The sun’s rays tumble thick as golden tresses on the charmed cobblestones that pass underfoot. As the skies transmute, from amber gleam to emerald glimmer and at last to sapphire sparkle, young Tim’s waking life in a European orphanage descends into dream. At least it would on a usual night. It seems that a star name Adhara has vanished from the sky – a particularly meaningful disappearance for Tim, who was promised by his mother that this stellar guidance would forever be there to deliver him into gentle slumber. Wide awake with the fear of his solitude, Tim encounters a diverse bunch of characters – “workers of the night” – each of whom play a special role in midnight’s orchestration. Frosting the window panes, misting the alleyways and even lightkeeping the star-strung sky, each chore accomplished in kind by the characters of the night’s citizenry. So it is that Tim blazes out on an adventure to challenge his shadowy fears and rectify the dimming of the night.
In Nocturna, we visit a picturesque, but inconsistently thoughtful scaffold by which Tim summons the courage to face his fears. We must admire the breadth and imagination of the company that supplies the night: the bumbling sock-bandits, the chatty hair-tanglers, and even the pseudo-villain that causes kids to wet their beds (“Uncle Pee”). The character designs are unique and playful – non-derivative of Disney, Dreamworks or Studio Ghibli. Beyond here though, Nocturna's bravado tapers. The inevitable rooftop tangles and musical interludes feel hastily applied and flatly choreographed. There are clichéd appeals to inside/adults-get-it jokes, ethnolects as markers for social standing, and a boring (if stylistically ravenous) arch-villain, “The Shadow.” Still, the film is admirably overt in its textual and sensitive invocation of the word “death,” for what is happening to the stars. Like Adhara blips in and out of the heavens, Nocturna is a variably refreshing entertainment.
Nocturna will screen as part of the San Francisco International Animation Festival on Novemeber 12th at 3pm at the New People Cinema.