Every so often a movie comes around that goes way, way, way over the top with just about everything, and in The City of Lost Children it almost is enough to make you tired. Directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet completely blast your audio and visual senses. Anyone familiar with Jeunet’s other works like Delicatessen and Amélie may not be too surprised by this. This film is a milestone in terms of imagination and art direction, but it unfortunately lacks a little in the story department and all of the gizmos and what-have-yous often became distracting.
The children of an unnamed port city all seem to disappearing one by one and all too quickly. No one knows why this is happening, but if they were to look out into the ocean they would find a rig where a mad scientist named Krank (Daniel Emilfork) has all of the children held captive. Krank’s plan is to use a device to extract the dreams of the children since he is unable to have any of his own. Meanwhile, a carnival strongman, One (Ron Perlman), sees his little brother get kidnapped to be taken to the rig. He soon joins forces with a little girl named Miette (Judith Vittet), an orphan who is also a member of a thieves’ guild. The two begin investigating the kidnappings which will ultimately lead to a showdown with the mad scientist, himself.
The plot of this movie is so stuffed, I feel like I’m leaving so much story information out. This is a two hour movie, but it could have easily gone on for four since there seemed to be just so much going. There’s a group of clones (all played by Dominique Pinon) who have a crazy backstory, conjoined twins that run the thieves’ guild, a tick with murderous powers of motivation, and a talking brain in a fish tank with speakers! WHERE CAN I EVEN BEGIN?! Like I said before, the imagination that went into making The City of Lost Children is mind blowing, but there’s so much there that the story sort of suffers.
Every corner, every inch, every possible place for negative space in every scene is filled with some sort of gadget or device or weird looking person that there were times where I didn’t even know where to look. There is so much going, and I say that in one of the most extreme ways I could possibly say it. About half way through the movie, I started feeling like I was confused or missing something, but it turns out I was right on on pretty much all accounts. There’s just so many odd characters with different stories and contraptions that it all kind of detracted from the main story about a mad scientist kidnapping children to extract their dreams, which is cool enough. You don’t really need more than that, but this movie literally seems to have everything in it. This isn’t always a negative though.
As it stands, this movie is all about the style and art design which is beyond impressive. Being made in 1995, the film makers relied strongly on actual sets and practical special effects and make up. Much like John Carpenter’s The Thing, I would put The City of Lost Children on the movies that go above and beyond what is expected of special effects of the time. It all looks so amazing, and seems like it could possibly exist in some demented alternate reality. That’s really what watching this movie feels like. A step into a world that’s almost ours, but at the same time is completely different. It’s a modern day fairy tale.
You could compare this movie to the works of film makers like Guillermo del Toro, Terry Gilliam, or even David Lynch. Still, it has the names and style of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet all over it. This is a really impressive film that is like nothing I’ve really seen before in terms of style, but as someone who loves a good story I was a little disappointed with the narrative. Don’t look at The City of Lost Children only as a story, but as a huge artistic achievement. With that in mind, this is a movie that is sure to make you gasp, laugh, and maybe even cringe.