We continue our series of reviews chronicling all of the (non-Studio Ghibli) animated films distributed by GKIDS Films–some of the most original and breathtakingly beautiful animated films from around the world–and how they hold up for a young American audience.
We’re traveling chronologically (the entire retrospective is found here), and this time we’ve got…
Nocturna (2007): Victor Maldonado & Adrià Garcia, directors
What’s it about?
The film follows young Tim, a shy boy who has wound up as bit of an outcast at his orphanage. Every night, he drags his bed in front of a large window so he can stare out at the night sky and see “his” star: Adhara. He’s afraid of the dark, all alone, and seemingly without friends, so the familiarity and permanence of the stars in the sky provide no small amount of comfort.
One night, after the other children steal the knob Tim uses to open the window, Tim escapes to the roof of the orphanage and the elaborate chalk drawing he’s made of the night sky. It’s then that he notices his star, among others, suddenly go out.
Surprised, he slips off the roof but is rescued by a hulking beast of a man known as the Cat Shepherd. Tim has entered Nocturna, the nighttime world where cats watch over every sleeping child, hairdresser mannequins ensure properly tangled bed head, little men in trenchcoats scrape branches against windows, and a whole host of other fantastic creatures create the sights and sounds of night.
Intent on reporting the disappearing stars to whomever will listen, Tim is led to Mr. Moka, the man in charge of Nocturna and ensuring that all nighttime activities run smoothly. Moka, seemingly in disbelief that the stars are going out, sends Tim on a wild goose chase to find the Star Keeper. In order to separate Tim from the Cat Shepherd, Moka also sends out Mr. Pee to create a diversion by having all the children in the city wet their beds and wake up crying.
As it turns out, a monstrous shadow is sweeping through the city, devouring all the light it can find. This includes not only the stars but also the moon and Luminouses, spunky little creatures that congregate around streetlights.
It’s up to Tim to conquer his fear of the dark and save all of Nocturna.
What are the cultures at play? And how about the languages?
It’s a Spanish film that received French and Spanish funding. The directors and almost all of the creative team involved are Spanish. The filmmakers, however, consciously designed the city to resemble a more-or-less generic European city, albeit one heavily influenced by Paris. The story and setting, though, are practically timeless and universal.
The film was originally in Spanish, but the Blu-ray for some reason only has the English (British) dub.
Will my kids like it?
Yes. The character designs are worth the price of admission alone. It’s rare to see a world that feels utterly fresh and unique, and the various creatures that make up Nocturna (the world) make Nocturna (the film) a visual feast.
That’s not a bad crowd to be associated with!
My kids (3 and 6) enjoyed the film, but I do recognize that it’s slow going in parts. Contrary to so much Hollywood animation, the pace is deliberate rather than frenetic, the characters don’t scream and shout, and there are no huge explosions. Thank goodness.
The film does dip into darkness a bit, especially when the Shadow is devouring everything in its path, but the story is ultimately very bright (figuratively speaking, of course). If your kids are afraid of the dark at all, this is a great film to share together.
Will I like it?
If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you’re either a fan of animation or world cinema. If that’s true, then yes, you’ll thoroughly enjoy Nocturna. This is a quiet film that is lovely in almost all respects.
The animation is dazzling, the character design is phenomenal, and the soundtrack by Nicolas Errèra is perfectly ethereal and beautiful.
My only complaint is with the English dub. At times, it feels awkwardly paced, which might be a byproduct of the dubbing process itself (and the need to sync to the existing animation). Other times, the voice acting feels too understated. There are scenes that are definitely more emotional or action-oriented than others, and some of the dialogue felt too subdued and out of place.
Is there anything objectionable for young kids?
Not really. Like I said, the Shadow monster might be a little scary for younger viewers, but it doesn’t have much screen time.
The story ultimately shows how Tim overcomes his fear of the dark, but young viewers with a similar fear might get a little freaked out by seeing so many exotic (and bizarre) creatures outside children’s windows and hovering over their beds.
How can I see it?
The film is available on Blu-ray and DVD and can be ordered from the usual places, including Amazon. It’s also available on Amazon Instant Video (and currently free for Prime members). The Blu-ray has a couple special features, including a 9-minute look at the making of the film and a 5-minute montage of “The Art of Nocturna,” including close-up views of design and conceptual sketches.
Nocturna is a gorgeous film with stunning animation, enchanting characters, and an engrossing story. Surprisingly, it’s also the only film either director has made, which is a shame. The animation world would be better off with more films like this.