A vibrant, bubbling cauldron of breathtaking f/x, gross-out humor and in-your-face imagery, Delicatessen duo Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s sophomore outing, The City of Lost Children, rollercoasters in as the ne plus ultra of grotesque adult fairy tales. This dark, Dickensian, $14 million-plus pinball machine of a movie hits all the major sensory bumpers but too rarely engages deeper emotions to score much of a bonus.
Setting is a multilevel smokestack port littered with industrial detritus, rusty tankers and the biggest collection of weirdos and humans since Tod Browning’s Freaks. Local heavies are the Cyclops, a Nietzschean sect of one-eyed fanatics who abduct young kids for crazed, aging inventor Krank (Daniel Emilfork), who lives on a castle-like oil rig near a minefield.
The joyless Krank needs the children in order to steal their dreams. The Cyclops’ latest kidnap victim is Denree (Joseph Lucien), adopted baby brother of One (Ron Perlman), a former whale harpooner. One teams up with a group of orphan thieves and later bonds with the sassiest of the tykes, 9-year-old Miette (Judith Vittet).
For what is basically an exercise in sustained texture and cartoon-based imagery, Jeunet and Caro (the first again credited with ‘direction’ and the second with ‘artistic direction’) weave a strong enough storyline to sustain the weight of the huge cast of characters, who crisscross and bump into one another like balls on a pool table.