I’ve always been a fan of animation and CGI, so when I saw the trailer for Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart, I immediately wanted to see it. The English dub recently came out, and I’ve had a chance to watch it. Oddly enough this movie wasn’t anything like what I had expected. It’s not bad, per sé; rather, it was very overwhelming. There are a lot of directing and writing choices that are either clichéd or baffling. Someone (like myself) watching this film for the first time may not be able to follow the fast pace and references the movie makes without knowing the original source material. I thought the film was a standalone project, and was really disappointed by how generic the story was. When I researched the film further, I found the movie is more about the music than it is the story.
The movie is based off of the album by the French band Dionysus. The album, La Mécanique du Cœur, or “The mechanics of the heart”, started as a novel written by the lead singer of the band, Mathias Malzieu. Malzieu co-directed the film, while Dionysus composed the soundtrack for the film. It’s strange, since the film has a different ending from the novel/album, and I personally don’t understand why they changed it.
Spoilers and more after the jump!
We start in the town of Edinburgh, Scotland. A boy named Jack was abandoned by his mother to stay with Docteur Madeleine. He was born with a heart of ice. To save his life, Madeleine replaced his heart with a small cuckoo clock. He lived with Madeleine all his childhood, and was not allowed to leave the house. As he grew up, Madeleine gave Jack three rules to follow to keep his clock intact: never touch the hands of your clock heart, never lose your temper, and never fall in love. For his tenth birthday Jack asks to go the nearby town, and Madeleine reluctantly agrees. Soon he hears a barrel organ and runs off to see it. He quickly falls in love with the girl winding the organ, Miss Acacia. His heart starts to smoke, and he’s taken back home to rest.
He learns what school Miss Acacia goes to, and asks Madeleine to enroll him in the same school. Unfortunately Miss Acacia had moved away, and Jack spends four years being bullied by a boy named Joe, who’s also infatuated with Miss Acacia. By his fourteenth birthday, Joe has a serious fight with Jack. Joe starts forcing open his heart, and Jack accidentally pokes his eye out with his cuckoo clock, then runs back home. Madeleine advises Jack to leave town before the police show up, and tells him to look for a clock maker if he ever needs to repair his heart. He travels to Paris, where he runs into Georges Méliès. They become friends and Georges agrees to help maintain Jack’s heart. Later the two journey to find Miss Acacia in Granada, Spain.
Jack and Georges find Miss Acacia performing at a carnival, and Jack accepts a job there to see her every day. Acacia talks about loving a boy she met in Edinburgh, and over time Jack reveals that he was that boy she met four years ago. Jack gives Acacia the key to wind his cuckoo clock heart, and they plan to leave the carnival to see the world together. Before they leave, Joe appears to see Acacia and to get his revenge on Jack. Joe tells Acacia the three rules Jack must follow to keep his heart intact, and Acacia confronts Jack about them and for attacking Joe. She claims that she couldn’t love Jack, especially since it could kill him in the process. Joe leaves with Acacia, and Jack’s heart starts to break. He goes home to find Madeleine to fix his heart, only to find that she died in jail shortly after he left home. Jack mourns by Madeleine’s grave, and Acacia arrives with his key. Jack takes the key, throws it off a cliff, and asks Acacia for a kiss instead. Presumably he dies, as time stops after they kiss, and the movie ends with Jack climbing up into the sky on snowflakes.
The plot of the movie is stale; I was hoping for something more creative. Even Disney romances are becoming more complex, where the characters have more personality and learn about each other, rather than meeting and falling in love instantly. The romance in the film is irritating, and could have been just as compelling without the forced conflicts. For instance, the love triangle is unnecessary. I feel you could have replaced Joe as a friend of Acacia (or Joe could have just been a friend instead), and the plot could have continued the way it needed to. Unfortunately most of the conflicts in this movie are caused by small misunderstandings. When Jack finds Acacia, she doesn’t recognize him as the boy in Edinburgh because she didn’t wear her glasses when they met. When they met she admitted to having bad vision, but she’d be able to recognize his voice. So why doesn’t he just sing to her? Why doesn’t Jack just tell Acacia that he loves her and wants to risk being with her? There is a scene in the film where they almost kiss and he doesn’t malfunction, so it had to be possible. While a story does need some form of a conflict, a lot of the ones in this story could have been avoided entirely.
As mentioned before, the ending from the novel/album is different from the movie. In the film, Jack chooses to die by Acacia’s hand, rather than living on his own. It seems really out of character for him, considering how motivated he was to find his true love for four years. Since he fell in love with Acacia so quickly, it’s hard for me to believe he had no other passions in life to pursue instead. He’s relatively new to the world; just going into town was an exciting experience for him. Georges says “Time heals everything”; his friends were advising him to let it go and live on. Even if he continued to grieve, she was perfectly willing to just be friends, so he didn’t have to live without her. In the original ending, Jack stabs his heart in jealousy when Joe reappears, but he returns after coming out of a coma. When he wakes up he has a new body, and goes to see Acacia. He watches her as a stranger before revealing himself as Jack and presents her with his old heart. She recognizes him, but rejects him because of his secrecy. Personally I found the original ending to be more compelling, or at least less depressing. At least in that ending Jack continues to live on, rather than being so heartbroken he kills himself when he had the chance to live.
A song from the original ending….
I found myself comparing this film to The Book of Life, where the story was vapid despite having the potential of being culturally rich. I found it strange that the movie takes place in Scotland, France, and Spain, yet these locations never seem to reflect the atmosphere they do in real life. Not only that, but there was supposed to be a point where Jack goes to London and meets Jack the Ripper. Instead he randomly meets him on a train for the span of a few minutes. There are no real consequences of having met Jack the Ripper in the film, I don’t understand why it wasn’t cut from the movie entirely. The only reason I can think of was to animate a scene for the song, “La Panique Mécanique”, or “The Mechanic Panic”. I’m not sure about the novel, but in the film the scene has no significance.
The translation for this movie is stifling. Even the literal title translation seems more appropriate than what was decided on. “The mechanics of the heart” is much more poetic and a better representation of the story rather than Jack and The Cuckoo Clock Heart. Some of the lyrics are really confusing; they’re too serious or sometimes sexual for me to believe a ten-year-old is singing these words to a little girl. When Jack first meets Acacia, he sings the line: “I’ll rip your clothes between my teeth and turn them into confetti.” While it is a translation of the lyrics of the song, is it really appropriate to the plot of the story?
Additionally, the dubbing of the dialogue is too fast paced. There are times where characters are cutting each other off when they’re speaking. The pacing is extremely frustrating. I don’t think there is a second of silence throughout the film; someone is constantly talking quickly or music is playing. I can’t honestly think of another film that is so consistently busy.
This movie has me so conflicted I don’t know whether I like it or not. Don’t get me wrong, the aesthetics are interesting, but I feel the film was focused too much on the music and the visuals rather than the story. It varies from the original plot as it is, so why not change it to be easier to follow, or make the plot less conventional. This film is geared more towards fans of the novel/album who already know what’s happening; why not change it a bit more to add to the story?
For the best viewing experience, I’d recommend watching it with English subtitles instead of the dub. Even though the story is like a fairy tale, I can’t recommend this film for younger children. There are a handful of sexual and morbid jokes that wouldn’t be very appropriate, otherwise, I’d recommend watching it at least once if you can. If not for the interesting style of the film, then for the experience and for the amazing soundtrack.