"If you spend your life avoiding getting hurt, you'll probably die of boredom first."
— Jack & The Cuckoo-Clock Heart
Jack & The Cuckoo-Clock Heart is more than just a visual feast — although the Tim Burton-esque animation is downright stunning, particularly in several gorgeous, dreamlike fantasy sequences which take full advantage of the medium. It's also more than just a beautiful score — although the music is certainly a centerpiece of the film, with characters weaving in and out of song throughout the story. It's a film about risk which is not afraid to take many risks itself, and the result is greater than the sum of its many excellent parts.
The basic premise is this: on the coldest day in history, Jack is born with a frozen heart which is cleverly replaced by a cuckoo clock to help him survive. But the very thing that keeps him alive is so fragile that it could be his undoing: strong emotions, especially love, could overwhelm him and stop its ticking for good. Of course, Jack finds himself falling for a beautiful girl he meets in town one day, and suddenly he has to make some difficult decisions and weigh the risks and rewards of falling in love.
At its heart (pun intended), Jack & The Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a love story not unlike many we've seen before, yet it doesn't take long to realize that you're watching something you don’t often see on the big screen. The movie is family-friendly so kids will enjoy it, but it's also touched with a world-weary melancholy that will very much appeal to older viewers and Tim Burton fans (plus, all aficionados of animation will appreciate its artistry). Rather than treat risk as an obstacle to overcome, the story embraces the risks and fears of getting hurt as the very thing that gives life (and in this case, love) its meaning.
Jack is sheltered for his own protection when he is young, but it's only so long before he's dying to go out and experience the world. Among the people he meets are a bully and his cronies, who simply cannot resist the temptation to tinker with a heart that is openly on display. As you watch Jack being held down by his tormentors as they literally mess with his heart, you can't help but wonder who would do the same to you if you had that vulnerability; if all of our hearts were out in the open, how many people would delight in winding them up?
Then again, as with Jack's friends and family, there would be plenty of folks ready and waiting to fix them back up again whenever our hearts were broken. And after you've watched one boy's internal struggle become physically externalized, you realize that we all really do have our own version of a cuckoo clock buried deep down somewhere, and it's nice to know that for the rest of us, a little pain won't stop its gears.
Jack & The Cuckoo-Clock Heart is now on Blu-ray and DVD.