Walls and borders can have different effects on people. In some cases, they are boundaries that must be respected and enable those within them to appreciate that which they have with contentment. In others, it instills a yearning to see what else must be out there, which may manifest into a rebellious spirit that demands to be satisfied. Those confined to a particular area can never truly know what exists outside it, and the search for truth can be a controversial and difficult process. Poupelle of Chimney Town beautifully demonstrates the power of possibility when reality is nothing more than a myth.
On Halloween, a storm conjures up Poupelle, a creature made of trash, in Chimney Town. He soon befriends Lubbichi, a lonely child who works as a chimney sweep in the town populated by countless chimneys that pump smoke into the black sky. Lubbichi clings to the stories he has heard from his father, Bruno, about stars that light up the sky. As the Inquisitors search the town to find this mysterious garbage man they perceive as a threat, Lubbichi discovers a kindred spirit in Poupelle, whose basic understanding of the world opens his eyes to new ideas and possibilities.
Poupelle of Chimney Town is based on the 2016 picture book, which was conceived ahead of time as an introduction to the film rather than as the framework for a film after the fact. When the film begins, it almost seems as if there is some context missing and that audiences should be coming in with a knowledge of what Chimney Town is, but that is quickly established and becomes evident as Poupelle navigates his new surroundings. He knows certain things but lacks important details, which enables a simplistic approach to the world that makes him capable of a kindness and humanity that few he meets are able to show him in return.
This is a mesmerizing film, one whose animation dazzles from its first frame. An early sequence features a Halloween-themed dance, the perfect offbeat tone-setter for the creation of Poupelle, who swirls from nothing to come into being. The combination of colors and the gray-black of the sky works wondrously to display a contained environment, one that keeps its people in and suppresses free thought, even if its people aren’t aware of what they are being deprived of since they’ve never considered what could lie beyond the borders of their town.
There is plenty to unpack from this film’s themes, which have much to say about the way in which information is communicated and creativity is fostered. Its imagination of a society that strives to avoid conflict by taking away opportunities for creed and competition is inherently flawed, because people will always find ways to take advantage of each other and to establish superiority. But this film shines bright in its depiction of hopeful, idealistic outliers like Lubbichi and Bruno, who have the courage to dream and the willingness to consider that all that they know might not be all that there is.
Poupelle of Chimney Town is an animated film that isn’t explicitly for children or adults. Young audiences may appreciate the accessibility of the story while missing out on its critiques of any regime that stifles its populace. Adults should be wowed by its stunning visuals and the way in which its narrative contains layers of meaning and relatability. Ahikiro Nishino, writer of the picture book and film, and director Yusuke Hirota deliver a spectacular celebration of individuality and the power of community expressed through fantastic animation whose quality stands out even in a strong year for the medium.
Poupelle of Chimney Town opens in theaters on Thursday, December 30th.