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“Poupelle of Chimney Town” Review: Sweet, Beautiful with Missing Pieces

My only regret about watching Poupelle of Chimney Town is that I didn’t have a chance to do it sooner. I would have loved to see this beautiful anime on the big screen. I missed the American theatrical release. So, I had to wait until the DVD was released.

I had heard online that it was a beautiful movie – but of course, I couldn’t say anything until I saw  Poupelle of Chimney Town with my own eyes.

So let me tell you,  I was delighted when I realized it was well worth the wait.

PLOT

In a city covered by smoke and fog – the idea of stars is treated not just as a fairy tale, but near heresy. One day, a boy named Lubicchi becomes friends with a creature made of garbage, who he deems Poupelle.

Lubicci, an outcast with an ill mom, lost his father about a year before the events of the film. His father often told tales about stars to anyone who would listen. And together, Lubicchi and Poupelle decide they’re going to prove him right. 

No matter the cost.

Yeah – you’ve seen this plot before. You probably have a good idea of how the story plays out. You might even be able to guess the big ‘plot twist’ relating to Poupelle’s identity. But, honestly in a movie as beautiful as this?

Who cares?

THE GOOD

This movie is absolutely beautiful, it’s so full of life, color and detail. While the story may be generic, the characters are what make it so interesting and special. That and of course, the animation style. This is the kind of movie that would not be able to work in live-action, no matter how much you tried.

Poupelle of Chimney Town is based on a picture book with the same name. The art style is based on the book illustrations, which is a huge plus in my book.

The Animation

From the moment I popped in the DVD, I was in awe of just how amazing this movie looked. It wasn’t quite hand-drawn but it wasn’t quite CGI either. It’s actually CGI animation disguised as hand-drawn, traditional anime. The characters don’t move fluidly – more like puppets in an almost stop-motion-esque style. 

But the style allows for wide, panoramic views of the city and the “smoky, smoke”  that covers the sky. Occasionally the movie plays around with its style, making references to platform jumper games and an odd musical number or two, which somehow doesn’t clash with the overall steampunk aesthetic.

I have no complaints.

STANDING OUT

I honestly thought this movie was going to be one of those “Don’t Pollute” eco-friendly kind of stories, something more akin to Ferngully, The Last Rainforest. Turns out – the environment isn’t important at all to the morals, aside from some hints that the smoke causes some of the citizens to fall ill and the government doesn’t seem to care.

So, I found that to be a nice surprise.

There’s an economic reason for the town’s isolation. Basically, Chimney Town owes a big bank a lot of money – so they’ve been hiding for a quarter of a century so they don’t have to their debt. It’s an interesting idea but the movie doesn’t do it justice.

But what really makes Poupelle of Chimney Town an amazing movie is the relationship between Poupelle and Lubicchi.

Lubicchi has no friends and Poupelle is seen as a monster. The two make a good duo – with Poupelle replacing Lubicchi’s father, Bruno, as a starry-eyed dreamer. No pun intended.

Together the two make friends who help them in their goals – like the fast-talking miner Scooper – but it’s the two’s friendship that drives the story to its emotional climax. Like any good outsider story should.

The World

I just love the world that exists in this movie. I just wish we were able to explore more of it and its implications. They have been isolated for 250 years. Talking about stars will get you killed.

That’s what happened to Lubbichi’s dad.

But then there are interesting factors – like Halloween being a huge holiday in Chimney Town. It’s the little things like that which make this world come to life.

THE BAD

I loved the action sequences, and how the crew experimented and showed off the animation. But I wish they cut down the action scenes and replaced them with answers about the world.

And since I watched the subbed version – it wasn’t a translation issue. They literally introduced some interesting concepts – like money that vanishes over time, and never really did anything with it.

The Money?

The town went into hiding because of their currency, which disintegrates over time. They owe money to the bank. The smoke helps keeps them hidden.

Interesting idea. Poor execution.

 There are no hints about the currency prior to the reveal. No one ever mentions it – which you think they would.

That’s kind of an important part of their economic system. This leads to a lot of questions like: How are there still elites if the money is designed so people can’t hoard wealth? Why is it so important that the average citizens don’t know why they’re hiding from the outside world?

How does this economy sustain itself?

Poupelle of Chimney Town just does nothing with this incredibly important plot point.

There’s even a kind of puppet king figure – a descendent of the currency inventor – and just nothing really happens with him. The film keeps showing him looking awkward and bored, but he doesn’t really do anything or have any real impact on the plot.

I just don’t get it.

A Missing Something

Despite all the good in the film – it still feels as though Poupelle of Chimney Town is missing something. I think the missing link was a better connection between the town’s isolation and the banning of star talk.

Like, I understand them hiding from the government, but I don’t understand the logic of the chimney smoke, the banning of stars, and tricking the people into believing there was no outside world.

The dissociation between the ideas made the film seem overcomplicated and disjointed.  The film takes the route of showing off action and the art style rather than focusing on the film’s substance.

Lots of side characters get introduced – including a mechanic, whose name I don’t remember – who was clearly meant to play a larger role in some previous version of the film. At some point, Starseers, who I think are supposed to be some kind of religious cult get mentioned – but that’s it. Despite sounding important, the film does nothing with the idea.

I just wish Poupelle of Chimney Town had taken the time to develop these ideas – or made more sacrifices. Rather than trying to cram all these themes and concepts into one film – it would have been better to let some of them go, for a more coherent story.

The Scoop

Despite the film’s flaws, there is just something so charming about Poupelle of Chimney Town. I really enjoyed watching it and even with the plot holes, it’s a good film. Not a perfect one – but it’s very genuine

Poupelle of Chimney Town never tries to be anything it’s not. It does a lot, to be fair. There’s even a random musical number, which is easily one of the best parts of the film – but the movie expresses optimism in a way that feels genuine and not saccharine. The movie doesn’t feel self-referential or meta.

Poupelle of Chimney Town takes itself seriously – but it also recognizes its target audience, children. It doesn’t talk down to them and does its best to introduce them to complex ideas about grief, loneliness, hope, and love.

Honestly, it’s kind of hard to find films like that these days.

And that’s the scoop.

………….

Grade: B+

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Release Year: 2020

Length: 101 minutes

Producers: Yusuke Kitahashi, Ryoichi Fukuyama, Eiko Tanaka

Director: Yusuke Hirota

Screenplay/Book by: Akihiro Nishino

Voice Actors: Masataka Kubota, Mana Ashida

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