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Western Animation / Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart

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Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is an Animated Musical about a boy named Jack who has a cuckoo clock for a heart. It is based on an album by French rock band Dionysos, which in turn was based on the novel, La Mécanique du Cœur (Mechanics of the Heart), written by Dionysos' lead singer, Mathias Malzieu. Originally released in French in November 2013 as Jack et la mécanique du cœur, but was later released in English, German, Finnish, and Spanish in February 2014.

One very cold day in Edinburgh, a pregnant woman makes her way up the hill to a midwife named Madeleine and gives birth to the eponymous Jack. His heart is frozen solid, but Madeleine is able to save him by replacing his heart with a cuckoo clock. This allows him to live, but he must abide by three rules to keep his mechanical heart from breaking:

  1. He must never touch the hands of his heart.
  2. He must keep his temper under control.
  3. Most importantly, he must never fall in love.

This third rule is put to the test when on his tenth birthday, he meets a young singer by the name of Miss Acacia. Despite Madeleine's warnings, he begins to chase after Miss Acacia, eventually following her to Andalucia, Spain. Along the way, he meets a man by the name of Méliès, who gives Jack romantic advice and convinces him that the reward is well worth the risk.

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The original book ends with Jack losing Miss Acacia to Joe and heading back home, heartbroken that he's lost her forever. When he returns, he finds out from Madeleine that he never needed his cuckoo-clock heart, and she was just sheltering him. In the film, Miss Acacia returns to Jack for their Big Damn Kiss, but he does need his heart, and the effect of finally kissing Miss Acacia kills him.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: Most of plot hinges on no one thinking to ask Madeleine to make Jack a sturdier heart, one that can withstand the rigors of love. She gave him a heart transplant before; there's no reason stated why she can't do it again. True, when he was born she had to make due with the best clock she had before his frozen heart killed him, but she has 10-14 years to work on it after. In the book it's based on, apparently his cuckoo heart was only needed during the first few months of his life, but she neglected to tell him to try to shelter him, but this is not the case in the movie.
  • Animated Musical: The movie is an animated version of the book The Boy With The Cuckoo Clock Heart and a concept album by Dionysus based on said book.
  • Beta Couple: Méliès strikes up a romance with a pair of conjoined twins in Andalucia. We don't know what happens to him by the end of the film, but it at least seems that they stay together.
  • Badass Long Coat: Jack's costume as the 'King of the Ghost Train' has one.
  • Bait-and-Switch: During his first time in town, Jack ogles at what Madeline thinks is a girl in a tight outfit. Turns out Jack was looking at the huge clock behind her.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Jack's love for Miss Acacia causes him enough emotional and physical turmoil as-is, but sharing a kiss with her would be fatal, as his heart wouldn't be able to take it. In the climax, however, Jack gives up on living and asks Miss Acacia to kiss him. The "Big Damn" part is emphasized as Dionysus' "Whatever the Weather" blasts just as the two touch lips and the camera starts to spin around them.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Miss Acacia realizes that she returns Jack's love and returns to Edinburgh to tell him. They share a kiss, but, as Madeleine forewarned, this kills Jack.
  • Bilingual Bonus: If you can speak French (or Spanish in the case of both of Miss Acacia's numbers), listen closely to many of the musical numbers. Dionysos barely edited any of their songs that appear in the movie, leaving in all of the sexual innuendos and puns, including a few references to a Raging Stiffie, and Jack taking off Miss Acacia's clothes with his teeth, and a Precision F-Strike in another (granted, the song was in English when the movie itself was in French). Keep in mind, the film was given the French equivalent of a PG-13 rating when it initially released, and a PG rating in English. There's also a blink-and-you-miss-it visual of ice cream cones coming out of Miss Acacia's breasts during Flamme à lunettes. And then there's the official soundtrack...
  • Blind Without 'Em: Miss Acacia's eyesight is absolutely awful, and her glasses only barely help—she hates the way she looks with them regardless. Her eyesight is largely why she doesn't recognize Jack years later.
  • Book Ends: Several.
    • The film begins as Jack is born, and ends as he dies.
    • The movie begins and ends at the same place.
    • Just like Jack's mother's tears froze as she went to Madeleine's house, Acacia's tears freeze as she realizes that Jack is dying.
  • Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario: Acacia dumps Jack when she learns of him accidentally gouging out Joe's eye, and then seeing Jack assault Joe right in front of her, convincing her that Joe was telling her the truth about Jack being violent. She also told herself that she can't be with Jack, knowing that it could kill him. She then has a strong moment of My God, What Have I Done? when she realizes that she has the key to Jack's heart and immediately heads out to save him, already having forgiven him.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Jack tries to confess one night, but the words get caught in his throat, so he has to recruit the help of Méliès to communicate his intentions in the form of a puppet show.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Joe seems to be harbouring a crush on Miss Acacia from even before Jack showed up, but it doesn't end favorably for him.
  • Crime of Self-Defense: The police come for Jack after his heart's cuckoo bird gouges Joe's eye, which only sprung out because Joe was trying to tear his heart out (which would have killed him) in front of witnesses.
  • Custom Uniform: Joe never wears the uniform at school, and Jack stops wearing it as a teen.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Jack runs back home to Edinburgh for Madeleine's help with his cuckoo-clock heart, only to discover that she died in prison. We see a shot with Jack's face looking absolutely broken, and hear his heart let out a discordant sound, literally breaking. After this, Jack seems to just give up on any chance of living, and shares one last kiss with Acacia before he passes.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: During a scene in which Jack allows Miss Acacia to wind up his heart, his reaction implies pain is the opposite of how he's feeling.
    Acacia: If it hurts, tell me wont you?
    Jack: (breathless) 'Hurt' is not the word I'd use.
  • Downer Ending: Méliès' Show Within a Show is about a romance between a diver and a two-headed mermaid. It ends with the diver drowning because of a severed air hose and falling into an underwater chasm.
  • Driven to Suicide: Jack, possibly. After learning that Madeleine (his mother) has died and, thus, his heart cannot be fixed, he refuses Acacia's attempt to save him and simply asks her to kiss him.
  • Dutch Angle: Lots of them, especially in Acacia's first song.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Joe. His design is essentially monochrome.
  • Eye Scream: During one of their fights at school, Joe grabs Jack by the collar and shoves him up against a lamp post. He decides to mess with Jack's clock, but leans in too close. The cuckoo pops out and stabs him in the eye. He could never stand the sound of clocks ever since.
  • Flowers of Femininity: Miss Acacia has red flowers on her hair and her Pimped-Out Dress is shaped like a flower.
  • Freaky Is Cool: Méliès certainly thinks so. He's one of the few characters who sees Jack's heart as a work of art, and he marvels at the carnival's freaks while still treating them with decency.
  • Gadgeteer Genius:
    • In the past, Méliès spent a lot of time inventing gadgets in order to impress a girl he loved. He still likes to tinker with things, inventing such things as a performing stage that can fold up into something the size of a suitcase.
    • Madeleine appears to be able to create just about anything with old clock parts, including the replacement for Jack's heart, Luna's wooden leg, and Arthur's spine.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: At one point, Joe shows Jack what's under his eyepatch. The camera pans away to Jack, who is visibly unnerved by what he sees.
  • Happily Adopted: Despite the occasional (but justified) overprotectiveness, Madeline loves Jack and thinks of him as the child she always wanted but never had. Losing Jack causes her to have a Death by Despair in prison.
  • Happily Ever Before: Inverted. In the book, Jack discovers that he needed his clockwork heart to survive only for the first few months of life but Madeline kept this from him in order to shelter him. The movie ends with his apparent death as his heart runs down.
  • Historical Domain Character: Georges Méliès, the filmmaker who first pioneered the concept of telling stories on screen. He appears about halfway through the film to join Jack's journey as a sort of sidekick.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Anna and Luna are two call girls who act as surrogate older sisters for Jack.
  • Hope Spot: Jack and Miss Acacia have confessed their love! Now they can run away together and find Happily Ever After! Wait, is that Joe?
  • The Illegal: Miss Acacia's tragic backstory. She and her parents had entered Scotland illegally. A friend promised to get them papers, only to turn them over to the police. Miss Acacia managed to escape by jumping out the window.
  • Karma Houdini: By the end, Joe pretty much gets away with years of bullying Jack, attempting to murder him by ripping out his heart, destroying Jack's family by siccing the police on him after the cuckoo bird accidentally gouged his eye instead, causing Madeleine's arrest and Death by Despair, turning Miss Acacia against him, and generally pushing Jack over the Despair Event Horizon. While Miss Acacia comes to her senses and leaves Joe in a broken carriage in the middle of nowhere, he literally destroyed Jack's family and life without getting so much as a "Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Killed Offscreen: After Jack left to go into hiding, Madeleine was taken prisoner for helping him. Jack finds out when he returns home for her help that she died of a broken heart in prison.
  • Lady in Red: Miss Acacia. She's relatively innocent at first, but given her song lyrics, she's sexy, she knows it, and she's not against flaunting it while performing, even if off-stage, she's not terribly unlike how she was when she was younger.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Joe had been relentlessly bullying Jack for four years, and was even going to kill him by ripping out his heart. As he moved to do so, the cuckoo bird came out and blinded him in one eye.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Madeleine always wanted to be a mother, but can't have children. Jack's mother, obviously, has him, but feels as if she is incapable of taking care of him. That's why she leaves him with Madeleine the morning after he's born.
  • Lighter and Softer: Downplayed. While the film is relatively much more kid friendly than the book it is based on in various aspects, going as far as cutting out a whole chunk of the story and making the ending much more bittersweet, it stil has some rather intense and adult moments that could easily fly over childrens' heads.
  • Love at First Note: Young Jack falls head over heels for Miss Acacia after hearing her sing in the town square.
  • Malaproper: Jack sometimes mixes up his words.
    "After your concert, we'll make the whole oyster our world."
  • Meaningful Name: "Acacia" is a kind of thorny tree.
  • Moment Killer: Jack and Miss Acacia are about to kiss, when the manager barges in reminding them about work.
  • Mood Whiplash: When Acacia and Jack finally kiss, it's accompanied by Dionysos's "Whatever the Weather", an upbeat, victorious song, as the camera spins around the couple. Then the camera, as well as time, freezes. "Hammock of Clouds", a somber piano tune, begins to play...
  • Parental Abandonment: Jack's birth mother decides that Madeleine would be able to take better care of Jack than she ever could, so she leaves the night after she gives birth to him. There is no mention of his father at any point in the film.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Miss Acacia sports a long red dress with the skirt fashioned like flower petals.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: When Miss Acacia returns, her hair is notably darker and her skin paler.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Jack quite literally gave Miss Acacia the key to his heart. Unfortunately, Miss Acacia still has it on her when she and Jack part ways. Later, when she attempts to wind his heart at the end of the movie, Jack grabs the key away from her and throws it, saying he's taking control over his own life. Unfortunately, he means it literally.
  • Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: Jack, especially since he's the only redhead in a world of blonds and brunets.
  • So Happy Together: Jack and Miss Acacia confess their love for each other, with Jack giving Miss Acacia the key to wind his heart during "Mademoiselle Clé"/"My Lady Key". Everything looks as if they can finally be together. And then Joe shows up...
  • Something about a Rose: Pretty much Miss Acacia's entire character concept. Her dress looks like rose petals, she wears roses in her hair, and when she feels threatened, thorns sprout from her body.
  • Uncanny Valley: The artstyle of the film is purposely very surreal. While the environments are absolutely breathtaking, the human designs themselves can land very deep in the valley. Near the beginning of the movie we see a sequence of baby Jack moving like clockwork while adjusting to his new heart that might make your skin crawl. Then there's the the circus performers: a small man with a huge head and a coat pulled up to his nose, what seems to be a face without limbs, a girl with a balloon for a head, and a man with a large head and a tiny body that plays a trumpet.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Joe tells Miss Acacia about how he lost his right eye because of Jack's cuckoo clock heart, but makes it sound like Jack did it because he lost control in a fit of rage instead of it being an accident. It doesn't help that Jack finally does snap and attacks Joe right in front of Miss Acacia after that.