Sometimes, when you can’t see beyond, it’s only the belief in something more that keeps you going.
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 population 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 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’ (Tony Hale), Lubicchi accepts this ‘monster’ when others won’t and the two begin to look for the stars together.
Featuring stunning animation and the purest of hearts, Poupelle of Chimney Town is an absolute joy from start to finish. Based on the children’s book by Akihiro Nishino, Poupelle looks and feels like a bedtime story. Bursting with colour, the film seamlessly fuses 2D animation with 3D rendering in a unique and stylized manner that gives every scene an artistic aura. First time director Hirota has created a world that consists of both incredible beauty and dark oppression and the blend of visuals absolutely pop onscreen.
While voice work can be forgettable in animated projects, most of the cast seems fully engaged with their characters, especially its leads. Young star Antonio Raul Corbo gives an emotionally engaging performance as the over-burdened but hopeful Lubicchi. At the same time, Root and Lee provide solid supporting work as his parents. However, the standout here is Hale who turns in some remarkable work here as Poupelle. Best known for his work as more manic characters such as Arrested Development’s Buster Bluth or the existential toy Forky from Toy Story 4, Hale is an absolute joy as the mysterious ‘garbage man’. As Poupelle, Hale infuses his character with innocence, humility and even an aura of wisdom. In the midst of a chaotic world, Poupelle becomes an anchor of love and support for the young Lubicchi and, as a result, Hale becomes the soul of the film.
And there is a remarkable amount of soul within this Chimney Town.
With a number of different lenses through which to examine its story, Poupelle of Chimney Town manages to work on multiple levels. For example, the film explores a number of social issues, especially through the relationship between economics and power. Without giving any spoilers, the greatest problem within this particular world is that it remains rooted in the acquisition of money. Whether it’s economic disparity between social classes or the power dynamics that create those divisions, Poupelle shows the damage that can be done when money is given priority over the people and their well-being.
Furthermore, the film works as an exploration of the nature of friendship. Broken by the sudden loss of his father over a year ago, Lubicchi and his mother are struggling to get by. Forced to support his family financially, he lives in a world of adulthood and responsibility. As a result, Lubicchi has closed himself off to friendship and pulled away from those his own age. However, with the arrival of Poupelle, his hardened heart begins to show signs of cracking. Even though others view him as a ‘monster’ and Lubicchi initially tries to push him away, Poupelle’s undeniable love and grace begins to get through. Their relationship may be imperfect but Poupelle’s commitment to the young man never fades. Even though he is hunted by the villainous Inquisitors, Poupelle constantly looks for ways to support Lubicchi and remind him of how much he matters.
No matter what oppression Poupelle faces, he never ceases to be loving.
Similarly, Poupelle also becomes a film about the relationship between hope and belief. Covered by ‘black smokey smoke‘, Chimney Town lives under a blanket of darkness. Having never seen anything other than the congested pollution above, the people of Chimney Town cannot fathom anything larger than their own experience. (In fact, they feel threatened by it.) However, Lubicchi refuses to believes that that’s all that there is to the world. Having been told stories of wonder by his father, he believes that there is more above the clouds. Although the world around him attempts to squash his faith in the stars, he can’t help but believe there’s something more. Just like his father before him, Lubicchi cannot help but ‘keep looking up’. (He even takes a job as a chimney sweep so he can get closer to the mystery of the skies.) To Lubicchi, the mystery beyond is of greater significance than the world in front of him. Though others struggle to accept his stories, his belief in the unseen gives him purpose and restores life to his soul.
With its emphasis on seeing beyond what’s in front of us, Poupelle of Chimney Town is a bright light in a time marred by an endless pandemic. This is a film that serves as a reminder of the power of love, friendship and believing that things can be better than they are. As Poupelle and Lubicchi work together to pierce the darkness, so too do they spark hope to those that have none.
All because they choose to ‘keep looking up’.
Poupelle of Chimney Town is available in select theatres now on Friday, December 17th, 2021. Click here for available showings.