A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a dark, steampunk-style animated musical that's best for tweens and up, like Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. Originally a French production that's been dubbed in English, the imaginative tale has some mature elements, particularly the dark and violent tone, schoolyard bullying that ends in an eye being stabbed, and the main character's encounter with Jack the Ripper (with an ensuing frightening song about slicing up beautiful women). A love story is central to the movie, and the teen romance gets pretty intense, leading to songs about hearts ablaze and a climactic kissing scene. And adults smoke cigarettes and tell suggestive jokes that will go over kids' head. Bottom line? This is best for older kids who are ready for more sophisticated animated movies.
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What's the story?
On the "coldest day on earth" in 18th-century Edinburgh, a young woman gives birth to a boy whose heart freezes. Luckily, the knowledgeable midwife, Madeleine (voiced by Barbara Scaff), knows magic and sets the baby up with the titular cuckoo-clock heart. After the newborn's mother leaves him in Madeleine's care, JACK AND THE CUCKOO-CLOCK HEART grows up with three big rules: Don't touch the hands of his clock heart, don't lose his temper, and don't fall in love. Everything changes on his eleventh birthday, when Jack (Orlando Seale) sees a beautiful young flamenco singer at the market and is smitten with her. Convinced he'll find her at the local school, Jack begs Madeleine to let him go, too. By the time he attends school, the singer, Miss Acacia (Samantha Barks) is gone -- but Joe, the school bully who also fancied her, is there to make Jack's life as difficult as possible ... for three straight years. When a catastrophe sends Jack running away at age 14, he encounters filmmaker/inventor Georges Melies and ends up in Andalusia, Spain, where he again finds Acacia and must decide whether he should risk his heart and life for romance.
Is it any good?
Enjoyment of this unique period love story will depend on how you feel about animated fare that's more Coraline and Corpse Bride than Pixar and pixie dust. And, yes, if you're a fan of musicals, that will help, too. It's not a perfect film; schoolyard bully Joe is a bit overdone, and there's not enough relationship building between Madeleine and her close friends, but you've got to admire the ambition of such a far-reaching love story that crams in historical figures (Jack the Ripper, Georges Melies), humor, and a lot of romance.
This movie is based on author/composer Mathias Malzieu's (frontman of the French rock band Dionysos) 2007 book The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, which later became a concept album for Dionysos before being adapted into this translated French musical. The animation, like the story, is imaginative -- if really dark at times -- and the characters are reminiscent of Tim Burton's and Henry Selick's creations. The darkness is cut by the colorful character of Miss Acacia, Jack's object of affection in flamenco red. Barks, who played Eponine in Les Miserables, does a beautiful job with Acacia's songs, which are mostly in Spanish (Jack crosses Europe to find her). Jack himself is alternately melancholy and hopeful, a young Hamlet of indecision and longing obsessed with his future and his one true love.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart's themes: that what makes us different is what makes us unique -- and what makes us fragile is what can make us stronger. Do you agree with those ideas? How do they apply in real life?
Do you think that animated movies should always be appropriate for the youngest viewers, or do you appreciate animated movies that are targeted for slightly older audiences?
This is a French production that was dubbed in English. Can you tell that it's not a "Hollywood" animated movie? What elements make it obvious that it's a foreign film?
- In theaters: September 24, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: October 7, 2014
- Cast: Michelle Fairley, Samantha Barks, Orlando Seale
- Directors: Stéphane Berla, Mathias Malzieu
- Studio: Shout! Factory
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters, Misfits and Underdogs, Robots
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: scary images, suggestive material, some language, and smoking
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