A discordant marriage of juvenile live-action and sophisticated stop-motion animation, "The Flying Machine" is a vibrant celebration of Frederic Chopin, whose music saturates the proceedings, bookended by some tedious shenanigans involving actress Heather Graham and Chinese classical-music superstar Lang Lang.
A discordant marriage of juvenile live-action and sophisticated stop-motion animation, “The Flying Machine” is a vibrant celebration of Frederic Chopin, whose music saturates the proceedings, bookended by some tedious shenanigans involving actress Heather Graham and Chinese classical-music superstar Lang Lang. Hunger for children’s programming may give this Polish/Chinese co-production a boost, but the animation segment, as accomplished and moving as it is, can’t rescue the rest of the film from a script written in the key of B-wildered.
Produced by some of the same creatives responsible for the Oscar-winning short “Peter and the Wolf,” “The Flying Machine” mixes media immediately: Our three principals — workaholic single mom Georgie (Graham), her piano-loving daughter Jane (Kizzy Mee) and son Fred (Jamie Munns) — are shown motoring through an obviously computerized London. They’re on their way to a concert by Lang Lang, who sits at the piano as the hall darkens, something called “The Magic Piano” begins, and the viewer is off on a bittersweet but enchanted journey.
The animation created by helmers Martin Clapp, Geoff Lindsey and Dorota Kobiela is of the melancholy Eastern European, decidedly non-Disney variety: When a man loses his home, he drops his daughter, Anna, off at the home of her cousin, a young boy who dresses like a vampire. Together the two cousins go on a trip aboard the magic piano of the title, which Anna discovers in an alleyway, generating a stark contrast between the “real life” of the stop-motion story and the fantasy of the journey. The music is gorgeous and the figures themselves — expressionless, except for the eyes — add to the somber but intoxicating tone of the piece.
The spell is broken, however, once “The Flying Machine” returns to the concert hall and the heavy-handed moralizing and dubious acting begin. Lang Lang, badly dubbed in English and doing nothing for his hipster image, comes across as something of a nag, “helping” Georgie come to grips with the idea that there’s more to life than real estate deals, and that her neglected children need some attention. Graham, like her co-stars, is not given nearly enough to do, and is reduced at one point to interpretive dance.
If there were a way to break “The Magic Piano” out of “The Flying Machine,” the resulting short would be a minor classic of stop-motion children’s storytelling. Sandwiched into the film’s mawkish live-action segments, it’s more of a lost opportunity.
Production values are superb during the animation portion of the film, and transparently computerized elsewhere. And though Lang Lang may be a grossly overrated pianist, the music is still Chopin.