Gil Kenan’s City of Ember is a challenging, audacious, and dark children’s parable of great heft, so no wonder it failed at the box office. From it’s stark opening voice-over musing about the “day the world ended” to the cavernous subterranean home sweet home occupied by human survivors hundreds of years in the future, City of Ember charts a singular battle between public innovation and selfishness, waged between characters seeking escape and those bent on subverting progress. Political and social undertones fill the frame as the crumbling underground city of the film’s title begins to systematically shut down due to malcontent, laissez-faire politics, and apathy.
That City of Ember consistently entertains is almost an afterthought due to the dense subtext, but the film has an undeniable energy personified by its many great actors (Tim Robbins, Bill Murray, and Martin Landau just to name a few) and the urgency of the narrative. City of Ember makes for a fascinating double bill with Andrew Stanton’s masterpiece WALL•E, as each envisions a future torn between doomed stasis and invigorating limitlessness, where children and robots express the very best humanity has to offer while revealing the doubts and inadequacies of constricting corporate agendas.