The anime feature “Poupelle of Chimney Town,” the first directorial film from Yusuke Hirota, takes place in a metropolis where the sky is always dark from smoke. The residents are policed by cloaked officials called inquisitors, who make it their business to suppress dissenters, particularly civilians who propose that there might be a world beyond the nearby ocean or the blotted-out firmament.
In this dystopia, animated in a way that suggests a steampunk Chutes and Ladders, Lubicchi (voiced by Antonio Raul Corbo), a lonely boy who works as a chimney sweep, makes his first friend: a garbage man — that is, a creature made out of trash — whom he names Poupelle (Tony Hale). (The name is similar to “poubelle,” which is French for trash can.) Poupelle’s origins are murky, but in a pre-title sequence, he appears to arrive from the stars, where Lubicchi’s father (Stephen Root), who disappeared, always urged his son to look.
Adapted by Akihiro Nishino from his picture book of the same name, the story evokes familiar touchstones: “The Wizard of Oz” (in Poupelle’s Scarecrow-like headwear and the climactic deployment of a hot-air balloon); “E.T.” (boy-alien friendship); and “WALL-E” (the landfill aesthetic). The allegory is semi-coherent but intriguing. Effectively, this movie asks what would happen if the existence of a self-devaluing currency caused radical libertarians to create Big Brother to protect people from a central bank.
Trying to get a read on the film — while admiring its palette and off-kilter character details (Lubicchi has an odd vampire overbite) — keeps “Poupelle” fun for a while. But the film ultimately shies away from its most disturbing ideas, falling back on a comforting sentimentality.
Poupelle of Chimney Town
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. In theaters.
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