Written by Patrick Hao
Poupelle of Chimney Town is the first foray into 3DCG animation for Japanese animation studio Studio 4°C. 3DCG (or 3D computer graphics animation) has been a controversial subject amongst anime fans that have placed a premium in traditional 2D animation. Poupelle presented an excellent opportunity for the studio to experiment with this new form. Based on a picture book by Akihiro Nishino, who also wrote the screenplay, Poupelle’s steampunk setting in Chimney Town is filled with large chimneys billowing out huge plumes of smoke, essentially blacking out the sky. This setting allows the animators to create a beautifully rendered 3D world.
The film follows Lubicchi, a red-headed ragamuffin with two protruding front teeth and a top hat. He is a much-maligned dreamer with his head in the clouds who recently lost his father. He is a chimney sweep who encounters a Garbage Man, a sentient man composed of various trash, one Halloween night. Lubicchi, an outcast because of his and his lost father’s belief in the stars, finds friendship in the Garbage Man as they start an ET and Elliot like relationship borne out of loneliness. Meanwhile, the government, a group hooded almost Klan-like agents, are trying to stamp out any heretics looking to dispel the status quo.
The plot synopsis may be quite complicated in recounting, but the actual presentation is overly simple. It is based on a picture book after all. The simplicity of the children’s story gives the animators the leeway to focus purely on the design. As one can imagine from the studio produced Mind Game and Children of the Sea, the designs are stylized and fun. Lubicchi is achingly cute, and the adults are broad-shouldered behemoths. There is a mole man who has a mole-like contraption, and a bazooka-wielding female character whose purpose is clearly for teenage titillation.
If anything, there is not enough dramatic heft for Poupelle to make much of an impact. The film is sentimental and earnest with broad appeal to its audience to consider climate change and “reaching for the stars.” There are also several emotional moments that could generate some misty eyes. But its tonal shifts from children’s humor to unabashed mawkishness make it hard to grasp onto.
The animation itself can be quite distracting as the studio works out some of its kinks with this new style of animation. While the world is fully rendered and presented in regular 24 frames per second, the character animation seems to be still animated at the traditional 2s (12 frames per second). This causes a janky and cheap look to the animation that can be distracting from the clear artistry in design.
Poupelle of Chimney Town is a step in the right direction for Studio 4°C. It clearly retains the distinct style of animation house, unlike something like Studio Ghibli’s disaster in Mary and the Witch’s Flower. And despite its narrative shortcomings, this does beat the mass commercial cynicism of most western children’s animation. Poupelle like Lubicchi, at least, attempts to reach for the stars.
Poupelle of Chimney Town Trailer
Poupelle of Chimney Town is in expanding theatrical release.