A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
If I were to judge this film solely on its visuals, it would get an unqualified rave, no questions asked. It's only when I start to think about the story and the tone that my enthusiasm inches downward, because it's done more as an exercise than as a narrative you're meant to care about. Maybe the ultimate destination of "City of Lost Children" isn't in movie theaters at all, but on one of those video wall panels like Bill Gates is installing in his new house; you'd see an amazing image every time you walked past, and occasionally you'd linger for as many more astonishing sights as you felt capable of absorbing.
The movie is an expensive, high-tech French production, using more special effects than any other French film in history, and it is appropriate that a lot of its look seems inspired by that Parisian visionary, Jules Verne. It takes place not so much in the future (or even in the dated but vivid "future" as seen by Verne) as in a sort of parallel time zone, where there are recognizable elements of our world, violently rearranged. The co-directors, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, created a similar visual extravaganza in their first feature, "Delicatessen," a 1991 fantasy about cannibalism.
The movie takes place mostly on an offshore rig inhabited by the terrible and tragic Krank (Daniel Emilfork). Krank is terrible because he is a monster, and he is a monster because he cannot dream, which makes him tragic. So he kidnaps children, to steal their dreams and feed off them. One of his victims is Denree (Joseph Lucien), a little boy who is almost more trouble than he is worth. Kidnapping him is a mistake because Denree's adopted brother is One (Ron Perlman, from TV's "Beauty and the Beast"), a strongman and sometime harpooner. One tracks his brother to the rig to save him.
In the way it populates this plot with grotesque and improbable characters, "City of Lost Children" can be called Felliniesque, I suppose, although Fellini never created a vision this dark or disturbing. Krank's world includes a large number of children, kidnapped for their dreams, along with a brain that lives in a sort of fish tank, several cloned orphans who cannot figure which of them is the original, some very nasty insects, and Siamese twins who control the orphans for nefarious ends.