Blandly charming animated fare about a little orphan who’s afraid of the dark but enamored of the stars, “Nocturna” should accomplish its goal of putting the little ones to sleep (along with the rest of the audience). Though a welcome change from the raucous in-your-face hyperactivity of much recent CGI animation, Adrian Garcia and Victor Maldonado’s whimsical nighttime world peopled by odd fanciful creatures and long-tailed cats never leaps far from the drawing board. Terrors and delights are equally hushed and muted. Too genteel for its own good, toon is best suited to very young tots.
Pic pitches the seductive idea that there exists an entire working universe dedicated to actively manufacturing the effects of the night.
Thus, on his adventure, the young hero encounters nocturnal laborers such as lumbering collectors of single socks, a trio of wooden-jointed hair-mussers, plushy beings with branches tapping window panes in tune to an orchestrated night symphony, and gruff humanoid fireflies with electric lights for behinds.
In addition, there’s an entire government of bizarre, scurrying bureaucrats and a host of guardian felines presided over by a great galumphing striped Cat Shepherd.
Pic then proposes a nefarious villain, a shadowy being that threatens to extinguish all the comforting stars (who are hung like luminous, flat-chested Tinkerbells from ropes) and destroy the kingdom of Nocturna.
Unfortunately, this fable designed to teach children to overcome their fears (the whole pic plays like an elaboration of FDR’s assertion that we have nothing to fear but fear itself) is afraid to frighten its audience.
The dreaded shadow that threatens to overrun Nocturna with permanent darkness is positively guaranteed to give no one nightmares. Even as kid-friendly a classic plot-less Disney “Silly Symphony” as “The Old Mill” packed more excitement into its nine minutes than one can find in all 83 minutes of this soporific epic.
Nor does pic compensate by the wondrousness of its backgrounds or the fluidity of its animation. Certainly the use of hand-drawn 2-D animation to capture a dreamlike fantasy world makes sense as an antidote to CGI superrealism. But, pic’s ultimate lack of imagination or daring, its “universal” character design and child-safe inflation of self-esteem prove wearisome.
While this largely home-grown, hand-drawn animated feature undoubtedly delivers clever detail with a clear-eyed unity of vision and execution, one wishes these artists’ techniques were put in the service of a more inventive concept.