As we continue to move through the haze of the pandemic, sometimes it can feel like an endless haze has descended upon us all. Stuck in a seemingly endless mid-point, we continue to look beyond the COVID world, squinting to see some form of hope on the other side.
It’s for that reason that actor Tony Hale (Toy Story 4, Arrested Development) believes that his latest project, Poupelle of Chimney Town, is the movie we need right now.
“The story itself is based in this very popular children’s book of the same name and takes this little character named Lubicchi,” he begins. “He’s a little boy who lives in a town full of smoke and the father tells him that there’s stars above the smoke. And everybody in the town says, ‘You’re crazy. You’re crazy. You’re crazy.’ But Lubbichi believes [his father] and my character comes along and helps him on this journey to find the stars. I just think, man, after what we’ve all been going through these two years, just that hope of like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna get past this. There’s something on the other side.’ In addition to that, the animation is crazy beautiful. It has this kind of ethereal-like jewel-tone watercolor. It’s just so stunning. We, as voice actors, are a very, very small slice of this pie. Most of the pie is all the artists working on it.”
Directed by Yuusuke Hirota, Poupelle of Chimney Town takes place in a city covered by a thick layer of black smoke that has prevented its people from ever seeing the sky. Though the people have accepted the darkness, young Lubicchi (Antonio Raul Corbo) clings to the stories of stars told to him by his late father, Bruno (Stephen Root). Working as a chimney sweep in order to pay the bills and care for his sick mother, Lola (Misty Lee), Lubicchi has become a social outcast and struggles to connect with other kids. However, his life changes when a man made of garbage stumbles out of the night. Naming his new friend Poupelle (Hale), Lubicchi accepts this ‘monster’ when others won’t and the two begin to look for the stars together.
Branded a monster by the townspeople, Poupelle is kept at a distance by others out of fear. However, in Lubicchi, he finds a young man who (eventually) is willing to see beyond his exterior of garbage to the beautiful soul that lies beneath. In doing so, Hale believes that the film begins a conversation about the poisonous nature of labels and how they limit our ability to connect with people.
“[A label is] so toxic because it kills uniqueness and what somebody is bringing to the table when they’re being forced to fit into a category or a mold,” he explains. “And the fact is there’s a lot of different branches to the tree of humanity. There are so many different branches, but we don’t feel comfortable with that almost, you know? And so [a label] is incredibly toxic because it’s restrictive. That made me think of when I did Toy Story 4, there was this character named Gabby Gabby in the store and she was considered the evil doll. Forky, my character, didn’t know anything so he just kind of got started getting to know her. Everybody was putting a label on her and he just got to know her, much like Lubicchi was Poupelle. And because of that breaking through, that union, the labels came off and you be able to hear the person’s story. You can be able to get past their trauma and see their humanity and man, what power is that?”
Although Lubicchi cares about Poupelle, their relationship definitely has its conflicts. As their push/pull dynamic comes into play, Hale sees that both characters have issues that they’re working out. Even so, he also believes that the trust between them is rooted in their willingness to truly see one another.
“It’s like any friendship, kind of,” says Hale. “Also, Poupelle is kind of this being made of garbage come into the town and he’s dealing with his own [questions about] what’s going on. But I think it’s always about trust. Lubicchi hasn’t had a lot of support from the town [in regards to] believing his vision and where he’s going and you know, trusting that this Poupelle does believe in him. What I love about this relationship is it just takes that one person who believes in you and sees you that gives you the strength to do it. Poupelle really sees Lubicchi and he really believes in him.”
With this in mind, one of the key tensions within the film lies between Lubicchi’s decision to ‘keep looking up and the Inquisitors’ commitment to snuffing out such beliefs. Asked why he believes Lubicchi’s views are such a threat to the powers that be, Hale argues that there is a certain amount of danger that lies within change itself.
“I think it’s a threat because change is scary,” he suggests. “Even though they live in a town of smoke and even though there’s this hope, change is scary. They don’t want to believe beyond their framework because they’ve created that [sense of] what I’m comfortable in. And so that’s scary. So, they’ll fight against that, but man not look up. I mean, I personally am a person of faith and I look up all the time because it brings a reference point to my life. It makes me know that I’m not in charge, which is a huge gift because it gets scary. So, it’s a huge source of strength for me.”
Having said this though, Hale also argues that the sense of hope embedded within the film is what makes it so essential for audiences right now. Coming at a moment when we have all been beaten down so many different cultural issues, Poupelle of Chimney Town offers a message of strength and encouragement in a troubled time.
“Honestly, I think there’s a lot of beautiful movies, but there’s something [about] this movie that, for this point in time, [is] life-giving. It’s redemptive [and] it’s strengthening. Obviously, there are a lot of dark things out there. That’s also strengthening people because they might feel seen in certain ways, but the hope that this provides I think is the medicine that we need right now. Definitely.”
Poupelle of Chimney Town is now available in select theatres.