollercoaster combo called The Ghost Train, full of supernatural visages, a performing rock band, and a tunnel of creepy bunnies, is a showstopper. Meanwhile, Dionysos' songs will have viewers humming them for days, even weeks, after, while the romantic existential finale is as gentle and provocative as it is emotionally transcendent. Joyous and mournful in equal measure, "Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart" tells of a boy who must learn all too quickly how beautiful yet bitterly temporary everything is in life. This is a special gem of a movie.

Read Dustin's Theatrical Review

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart" is one of 2014's most visually resplendent releases, and its 1080p transfer taken directly from its digital source is flawless. The computer animation is unique, colorful, mood-drenched and divine, inviting viewers into a world that looks and feels like an alternate fantastical reality of 19th-century Edinburgh, Scotland. Every frame is full of dimensionality and depth, vibrancy and detail, and if there is a hint of any technical anomalies with the picture, I could not spot them on either viewing. Simply gorgeous.

Whether you are watching the film with the original French-language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track or its very effectively dubbed English-language counterpart, it makes no difference. The picture sounds every bit as wondrous and soaring and full-bodied as it looks. While I am a steadfast proponent of seeing foreign movies in their native language with subtitles, animated features are the one category where the dubbed versions often work just as well (and do not have a lot of the same issues where words do not match the movements of the characters' mouths). I watched "Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart" twice—once in French and once in English—and while both are heartily recommended, I would have to side with the English track as my preferred version. The musically inclined film features a lot of dialogue and lyrics, and throws new and exciting imagery up on the screen at a breakneck pace, so (for those viewers not fluent in French) having to constantly be reading subtitles makes it difficult to truly drink in the sights and immerse oneself in the landscape.

Special note: the English subtitle track includes sound descriptions for the Deaf and Hearing-Impaired with no option to turn them off. They aren't too frequent and it isn't too bothersome, but it is still worth noting.

Blu-ray Features
  • Character Featurettes
    • Jack (2:01, HD)
    • Miss Acacia (2:12, HD)
    • Joe (2:03, HD)
    • Méliés (2:23, HD)
    • Arthur (2:39, HD)
    • The Aunts (2:27, HD)
  • From Book to Screen" Featurette (6:20, HD)
Bottom Line
"Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart" was not in my periphery prior to Shout! Factory's Blu-ray release (the film had a small limited theatrical opening a few weeks prior), but this lack of familiarity with the material only made the film all the more magical and surprising to behold. Currently (as of Oct 2014) the best, most original animated feature of the year, "Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart" will enrapture adult audiences and engage children, making them think in a way they probably do not while devouring Disney Channel cartoons. This wonderful Blu-ray is a must-own.

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© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman