Set in a dystopian society, someone is kidnapping the children. Krank and his band of clones are using the children to harvest their dreams. Then they kidnap Denree, the brother of One, a fairground strongman. One sets out to find his brother.Written by
"City of Lost Children" is a beautifully-realized if derivative dark fantasy in which a mad scientist named Krank, aided by a half-dozen clones, a midget woman, and a brain in a tank, abducts children to his offshore lab so he can steal their dreams. Seems he's unable to have any of his own. A sideshow strongman, played by a radiantly fit Ron Perlman, goes in search of his little brother, who has been taken by Krank's goons. Perlman, in another of his growing gallery of bizarre roles, is a perfect example of why I like character actors better than big-name stars. And how many languages does he speak, anyway? French here, Spanish (and English, of course) in "Cronos"; polyglot in "The Name of the Rose"; what next?
The strongman, named One, enlists the aid of Miette, a homeless, streetwise girl who, along with her fellow urchins, is part of a ring of thieves employed by a pair of sinister female Siamese twins named the Octopus. (Watch carefully how these evil twins smoke a cigarette. There are more weird characters per square inch in this flick than anywhere else outside a Heironymus Bosch painting.) Miette is played by Judith Villet, whose gonna-be-a-great-beauty looks, her air of intelligence and experience beyond her years, make her a sort of Gallic Natalie Portman.
Anyway, that's the plot: rescue little brother from the mad doctor. The images are the thing: with its rendering of a bleak, low-tech retro-future, "City" looks more like a Terry Gilliam movie than "Twelve Monkeys" does! And it slyly slips in ideas and images from other sources, to good effect: Krank himself is as much of the mad-doctor stereotype as is the character in "The Nightmare Before Christmas"; his outlandish electro-headgear is similar to that used in Disney's "Merlin Jones"; a nightmare on the loose swoops low along the ground through streets and alleys as a trail of green mist, improving on a similar image from "Bram Stoker's Dracula"; there's a confrontation in dreamland a la the "Elm Street" series; and while the idea of a brain in a tank isn't a new one, this is the first benign one I've ever seen. Familiar or not--and I'm thinking also of "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T"--"City of Lost Children" is still engaging, enjoyably weird, fantastic and funny, helped greatly by the fact that One and Miette are so endearing. The pace is a tad slower than it might have been. But this is, after all, a French movie.
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