April 27, 2022

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Poupelle Of Chimney Town (2020)

Poupelle of Chimney Town is another story that explores the “child befriends a monster” narrative through the lens of an ecological tale, unpacking the insidious nature behind the thick, bellowing smoke that covers a fantastical town’s once clear sky.

The following contains spoilers for the film, please proceed with caution.

A young boy named Lubbichi makes ends meet to support himself and his widowed mother by working as a chimney sweep. On Halloween night, a sudden storm conjures up a sentient creature made from garbage, giving Lubbichi an unexpected chance at friendship since he lost his father, Bruno. The creature earns the name “Poupelle”, and he and Lubbicchi begin to develop a bond together.

It is revealed that a lot of Lubbichi’s motivations to keep working hangs on to grandiose stories Bruno told him, who talked of a world beyond the smoke-filled skies of their chimney and coal-powered town. But unfortunately, these stories were only seen as tall tales of make-believe, earning Bruno and his family the ire of the townsfolk and even the surveillance of authorities, a coalition known as the Inquisitors, who wanting to keep the townsfolk privy from any knowledge of the outside world beyond the borders of their town to secure their authority over them. The Inquisitors regularly police the town with an iron fist, and Lubbichi’s association with Poupelle soon takes their notice.

When confrontations with local bullies worsen, Poupelle’s attempts at kindness to help Lubbichi inadvertently accidentally outs that he is a non-human made of garbage to the wider public. While their friendship endures a fissure, Lubbichi soon finds Bruno’s stories to be validated by growing closer to the town’s dissidents.

He is subjected to a comprehensive telling behind their town’s development, and having originally been a community that wanted to break off from the ways of a bigger kingdom, their newly formed society ended up creating a self-destructive system that further worsened the plight of its people and closed themselves off from their history. As a result, he is inspired to rally willing participants together to finally figure out a way to see what is beyond the skies against the Inquisitors’ oppressive forces all while rekindling his relationship with Poupelle.

Backed by the growing support of the community, Lubbichi and Poupelle man a makeshift airship and manage to clear the smoke clouding the skies, revealing a shimmering sea of stars. With this grand mission accomplished, Poupelle falls apart and his final words refer to Lubbichi like a son—a bittersweet culmination of many hints that his sentience was powered by the late Bruno’s spirit who has been watching over Lubbichi this whole time.

[SPOILERS END]

Poupelle of Chimney Town is based on a picture book of the same name by artist and comedian Akihiro Nishino, and the book serves as an introduction to elaborate on more of the film’s setting. The film made its English-language World Premiere at the Animation Is Film Festival in Los Angeles, California, and it is directed by Yusuke Hirota and animated by STUDIO4ºC.

The film is an eye-popping, colorful treat, stylistically using a treatment that makes it resemble children’s book illustration in spite being mostly rendered with CG. The gray and dreary, foreboding smokiness of the sky starkly juxtaposes the bright palette of the town and its residents, visualizing very blatant symbolism of how the town is being clouded within darkness.

Likely utilized within the scope of Director Hirota’s own previous experience working with CG, the film also has interesting bursts of moments that emulate techniques traditionally drawn, 2D animation—and specifically conventions usually performed in anime—such as the portrayal of smears and the intentional flattening of environments. An example of this is seen in a sequence in an earlier part of the film, in which Lubbichi is thrown into a chase running across rooftops and exterior fixings of various buildings, and the composition is framed in a such way that makes the whole sequence look like side-scrolling adventure, platformer game.

But as impressive as a few of these feats were, for the most part, Poupelle of Chimney Town unfortunately lacked technical polish and some scenes could have taken another pass at editing. There are moments where poses in the animation snap from one frame to another, which was perhaps intended for effect, but it unfortunately comes off as a technical flaw given this does not look consistent with the rest of the film’s smooth framerate movement. This inconsistency is not only present in the film’s visuals, but it is also apparent within the framework of its narrative.

There are several parts of Chimney Town that felt unnecessary or underdeveloped. In the film’s beginning, given the crux of the story kicks off on Halloween, it would seem justified that a sequence of various characters dressed up in costumes singing and dancing to a song would have a place somewhere. As fun as it was, it still felt bizarrely displaced compared to the rest of the feature, feeling like an inserted music video that exists in a bubble with no impact to the plot. In some ways, it shows how much life there is to the town that the viewer deserves to know more about beyond its main cast, but unless they read the picture book as well, these snippets of other characterization only feel incomplete and out of place.

There are also characters like Dorothy, who presented as a science-savvy and smart, somehow inhabited this suppressed world unscathed and free from scrutiny until catalyzed by Poupelle’s appearance—despite being actively beloved by the community while Bruno was ostracized for thinking outside of the box. Her intelligence and access to resources is never explained, against the implications that the town has withdrawn any channels of knowledge that would help her ilk.

On the other hand, a character like Scooper, has chosen to live in isolation and underground knowing what the Inquisitors would do to people with knowledge of the outside world like him on the surface, and there is better pretext as to how he has been undercover for so long until he meets Lubbichi.

The strongest appeal to Chimney Town is the conceit of the town itself, and as much as its own character can be grasped through the film’s large, detailed sprawling backgrounds, there were many windows of opportunity that further attempts at developing it or finessing some holes were missed.

Poupelle of Chimney Town does not hold back on its surprisingly grounded and close-to-home messages about freedom of thought and expression through the surface of its childlike, cartoony visuals. Intertwined with imagery that also explicitly speaks against pollution, it demonstrates the negative consequences of attempting to overprotect and withhold truths, shining light on the power that a community can bring against the forces that are impeding it from progress. Although it has visuals that could have used more technical polish and a story that deserved more time to ruminate and expand upon its worldbuilding, Popuelle of Chimney Town is a surprisingly thoughtful film that warrants a watch to celebrate its optimistic ideals against adversity.

FORMAT: MOVIE AVAILABLE ON: VOD/ DIGITAL/BLU-RAY+DVD, FROM: ELEVEN ARTS ANIME RATING PG RUNNING TIME: 1 HR 38 MIN IN A NUTSHELL: Despite having a few narrative and technical lapses, Poupelle of Chimney Town is a colorful, animated spectacle that delivers a necessary, frank message that deserves to be heard and seen.

★★★☆☆

Elvie Mae Parian is an animator who also likes to spend her spare time through writing and criticism. You can follow her on Twitter and see her own art on Instagram.

*screener provided via ShoutFactory/Eleven Arts*